by Thom Van Vleck
Recently I visited an old friend and member of the JWC, Wayne Gardner. Wayne had been a member of the Jackson Weightlifting Club in the 1960’s and had them moved away for a job in Kansas City. Wayne continued to lift competitively into his 50’s and lifted often in the old Odd Lifting days that preceded the USAWA.
I was looking at all of Gardner’s trophies and he told me there was one that was extra special to him. It was one that he didn’t win but was given to him because he should have won it. It was for the 165lb weight class of the 1964 Missouri State Championships.
The story goes like this. When I was growing up there was a club member (and a former USAWA member and odd lifter) named Wayne Smith. Smith lifted with the JWC and was on the two time State Team Champs. Now, no disrespect to Smith as he was a great lifter and chin up champ. But Olympic lifting was not his best area of lifting. Gardner was a great Oly lifter and in 1964 they ended up in the same weight class.
Gardner had won the previous year. He was the favorite to repeat. As the meet progressed a funny thing happened. Everyone bombed out except Gardner and Smith! Going into the last lift, the Clean & Jerk, Gardner needed only a 135lbs to seal his second stated championship. Smith came up and told him to take it a seal the win. Gardner didn’t like the idea of taking such a light weight so he stuck with his original opener of 240lbs. Smith finished his C&J’s and then waited on Gardner. Who promptly BOMBED OUT!
Smith ended up with his only state championship. He was pretty happy about it even if the other members kidded him for years about it being by default. Many times I remember Smith retorting with, “Yeah, but I did what I had to do…to bad those other guys didn’t”!
Over the years Gardner and Smith remained great friends and then a few years ago Smith passed away. It was a sad day for the JWC. Gardner went to Smith’s family and asked if he could have that trophy and promised to give it a good home. So they did and now after all these years it was in Gardner’s hands.
As Gardner recounted the story to me that I’ve heard a hundred times it took on a new meaning. It was obvious to me this was more about friendship and less about a piece of metal mounted on wood. A tear came to his eye as he finished knowing that Smith is no longer around to share in the moment. Which considering Gardner was a Marine and one of the toughest guys I’ve ever known was saying much about how much it meant to him. I’m pretty sure knowing him all my life I never saw him shed a tear before.
So that’s the story of a long forgotten state championship upon which a lifetime of friendship was built!