Wayne Jackson: Chasing Strength
by Thom Van Vleck
Wayne Jackson is my Uncle. But he has been much more than that. He inspired me to lift weights, he was a father figure to me, a training partner, and most of all, a friend. Wayne, along with his brother Phil, revived the Jackson Weightlifting Club in 1957. While the club grew to over two dozen members and fielded teams that won the Missouri State team title in Olympic lifting two times and several Missouri State Champions…Wayne was our most successful lifter. Wayne won the Teenage Nationals and 4 Missouri State Championships in Olympic Lifting and one title in Powerlifting. He was simultaneously the Missouri State Champ in Olympic lifting and Powerlifting in 1971! Wayne also has the claim to fame of holding the Missouri State record in the Clean and Press. That event was dropped in 1972 and as a result it can never be broken! His best was 365lbs.
Wayne is a jovial, gentle giant. I have called him “Staggo” for over 30 years in reference to Dutch World’s Strongest Man competitor Staggo Piszko who was one of the biggest WSM competitors ever. My dad always referred to Wayne as “Big’un”. His arms were well over 20 inches and his chest was over 60 inches at around 5’10” in height. He made an impression with just his size. But if you were ever around him much you would soon realize that he would never hurt a fly. He was always interested in what you were lifting and you almost had to pry out of him his best lifts. He was always very modest and often would even minimize his best lifts….I’ve not met many lifters that do that!
Wayne had a long time lifting rivalry with Wilbur Miller. Now I specify “lifting” because otherwise they were the best of friends. As a matter of fact I traveled with Wayne to an “Odd lift” meet held at Sailor’s Gym in Wichita in 1984 so that Wayne could reunite with Wilbur. I would point out that Wayne never lost to Wilbur in the Clean and Press even though Wayne was never able to beat Wilbur in the total. A couple years back Wilbur told me that he always wanted to beat Wayne on the press but that Wayne was “just too good at it”.
I have many stories I could tell about Wayne and I have written about him before in MILO. But here is one that gives some insight into Wayne’s attitude about lifting. I was a teenager and not showing much prospect at winning any gold medals. I was thinking about giving up on lifting. I had read a story where the author had stated you needed talent to be a truly great lifter. I asked Wayne about it and matter of factly he said, “I just always figured a guy could be as strong as he wanted to be if he were willing to work hard enough”. While some could challenge how true that statement is, it’s more of an attitude. After that, I didn’t worry about what I didn’t have, I just kept working hard and didn’t worry about what talent I had or didn’t have. All I could really control was how hard I worked.
Wayne loved lifting. Some guys lift as a means to an end. Wayne just loved lifting. He lifted often and he trained very hard….often with no contest as a goal. He would set lifting goals then break them and move on to the next goal. He “chased strength” his entire life! We lifted in a couple early odd lift meets that Bill Clark held and I had to almost beg him to compete. But when he did he made some great lifts. He did a super strict 280lb seated press (his training best was 330 but he had trouble adjusting to keeping his feet flat on the floor….I once saw him seated press 300lbs for 8 sets of 3 reps!), a heels together 300 pound press, a 300 pound reverse grip clean and press to name a few). I saw him hang clean 400lbs (with straps) and on another occasion jerk 400lbs. This was in his mid 30’s.
I could write volumes on Wayne, but wanted to give him some of the recognition I felt he deserved. He lifted with Bill Clark and in Clark’s meets more times than I could count and was friends with many of the early USAWA members. I had always hoped he would make a comeback but so far that has not come to pass. He still trains and still loves to talk training and lifting. It was his way of life!