Westside Barbell- The Strongest Gym In The World


Posted on October 13 2016

In January, the garage team went to the YMCA nationals and won the team title. I won the 220 class with a 1,950 total (the 3rd best at that time). I was recovering from a complete tear of the right bicep when I made a 733 squat, 462 bench, and bombed with a 672 pull. Then in West Virginia I made 765, 480, and 705. The 480 was my first top 10 bench and the squat was 17lbs off the world record by the late great Chip McCain. As usual it was a great day but at the same time a terrible day. I tore two holes in my lower abs and a tendon off my pelvic bone. I could not squat 95lb for a month after that. I was determined to go to the SR Nationals in Wisconsin and after my 722 opener squat I had to pull out with the same injury. While recovering, Garry Benford asked to bring Mariah Liggett into the club, at the time she was going to Ohio State for PHD in exercise Physiology. She became very strong at 132 and 148, pulling 484 at 132 which still stands on our board today. I remember seeing George McElroy lift against our guys for years but finally lost his battle with cancer. A great Westsider Brent Tracy brought George to a meet just before he passed. George was loaded with pain meds just to be there. What a man, he had nuts and there was no quitting in him. There were good meets and bad meets. Why?, we had no clue.

Meanwhile, we brought in some new members. My lifetime friend Darrell Mayo, Tom Fay and his wife Fay Fay. Her real name was Terry, but at Westside, nothing was real. Dr. Gary Sanger and I would spend hour after hour talking training and how to bring our team up to a new level.

I was squatting to a low box in the power rack with Mariah and Laura Dodd (a world record holder at 165) and I missed a 725 low box squat with just the two girls spotting. My dumb ass set the safety pins too low and got slammed and pinned between the box and the bar. Laura and Mariah had to unload the bar completely. After the realization I had hurt my back real f**king good, I went to a surgeon and he said he wanted to remove two disks, bone spurs, and fuse my back.

I said no way Jose.

I had to take 17 weeks off and it even hurt to lay down. This took me back to ’73 – a bad time. I had to do something to change what had just happened. We were missing something, but what? It turned out to be Science: I began by buying Russian Training manuals from Bud Charniga Jr. He told me that they were technical and classroom like for studies. I said that is exactly what I want! First it was A.S Prilepin’s chart on loading: how many sets at what percent, and how many repetitions at a certain percent. It changed everything. Next was the optimization of training loads. I quit western periodization and began using wave periodization by Arosiev and other Russian sports scientists.

We never had women at Westside on regular training days, so they trained on off days. The girls kept coming to where they won National and World Championships.

Mariah Liggett
Laura Dodd
Sue Meany
Susie Bedford
Cathy Shannon-Seitzer
Pam Crisp
Sue White
Tracie Tate
Vanessa Schwenker
Denise Zabawski
Doris Simmons
These women are responsible for too many World Records to count. Westside only counts all time world records.
My wife Doris broke world records in the squat, bench press, and total that stood for years after her bodybuilding career where she won Miss Ohio and second in a Miss USA. Sue Meany was the first woman to bench press 300 and squat/deadlift 500 in the same meet. This is a piece of Westside history that many (even our current members) don’t know.

Garry Sanger made number one on the 1984 ranking. Matt Dimel came to Westside in the early 80’s with his friend Bob Coe who continued to help Westside up to the present. Matt was very close to me and was a wild child to say the least. He was also our first world record holder with a 1010 squat that held up for a long time. Gear was not very good even into the mid 80’s and knee wraps gave you more than a suit. John Inzer was making Groove briefs soon along with the first bench shirt: the Blast shirt, which may have given you 10 or 15lbs. Gear was for injury prevention as well as some performance. New lifters were getting try outs and Don Dameron a close friend as well as a Westsider liked to fight. One day I hit Don on top of the head and after about 2 minutes Don arm- barred my right arm out of place. This was normal behavior at Westside. Marcus Marinelli who runs Strong Style MMA in Cleveland and Geno Cardi were always having wrestling contests with workouts. It was a rough place from 85 to 95 to say the least. I admire Mark very much: he stopped powerlifting and started MMA training and today he trains Jessica Evil Eye, Stipe Miocic and a good friend Victor Ventresca World Greco champ. Mark has completely dedicated his life to MMA and he will never quit. That means everything to me.

A new lifter who would impact Westside forever was Chuck Vogelpohl. I was going to Toledo to get my 5th Elite Total and this was Chuck’s first meet. I was weighing in at 232 about 15 min outside of Toledo and started drinking Gatorade until I was over 242. After standing on the scale I was 240 and had to drink 3 more Gatorades to go in the 275’s. And yes, I made the 275 USPF total for Elite.
Now on to Chuck: He was a National champion in 1987 and WPO World champion in 2007. On the way he broke many world squat records and constantly had the #1 ranking from 220 to 275. He was also just one of a few to win two divisions in the WPO, plus WPO World champ.

Chuck was a great training partner and made it possible for me to lift the weights I did in my 50’s. I came close to dying in surgery in ’91 and had to be trached and have chest tubes placed. After intensive care for 5 days and a couple more in the hospital, Chuck and my wife picked me up and drove me to the gym. This was Tuesday and I did not need to — to talk. So on Sunday I drove to the gym for speed bench, but Chuck said “you need to max out mother**cker. So I did. I made 350 with a hole in my throat and stitches in my side from the chest tubes.
Welcome to Westside my friends.

A second training partner that made training a blast no matter how hard it was, was Dave “Zippy” Tate also known as the owner of EliteFTS. Dave was a super dedicated training partner. And by the way, Zippy was a personality that came out when training. We killed ourselves working on too much band tension to use for squatting.

I hold these two men in high esteem to this day.

Joe McCoy, Kenny Patterson, and Gerry O were three young lifters just starting to train, but all three found the highest place in powerlifting winning world championships and Kenny breaking many world records in the bench. When Kenny P. was 20 years old, we went to Dallas TX for an Inzer bench bash that was worth 10 grand to the best lifter. Everyone knew Anthony Clark would win the top prize and after the meet the total prize money for best lifter was 10 grand. They gave this to Anthony Clark but he was not the best lifter. It was a mistake and Kenny Patterson had won as we found out later. To his word, John Inzer made it right to the point of having a dune buggy delivered to Kenny’s house.

Anthony Clark would be the first man to bench 800 pounds at the Arnold here in Columbus Ohio and it was my pleasure to help spot that lift.

While we are talking about the 1980’s, 3 things really had an impact on me:
First was Amy Weisberger starting to train at Westside in ’86. She would drive from West Virginia to Columbus 3 times a week to train as she was going to school but needed a change in her training. Her former trainer had said she was tapped out at a 716 total. I felt this was an insult to not only her, but me. After all, she was going to train at Westside. Well it was all over when Amy totaled 1,185 at 123lb BW and at the time was the all-time world record. Then she made 1333 at 132 BW. This is still the all-time best, and then she made 1440 at 148. While the 123 record has been broken, it was by a teammate Natalie Carr with a mind blowing 1265 total. Amy’s 148 total is gone too, but is owned now by another teammate Laura Phelps-Sweatt with 1565. And by the way, Westside holds the world’s best totals in the 123, 132, 148, 165, 181, and a world record count of well over 45 all time world records. Amy is still a Westsider going into 2015 and she has demonstrated what a true Westsider is. This includes sporting a Westside tattoo on her calf. It is my honor to have her as my teammate.
Mike Jester who came in ’86 is also still at Westside training with his brother Joe and the rest of the gang. He is also still making progress.

The second person I would like to talk about is Jimmy Seitzer. He started in my garage with zero heat and he got mad when I got a heater. Then I knew how f*cked up he really was. Jimmy was a bodybuilder but only weighed 150lb. He would powerlift with us, then do bodybuilding at other local gyms. The better his squat was the better he was. A 500 squat won him Mister OSU. With a 600 squat he was Mr. Ohio, when we squatting 700 plus he was Mr. USA and second and third in the Mr. —. He made two elite totals at 198 and 220 with a 733 squat, 413 bench, and 666 deadlift. Jimmy is alive and well and sells the Bandbell Bar. A longtime friend just like Amy and my old friend Darryl Mayo, we see each other often and will till death do us part.

The third event is the sudden death of my first pit bull Nitro. We brought him home and the club in 1973, the year I made my first Elite. He saw me make all five Elite totals before he died in the gym. He was there for all of our workouts and never missed a single one. He let the guys put wraps on him, but Gino Cardi would always reward him with some donuts. After his death I had a logo of his likeness made with a chain weight around his neck. He is still alive in the minds of many at Westside and has been seen on about 25,000 of the Westside apparel sold each month, not to mention every capsule sold by Westside Sports Nutrition. He is an Icon. Some people understand what it is to be a Westside lifter, while others are too engulfed in their own ego to ever fully understand what the early Westside pioneers who started in the garage had to do with our legacy today.

Many ask how I look at Westside and what I expect out of a lifter:
One, the adventure of the dog back in the call of the wild. When he was on top he was on top, but if he went down, he was done.
I have always believed the creed if a true Westside lifter is a scene in the Shogun’s Assassin where Ogami the assassin must ask his son Daigoro to choose between two objects that meant life or death. It goes something like this:

Lord Kurogawa was losing his mind as he aged and through that, his loyal assassin Ogami who had decapitated 137 men was going to kill him. Everyone was afraid of Lord Kurogawa except for Ogami, but Lord Kurogawa was afraid of Ogami. And that was the problem.
Ogami’s wife had a bad dream that Kurogawa’s Ninja was going to kill them. One night when Ogami was in the prayer room, the Ninja came to kill Ogami, but only his wife and three young children was at home. They attacked her and delivered what was to become a fatal blow. Ogami heard the noise but was too late. As Ogami held his blood soaked wife, she said “my bad dream has come true”. On her dying breath she you must save our child as she touched their son’s Daigoro face with blood soaked hands as she died. Ogami swept Daigoro up into his arms and to safety. In a moment of peace, Ogami is wearing his beautiful white prayer gown and places a beautiful ball in front of Daigoro along with his short sword stock in the floor. Ogami says to his young son Daigoro “you cannot understand my words but you must choose one. If you choose the ball you will join your mother in death, but if you choose the sword you will join me on the road to revenge.”

Daigoro crawls toward the ball, but sees the sword and touches it with his little hands. Ogami grabs up his son, and that began a blood thirsty killing spree like no other.

That is Westside in the whole. If you grab the sword and do everything possible to do your best, you are a true Westsider. But if you choose to be soft, get the hell out mother*cker!

One who chooses the sword was Karen Sizemore, better known as Size Master. At one point she had the largest bench for a woman at 450 lb and a 650 squat. She was a loyal Westsider for a long time until an arm injury stopped her power career. She still goes to our meets and now spends her time dressing her dog Daisy in the craziest of outfits you have ever seen. Karen was and still is wacked but in a good Westside way. We will always remember her and she will die a Westsider in my heart.

Another lifter that made an impact on Westside was Jeff Chorpenning. He was tall for a 198 but made the 6th highest total in the 198s with 2,060 with little gear. He was consumed by powerlifting and being a powerlifter full time 24/7. I told him he must relax sometime, but he always had his sword out to draw blood until one day his mind blew up and quit. I saw it coming for a long time but he would not listen to me. It disappeared just as fast as you came.

Jimmy Seitzer had a part for the club about a year later. We were talking and he said he did not miss powerlifting, my reply was “powerlifting does not miss you either”. I realized then that some hold themselves in high esteem, much higher than others. But I guess self- respect is better than no respect.

This is really just a small taste of the 80’s and that was a long time ago….

No internet, no cell phones, just a call maybe once a month for advice from some great lifters like Larry Pacifico, Vince Anello, Ernie Frantz, George Crawford, and many other greats in powerlifting. Everyone respected each other, but at the same time competition was fierce between them like Blacks Health World ran by John Black, and Larry Pacifico’s Elite Power Team Glass City in Toledo, Cincinnati downtown YMCA, and Central Indiana Weightlifting Club with Ronnie Hale.

I always lifted alone in the 70’s, and we entered just a few meets as a team in the 80’s. I was solely consumed with making the top ten lifts. The first time I saw my name in the top ten was in 1972 for the squat, deadlift, and total. 1980 was my first top ten bench, and my first national championship trophy was in 1971 in Patterson NJ. My last national championship trophy was in 2000 at York Barbell. My last top 10 lift was in 2002 where I was 6th in the bench at 54 years old. My first SPF Elite was in 1973 in Toledo and my last was in 2011 with a 1,885 total at 217 BW in Knoxville TN. I have five circles on the back of my neck for making an Elite total for five decades. I have no trophies, only memories. I have lifted in warehouses and ball rooms: it made no difference to me and the crowds mean zero. It is my competitors I lift for. Without being tested no one can rise to the top. Be thankful and respectful to your training partners, they mean everything to your success as you mean everything to theirs.

A flash to the past: I had no training partners and it was just me, a radio and a mirror in my basement. I was in Franklin Ohio near Dayton and had a 1540 total that was 8th in the top 10. George Clark could beat me by 40 or 50lbs and was a good friend coming to my house on occasion. I hated him with great respect at the same time. When George would come into a room, everyone would stop and stare. He was nothing but coal black muscles and I was invisible. Well sure as hell my total was 1555 and his was 1600. On the way home from the meet I didn’t get it: they were all over him like flies on a dead man. Why not me? I train hard I said to myself. I drove a couple more miles and thought “Do I really?”

When I got home, I did more of everything: goodmornings, back raises, abs, everything. But I bought a book that changed my life forever, it was Jonathan Livingston Seagull. It is a simple book yet profound at the same time. The book is about a seagull that wanted to fly as fast as possible and this was totally against the elder’s thinking. But Jonathan kept trying until he was forced out of the flock. On his own he managed to fly 50mph, but thought there must be a limit. One day on the beach while training with an Elder gull named Ching, Ching said “Jonathan, you are a very fast flyer but you think a number is perfection, but perfection has no limits. Perfect speed is being there at the moment”. Chiang vanished and appeared fifty feet away in an instant, then vanished again and was back at Jonathan’s side.

As I read this, I realized that only I can hold me back. It taught me to really be one with the barbell or any task in front of me. My 1555 was in Nov. of ’72 and in Feb. of ’73 I made 1655 – a 100lb jump. I did this by realizing there is no struggle. I had found perfect speed. I would see myself as Jonathan as a lifter, and later on I became Chiang the teacher.

I was no match for George Clark’s insane strength but by the simple teachings I became Jonathan Livingston Seagull.

Thanks to my friend George Clark

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