Tag Archives: Tom Ryan

Interview with Tom Ryan

By Al Myers

(webmasters note: The following interview with Tom Ryan was done on June 3rd, 2009.  I normally don’t rerun USAWA blog stories but with Tom’s recent passing I would like to “air” this one again as a lot of newcomers to the website might not have seen it.  Tom was a very unique and eccentric person and his personality comes through in this interview. He was a good friend, and I will miss our weekly email exchanges.)

Tom Ryan watching as Barry Bryan does a 1500 pound Hip Lift at a meet in John Vernacchio's Gym in 1989.

Tom Ryan watching as Barry Bryan does a 1500 pound Hip Lift at a meet in John Vernacchio’s Gym in 1989.

Al: where do you currently live and what do you do for a living?

Tom: I live in Acworth, Georgia (outside Atlanta) and have lived in Georgia most of my life, being a native Atlantan. I was a college professor for decades and now teach online courses for statistics.com. I have also done some course development work for them and do occasional consulting through them. I have written four statistics books (600-page books) for my New York area publisher and expect to finish my fifth book by the end of the year. I have also done a considerable amount of additional writing, including some sports writing, such as six articles on basketball statistics within the past few years for betterbasketball.com. I enjoy doing various types of writing and a few weeks ago wrote a guest column on teaching quantitative courses that was in the Atlanta paper on May 20th. The American Statistical Association, which elected me a Fellow in 2000 (I’ve been a member since 1972), somehow found out about that article and have linked the article at their website.

Al: When did you first start weightlifting and how did you get started?

Tom: I started lifting weights in December, 1958, at the age of 13. I would have made an ideal “before” picture for a bodybuilding course ad as I was 5-7 and weighed only 107 pounds. I was all skin and bones and my father even called me “Bones”. I believe I pressed 40 pounds for 8 reps in my first workout. I was in the 8th grade at the time and there were two kids in my physical education class who couldn’t climb the rope in the gym and touch the ceiling. I was one of the two. Then I started lifting weights and did succeed (to the cheers of my fellow students), even after almost dying from whooping cough and missing a few weeks of school.

I went from “bones” to almost the other extreme, eventually reaching 305 pounds, with my highest competitive bodyweight being 296 at two contests. I did not compete when I was in my prime, as I wanted to wait until I was a national caliber lifter before I entered competition. By my mid-30s, however, I realized that was never going to happen, and that was a depressing realization because I trained very hard. Then my life changed when I wrote to Murray Levin, who ran U.S. Olympic lifting at the time, in 1981 and offered to help in any way that I could. Murray sent my letter to Bill Clark, who immediately wrote to me. Bill had a paragraph about me in his Master’s newsletter in 1982, even though I was only 36 at the time and Master’s lifting then started at age 40. Bill also sent me his Missouri Valley newsletter. This was well before the days of the USAWA but Bill had introduced me to a new world and I now had something to train for.

Al: Was there any one person who introduced you to lifting?

Tom: No one got me started. It was pure self-motivation, being motivated by my lack of strength and muscles. As I aged and started becoming stronger, with a 289 clean and jerk in training at the age of 19, I idolized Tony Garcy, five-time national Olympic lifting champion, and followed his career very closely. I eventually met Tony at the 1966 Senior Nationals and spoke with him briefly then. Several months ago I sent him a sympathy card after the death of one of his sons and received a nice card and note from he and his wife in reply. I was also motivated by Paul Anderson, whom I met in 1972 and corresponded with during the early 1970s, as well as the late 1980s.

Al: When did you first get involved with the all-rounds? Didn’t you compete in one of the very first World Meets?

Tom: I am one of the charter members of the USAWA, as indicated by the list on page 23 of the 5/17/09 edition of the Strength Journal. I competed in my first Zercher Meet in 1987, about the time that plans to start the USAWA were being formalized, so I just naturally became a member of the USAWA. Yes, I competed in the World Meet in Plymouth Meeting, PA in 1989. I suffered a tricep injury during the Pullover and Push event that took a very long time to fully heal.

Al: What have been your favorite lifts?

Tom: Over the years my favorite lifts have been the ones that I can do, quite frankly, and that list shrinks as I age! LOL When I was much younger, I enjoyed pressing and tried different types of pressing. My best pressing performance in USAWA competition occurred at the 1989 Zercher Meet when I did a heels together military press with 200 and then pressed 210 on my last attempt but lost my balance and had to take two steps backward. Later that year I thought I had pressed 209 at the World Meet, but I expected the weight to be heavier than it was and put a bit too much body into the lift, resulting in two red lights for backbend.

Probably my lifetime best pressing, considering form, was done in training one day in 1977 when I did a wide-grip military press with 229 for 4 reps. My heels weren’t together but those were strict presses with no lower body movement at all. That was one of those magic moments when I was really “on” and knew that would never happen again. And it didn’t!

During the late 1980s and early 1990s I made some reasonable one-hand deadlifts in USAWA contests, ranging from 330 to my PR of 345. My back started “complaining” about any type of deadlift with very much weight as I moved through my 50s, so I became somewhat of a one-arm thumbless deadlift specialist, doing over 200 officially. This is the type of lift that allows grip specialists like Ben Edwards to excel. In my case, I think it is a matter of technique because my hand strength is rather ordinary. I also found that I was reasonably good at the rectangular fix, at least for my age, as I made 95 pounds at the age of 61.

Al: I know one of your interests has been the history of weightlifting. Who are some of your favorite old time strongmen?

Tom: There are people who know more about the history of weightlifting and oldetime strongmen than I do, but yes, I have been interested in these subjects for decades and began work on a book on historical strength figures in the late 1980s. I mentioned Tony Garcy previously but I would rather not think of him as “oldetime” since he is only 6 years older than me. LOL. Rather, if we think of strongmen who performed in the general vicinity of 1900, there were certain performances that I wish I could have seen. In particular, one evening in 1889 Apollon (Louis Uni) did not know that the iron bars on a gate that was part of his stage performance had been tempered by a blacksmith, who was bribed by a prankster. Unaware of this, Apollon and his massive forearms struggled to bend the bars, while his wife prodded him , assuming that he was just being lazy. Finally Apollon was able to bend the bars enough for him to slide through them, but he was totally exhausted and explained to the audience that he was unable to continue his performance. David Willoughby believed that this may have been Apollon’s greatest strength feat.

I wish I could have also seen the bent presses of Arthur Saxon. It is hard for me to believe that a man weighing only about 204 pounds could bent press close to 400. (He is credited with 370 but reportedly did 386 unofficially and supposedly attempted 409 but the weights started falling off the bar.) Bent pressing was popular in the 1940s, especially in the New York area, and although Al Beinert bent pressed 360 in the mid-1900s weighing almost 60 pounds more than Saxon, nobody has approached Saxon’s record.

It would also have been fun to meet some of the leading strongmen of centuries ago, like Thomas Topham and Giovanni Belzoni, not to mention the enigmatic giant, Angus McAskill.

Al: Do you have any special memories of any all-round weightlifting meets?

Tom: Well, I would like to forget the injuries that I sustained! LOL Yes, I certainly have fond memories of people with varied backgrounds and professions and from different parts of the country and world getting together for fun and competition. There were personal duels I had with Bill Clark at Zercher Meets, with him insisting that we compete straight up, despite our differences in age and bodyweight. It was fun seeing Steve Schmidt do harness lifts with well over 3,000 pounds, far in excess of what the rest of us did, and more recently to see his feats, either in person or on film, with bar bending and teeth lifting and pulling very heavy vehicles, as well as record-breaking repetition back lifting. Although I didn’t witness it, Joe Garcia’s hand and thigh lift with 1,910 is a tremendous accomplishment, the highest lift on record. Since I go back a long way, there were some competitions in which I saw Ed Zercher do some exhibition leg pressing when he was 80 or so. Yes, I have many fond memories.

Al: What do you think the future of the USAWA will be?

Tom: Over the years, Bill Clark had hoped that the USAWA could attract some of the strength stars of the past, but that hasn’t happened. Jim Bradford, who is now 80 and was a silver medalist in the 1952 and 1960 Olympics, has been an ardent follower, but I don’t recall him competing in any USAWA contest. There are so many official lifts that virtually everyone, regardless of physical condition, will be able to find some lifts that they can do. I would like to see more people compete, both young and old, but our numbers are dwindling, not increasing. Hopefully your considerable and praiseworthy efforts with this website, Al, will increase interest in the USAWA. We can only hope.

Al: Thank you, Tom, for participating in this interview.

My Start With Weightlifting

By Tom Ryan

(Webmasters note: The following is a post the late Tom Ryan made to the USAWA Discussion Forum a couple of years ago detailing an interesting story about his early days of lifting. I found this story very intriguing  and humorous, as we all have stories of training mishaps when we started our pursuit of weight training. Enjoy!)

Undoubtedly many weightlifters have some strange tales about their early training, including me.

Although I started training when I was 13, it wasn’t possible to train regularly when I was participating in other sports, especially when I was running my legs off on a basketball court. After the basketball season ended during my junior year in high school, Bill Shaw, Bob Dial, Don Hallman, and I started training in the basement of Bill’s house, with me supplying most of the weights. Bill, a senior, had been my basketball teammate and the other two were a year younger than me.

Even though I was very skinny at the end of the season (maybe a shade over 6-2 and 165 pounds), I had enough strength to shoulder 470 from squat stands, back out with it and do a set of quarter squats. One day Mike Boling, a 10th grader who supposedly had benched 250 weighing 150 (not too shabby in 1962!) came by to watch us train. My training partners had said my depth on the quarter squats had been less than before, and since we had somewhat of a celebrity bencher in attendance, I went down further than I had previously on my first quarter squat rep.

Well, I went down too far and kept going down. Real fast, like falling down an elevator shaft since the weight far exceeded what I could have handled in a full squat. It took only a few seconds so there wasn’t time for my life to flash before my eyes, but when Bob saw me going down, he said he thought that was going to be the end of me! The bar went flying over my head and crashed to the floor, with the force catapulting me a few feet backward and I landed on my butt.

Then Bill’s life almost flashed before his eyes when he saw the chip that had been knocked out of the floor and he thought about his father’s reaction when he came home from work. So a quick repair job was necessary!

That was performed and then we started thinking about building a power rack so as to prevent any more accidents. I would bet that power racks were few and far between in 1962. I’m not sure when York started selling theirs, but I would guess around 1959.

We made ours out of wood and it was easily transportable. I ended up with it when our training gang broke up. Over time I had to replace parts of the rack, but I believe I still had the original base in 1993. Then I moved to Australia in January, 1994, where I spent the next 2.5 years. Untreated wood cannot be taken into Australia, so I had to say goodbye to my rack, which was a bit shaky by then anyway. Upon arriving in Australia, I had a carpenter build me a rack, and that is the one that I still use today.

I haven’t seen Shaw, Dial, or Hallman in 47 years, but if I ran into one of them today, I wouldn’t be surprised if he said “Hello TR 470″ because that was the nickname they gave me after my “near death” experience.

Passing of Tom Ryan

By Al Myers

The 2016 USAWA Year in Review is a tribute to the life of Tom Ryan.

The 2016 USAWA Year in Review is a tribute to the life of Tom Ryan.

These blogs are always the saddest for me to write. Especially when I’m writing one about a friend that has died.  But I’m doing it – as I feel that Tom deserves a tribute from us because of his influences and contributions he has made to the USAWA.

Tom Ryan was born on April 23rd, 1945 and died on December 1st, 2016. He had been involved with weightlifting his entire life.  He started out with focusing on Olympic Lifting, and then these past 25 years his main interest was All Round Weightlifting. He competed in the pre-USAWA days in all round lifting, and primarily in the first few years of the USAWA. He did lift in a few record days later on.  I have had the opportunity to lift with Tom on a few occasions.

Tom and I had a great email relationship.  We would exchange emails almost weekly, often discussing matters of all round weightlifting, training, or news within the organization.  I could always count on Tom calling something to my attention if he noticed something on the USAWA website that he thought wasn’t correct. I really appreciated that as I knew the best interests of the USAWA were always in his heart.  Tom was an extreme intellectual and a person who wanted details being correct. He had a PhD as a statistician and spent a good part of his professional life writing statistics books, teaching, and editing statistics books. He was a great writer as well. He had written several articles for magazines and newsletters through his life in both his professional life and for weightlifting.  When we did the big USAWA Rulebook rewrite in 2009 I had Tom proofread it.  He found over 100 corrections! He used his knowledge of statistics to evaluate weightlifting formulas. I remember him telling me that he once served on an Olympic Weightlifting committee to decide whether Masters Weightlifting should use the Sinclair Formula or the Malone Formula.

Tom was a great weightlifting historian.  He served as a moderator for Joe Roark’s Iron History Forum for a number of years.  Tom had a great interest in Paul Anderson.  He wrote several articles about Paul Anderson. Tom lived near Atlanta in his later years and the Paul Anderson Youth Home is nearby in Vidalia.  I always told him I was going to come to Atlanta and see him and then we could go to the Youth Home together.  That was a trip I was never able to make which I now regret.

Tom has several records in the USAWA which he was very proud of. He still holds over 20 USAWA Records (over 50 at one time).  Among these include his Weaver Stick record of 7 pounds (which I was there to witness), his one arm thumbless deadlift of 254 pounds (still one of the top All Times lifts), a 345# one arm deadlift (done at the 93 Zercher Classic), and a 95# Rectangular Fix.  Tom’s last USAWA meet was the 2006 Goerner Deadlift.

Even as his health declined in the past few years, he still stay committed to his training program. He had trained at home most all of his life.  He once told me that he had plenty of self-motivation to train alone, and that he liked to train in total silence by himself.  We would often email visit about his training program.  Just a few months before he died he was still training the seated one arm deadlift with a dumbbell. He was up to a 281 pound dumbbell which he said he could lift and hold for 30 seconds. His last training goal was to lift a 300 pound dumbbell while seated!

I will sure miss Tom. He was a major contributor to the USAWA Discussion Forum. I’m sure all of us will miss his page long topic posts, which often read more like an article on the subject instead of a comment.  Many times I would try to get him to write a website blog following one of his forum posts, but the feeling I got from him was that he had said all he wanted on the subject in the forum!

If anyone has stories or memories of Tom and would like to share them on the website, please send them to me. I am dedicating the 2016 USAWA Year in Review to Tom.  We will keep his memory alive in the USAWA.

Lifter of the Month: John Wilmot

by Al Myers

As Tom Ryan performs a big Hip Lift in an All Round Meet in the late 80’s, John Wilmot looks on in the background.

The lifter of the month for September goes to our long-term USAWA Postal Meet Director John Wilmot.  The only USAWA competition held in the month of September was our 3rd quarter postal, the Delaware Valley Open Postal Meet.   Amazingly, since the USAWA Postal Series began – John has competed in EVERY postal meet.  That’s showing quite a commitment to the organization!!!

Congratulations to John Wilmot for being awarded USAWA LIFTER OF THE MONTH for September!!!

The Weaver Stick Controversy

by Al Myers

John Gallagher demonstrating the Weaver Stick, the lift made popular by George Weaver. This photo was in an article written by Weaver, in which he said "demonstrates the proper method of lifting the Weaver Stick". Take notice of the bent arm and non-upright body position. This makes me wonder - was this the way he INTENDED the Weaver Stick to be done?

Yesterdays Daily News Story by the famous strength historian David Willoughby was just a “set up” for today’s story.  In it, he described the origins of the Weaver Stick and the foundation for the Weaver Stick rules.   I feel the Weaver Stick is a misunderstood  (most don’t know how to even MAKE a Weaver Stick) lift of the All-Rounds, and after what I reveal today it will now not just be misunderstood, but will be a controversial lift as well.  I have written blogs on the Weaver Stick before and have went over its historical significance in the USAWA.  I have even covered the best lifts ever done in the USAWA using the Weaver Stick.  That is not what today’s story is about.  This lift was part of my grip meet a few years ago as well. So I know there are several lifters who are familiar with it.  I was introduced to the Weaver Stick for the first time when I went to Clarks Gym years ago for a record day.  After putting up “BIG LIFTS” all day for records in several full body type lifts, Bill brought out his Weaver Stick to “humble us”. It did the trick.  I could barely lift 5 pounds!  I then went home and made my own Weaver Stick, which still resides in the corner of the Dino Gym for anytime I feel like “humbling someone”.  Ole Clark did it to me – and now I’m returning the favor!

But what’s the controversy you ask? Well, lets go over both the USAWA Rules and the IAWA Rules and you’ll soon find out!

USAWA RULE I26. Weaver Stick

A Weaver Stick is used for this lift. The Weaver Stick utilizes a wooden broomstick with these dimensions. The handle is 5 ½ inches in length. The junction of the handle and the rest of the Weaver Stick may be marked with tape, or with any material that is raised to provide a distinct separation between the handle and the rest of the stick. This marking is ½ inch in length. At a point exactly 36 inches from the end of the marking, or 42 inches from the end of the handle, a notch is made in the stick to allow a cord to be attached to it. This cord may be of any length.  Weight is tied onto the end of the cord. The Weaver Stick must rest on a flat lifting surface with the weight hanging free. The lift will begin at the lifter’s discretion. The lifter will take a position alongside the Weaver Stick, and grip the handle of the Weaver Stick by one hand, facing the length of the stick. The lifting hand and arm must remain straight with elbow fully locked, and must not be in contact with the body during the lift. The lifting arm must remain at the lifter’s side throughout the lift. The heel of the hand must remain on top of the Weaver Stick. If the hand twists under the stick during the lift, it is a disqualification. The non-lifting hand must not touch the lifting arm, lifting hand, or Weaver Stick during the lift. The lifter’s body must be upright with legs straight at the completion of the lift, but the legs may bend when picking up the stick. The Weaver Stick must be lifted entirely clear from the lifting surface while maintaining the stick parallel to the floor. If the end of the stick containing the weight dips to any degree, it is a disqualification. If the lifting hand moves to a position in front of the handle marking during the lift, it is a disqualification. Once the Weaver Stick is motionless, an official will give a command to end the lift. Records are also kept for the Weaver Stick with the lifter facing backwards, away from the length of the stick.

IAWA RULE  F9.   WEAVER STICK LIFT

This lift can be performed with either hand, and to the front or the rear. The lifter will use a 36 inch long stick, it will have a notch half an inch from one end where the weight will be suspended or attached. The stick will be gripped a full 36 inches away from the weight, with one hand. The stick will be set down on a chair or table, the lifter must lift the stick off the surface parallel to the floor and not with the weighted end tilting down. There is no minimum height that it has to be lifted, just clear of the table. It must be lifted straight up, no rocking motions are allowed. The lifting hand and arm must remain free of the body, and the heel of the hand must remain on top of the stick, the hand is not allowed to twist around the stick. When the stick is held clear of the table and motionless the referee will signal to replace the bar. A hand grip guard can be made using two metal right angles, screwed to the stick in such a manner as to prevent the hand from being closer than 36 inches. The handle can be taped around to suit the lifters hand and afford a good grip.

Causes for Failure: 

1.  Failure to keep the stick held parallel (approx.) to the floor at all times during the lift.  
2.  Touching the body with the lifting hand or arm and failing to keep the heel of the hand on top. 
3.  Failure to lift the stick clear of the chair or surface, under control. 
4.   Lowering / replacing the bar before the referees signal.

Do you notice the BIG DIFFERENCE between the USAWA rule and the IAWA rule???????

It’s a BIG ONE – the IAWA rule for the Weaver Stick DOES NOT require the arm to be straight!!! It can be bent to any degree.  Let me “tell ya” – that’s a big difference!  Much more weight can be lifted with the Weaver Stick if the arm does not have to remain straight.  Bending the arm allows other arm muscles to come into play and helps with the wrist stabilization.  I am sure most USAWA lifters are not aware of this IAWA rule for the Weaver Stick.  I know I wasn’t until IAWA President Steve Gardner and I got into this discussion during one of our “beer drinking sessions” a few days after the IAWA Worlds in Australia.  He was not aware that the USAWA required a straight arm either (just as I was not aware that the IAWA allowed a bent arm) – as we have since the beginning.  Maybe this all arose because of the misinterpretation of Weaver’s account by Willoughby.  Re-read yesterdays story and you will now notice that he didn’t mention at ANY TIME the arm must be straight.  But at the same time he referenced that drawing of Grimek as the “correct position” using the Weaver Stick, and in it John Grimek’s arm is as “straight as an arrow”.  Now I can only imagine at this point in this story Weaver Stick extraordinaire Tom Ryan is getting out of his chair and  ready to give someone “a thrashing” with HIS Weaver Stick for insulting the Weaver Stick Rule this way.  After all, I witnessed Tom set his big Weaver Stick  ALL-TIME USAWA RECORD of 7 pounds at a record day in Clarks Gym in 2002.  I also remember very clearly that Tom’s arm was very straight when he did it, as Bill Clark was officiating him and wouldn’t let “nothing bend” on the issue of requiring a straight arm. That’s how it has always been in the USAWA.  I contested the Weaver Stick at my 2010 Grip Challenge at my gym, and close to a dozen good “grip guys” tested on it. I was the judge, and judged it as hard as Bill would have.  Grip sensation Andy Durniat lifted 6 pounds, along with my father LaVerne (everyone was surprised with that one!).  But ole Dad has spent a lifetime of building his grip doing farm work, and it paid off with  building the right muscles for the Weaver Stick.  These were the top Weaver Stick lifts of the day, and both very solid and reputable lifts with the Weaver Stick using a straight arm. This meet sure reiterated the great Weaver Stick Record of 7 pounds done by Tom Ryan.

We (the USAWA) have made great strides in the past couple of years to get our USAWA rules into compliance with the IAWA rules.  We have been changing ours to met theirs. But this is one I would argue that we have RIGHT – as any rule should represent THE INTENT of the original development of the lift.  I truly feel Weaver intended for the Weaver Stick be done with a straight arm and NOT a bent arm.  Or did he INTEND it to be done with a bent arm????  That’s the controversy. 

One thing is for certain – officiating the Weaver Stick with a bent arm allowed would be a whole lot easier.  Making the decision of “red lighting” a lift on arm bend is very subjective.  Bill Clark once told me this, “officiating the bend of the arm in the Weaver Stick is as subjective as judging the depth of a squat!”.  I couldn’t agree more.  Please let your opinion on this be known in the USAWA Discussion Forum (and Tom you can lead the way with this discussion!).

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