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“No one said it would be easy” should have been stamped on my forehead as I started my full-time powerlifting career.
I was born in Ohio and it was the strongest real estate in the world. My first meet was in November 1966 in Dayton, Ohio, about 60 miles from my home. I drove those 60 miles to get my ass royally kicked. I came in 10th out of 11 lifters. I managed to beat a 55-year-old man.
I thought “What the hell just happened?”
I had Olympic lifted since I was 14-years-old and had always placed at least third. My thoughts were not on the old man, but the ten guys who had just kicked my punk ass. I knew already to not look down on those who were lesser than me but to look up to those who are better than me. In that first power meet I met four future IPF world champs: Milt McKinney; Vince Anello, deadlifter supreme; George Crawford, a great squatter; and the incomparable Larry Pacifico, a future nine-time world champ.
I talked to George Crawford after the meet and told him how I placed and George said: “No one said it was going to be easy.”
After the meet, it was off to the Army where I was stationed in Germany until late 1969. I found a used, early 1967 Power Builder Magazine and it had articles from Culver City, California, Westside Barbell Club. My lifts had stalled, so I tried their methods—box squat rack and box pull, floor press—everything they talked about in the articles. I started making gains immediately. I was sold. There was no gear or special equipment needed, just boxes and a rack.
After getting out of the Army, I started competing in Ohio, Indiana, West Virginia and Kentucky at 181 body weight and I was winning a lot of meets. I took advice from the men who dominated one of the three power lifts. Larry P. told me I had to get a lot better bench if I was to win a national championship.
This was 1970, and in 1980, I won my first National with my first Top 10 Bench of 480 pounds as a 210-pound 220-pounder. I called Larry and told him he was right, but I did not think it would take ten years. However, my total was third all time high.
He paused and said, “No one said it was going to be easy.”
But squatting and deadlifting did come easy. I broke the 181-pound national squat record in 1971. In 1972, lifting in Dayton, Ohio, I was lifting against a new rival—George Clark. He was super jacked and strong, and everyone had forgotten me, it seemed. I totaled 1,555 and George made a 1,600. This was a tough loss for me to come home to with no training partner or anyone to relate to … just a mirror and an AM radio. I was told to read Jonathan Livingston Seagull, and it changed my life to this day. A phrase in the book caught my eye: “Perfect speed is being there.”
Three months later in February 1973, I totaled 1,655 pounds, a 100-pound jump and 20 pounds more than what Bob McKee had just totaled to win the IPF worlds. I made an IPF Elite Total by more than 50 pounds. No gear at all an with a two-hour weigh-in. I feel it is much harder to do than today’s pro totals; just try it.
After making a 1,655 total, I was flying high. On the way home from Toledo, Ohio, I told myself that my back was indestructible and I could make a 670 deadlift at 180 pounds. Shortly after returning home, however, I broke my L-5 and dislocated my sacroiliac (SI) joint, which is located in the pelvis. It links the pelvis to the sacrum and is an essential component for energy transfer between the legs and the torso.
I lay on my living room floor for three days. I had to pee in a coffee can as I could not move. I was on crutches for ten months. I was only able to do light deliveries for my company. I was lucky. I had a good boss, the same one since I was 12-years-old. No matter what exercise I tried, it did not help.
One day while meditating, no thought became a clear thought. I was thinking about the Reverse Hyper exercise. Once performed, it was the first thing that did not hurt, and it pumped up my lower back. It offered traction for my low Musashi said, “It is worthless to do nothing in battle.” He, of course, was correct. I resumed training. My next big meet was the Junior Nationals in Nebraska in 1977. I made third place.
Things were going well, and in 1978-79 I was Top 10 in the squat and deadlift and 4th and 5th in the Top Ten. In 1979, I went to Mississippi for the Senior Nationals. It was called Melt Down in Mississippi because it was 97 degrees and very humid. I was in very good shape at 212 body weight. I made a 733 personal record (PR) squat, a 462 bench press, and opened at a “should be easy” 672 deadlift. The 672 deadlift would put me in second place behind Larry P with no chance of anyone catching me.
I recall Rickey Dale Crain opening his deadlift and standing up without the bar—like it was too hot to hold on to. Ricky was very flamboyant when he lifted.Rickey would often come out to the platform saying “Hello, hello” over and over again. To who he was talking is still a mystery to me. But Ricky’s antics became a real problem for the entire meet.
I remember Bill Kazmaier saying “Beam me up, Scotty.” If I knew what was going to happen next, I would have asked Scotty to beam me up, too.
Well, back to my 672-pound opener. It came up easy, but as I locked it out, it started to slip out of my right hand. I recall the ref did not give the down signal and the bar got into my fingers and I tore my right bicep totally off. Second place turned into no place. I could not believe what had just happened.
The humidity was so high the bar became wet and slippery, almost impossible to hold. The meet was over for me, but I was still on the platform when Larry P came out and handed me an ice bag—he was a true champion through and through.
After leaving the platform, Vince White, a lifter from West Virginia, handed me a handful of pain killers, which I immediately took. I was higher than Alice when she was 10-foot tall and watched the remainder of the meet. I looked at my arm—or where I used to have an arm—and said to Vince, “Man, I had second place locked up and this had to happen.”
Vince replied, “No one said it was going to be easy.”
Not much bothers me. I started to think back to a meet in Ohio six years before where I was lifting in the 181-pound class and had won outstanding lifter. But then it occurred to me that Vince Anello was lifting at 198-pounds and had just taken a 700-pound opener to win the 198 class. Vince’s helper went over to him and told him I had won
Outstanding Lifter, and he would need a 780-pound deadlift to beat me. Vince said he would take it. The world record was 760 pounds by Ed Matz, Jr. for Northern Ohio, so with no planning, not only was Vince going to beat me for best lifter, but he would have to break a world record by 20 pounds to do it.
I said to myself, “No way, Jose.” But he pulled and pulled until he locked it out. I could not believe it. What a lift, but more than that, what a lifter! It did not make my arm feel any better, but I thought, “I have come a long way, and this arm thing is not going to stop me.” After getting home, I went to three surgeons. Two said to operate, but the third said that if I did not care what it looked like, don’t do the surgery.
I said, “Good.” But, I first made sure I could curl my arm all the way up and also fully straighten it out. I started doing high-pin deadlifts moving the bar an inch or two and lowering the pins each week. Some lifters from Blacks Health World came down to see me: Steve Wilson, a monster, Hoss the Boss, and Danny Woebler, who was known for the first 900-pound pulled. I thought while I had some spotters I would try to bench as heavy as I could. I made 485 with no problem. I knew I could start training again.
Mike Lambert, the owner of Powerlifting USA, wrote about the Senior Nationals meet calling it Melt Down in Mississippi for its terrible weather conditions. He also said that I was done Powerlifting with such a severe arm injury. But I was already training for the Nationals in Nitro, West Virginia.
This time I did not have to lift against Roger Ester as I had decided to stay in the 220-pound class from then on. I squatted 765 easy and called for the world record with 785-pounds, but I felt some severe pain in my groin, so I passed. I made my first Top 10 bench with 480 pounds and pulled 705 to total 1,950, which was third all time. Larry P. said when I developed a good bench I could win a National.
He was right. That was the good part. The bad part was after getting home I went to a doctor to see what damage I had done this time. Doc said I had torn two small holes in my lower stomach and had a small tear of a tendon that connected to my pelvic bone.
I said, “Doc, are you sure?”
His reply, “Lou, if you are going to powerlift, 'no one said it was going to be easy.”
“Thanks, Doc.” He sent me his bill.
I was in bad pain most of the summer, but I wanted to go to the Senior Nationals in Wisconsin. This became the famous meet where Larry P. ended his nine World Championship run by making a five-pound on his second attempt, which cancelled his third attempt. Well, I pulled out after hurting myself again. Larry P told me I should start lighter and I would do better. He was right.
I recovered and started training again. I went to one meet and pulled an easy 722 deadlift at about 208 body weight. Then, I was working in Cincinnati about a two-hour drive each way for 18 weeks. I was a crane operator then and would drive back to my garage gym and work out between 800 and 900 pounds every Friday. I had injured my back again, but I paid no attention, which was normal for me. I worked very late on Friday and had to squat on Saturday with only two girls to spot me.
I thought I would low box squat, so the weights would not be so great, although it was 725 pounds. I set the safety pins to spot me if I missed. The box was two-inch below parallel. I missed and sat back down on the box. I then leaned forward to set the bar on the pins, but I had set the pins too low and got smashed between the box and the pins. I could not get out from beneath the bar, so the girls unloaded the bar so I could get the weight off my back. With box squatting from 800 to 900 pounds for 18 weeks and then getting smashed with 725 pounds, I knew something was not right.
I called my friend Dr. Jim Reardon, and he got me in to see a surgeon on Monday. After the examination, the surgeon said, “I’ve got bad news.” He wanted to take out two disks, fuse my back and take off some bone spurs. He wanted me to come back in a week for surgery.
I never went back. But, I thought to myself, “No one said it was going to be easy.”
I rehabbed myself with acupuncture, acupressure, Reverse Hypers, and stretching for six months. And then I started to train heavy again. I was not able to compete much as my work kept me too busy. I made my fifth Elite Total in Toledo, Ohio, the same town where I had made my first one.
This time it was different because my first three Elite Totals were with two-hour weigh-ins and no bench shirt. Now I had a bench shirt from Frantz, and I got 20 pounds out of it with a 500 raw bench and a 520 shirt bench. Another difference was that I weighed only 235 pounds when I saw Toledo about 15 miles away.
I had a young Chuck Vogelpohl with me, and I started drinking Gatorade all the way to the weigh-in. After getting on the scales, I was 240 pounds. The judge said I was good, but I said I needed to weigh over the 242 limit to lift in the 275 class. Chuck handed me Gatorades until I made 243 pounds. At that time, only Mike Roy and Dr. Squat Fred Hatfield had five Elite Totals, and now I had five.
Fred Hatfield had a lot of influence on my lifting and on how I understood strength in general. He had five Elite Totals. I had wanted five Elite Totals, too. Back then it was based on strength, not on gear and body weight manipulation. I was doing well, working a lot and not competing, just training. Matt Dimel was the world record holder in the SHW with 1,010 pounds.
He was trying 1,020 in the gym and blew off both patella tendons. Then, while in the hospital, he had an adverse reaction to the drugs and blew off both quad tendons. Matt said, “I can’t believe this happened to me!”
I said, “No one said it was going to be easy.” Matt recovered and squatted 903 to win the Senior Nationals.
I had seen a lot of patellas blow, but I never thought it could happen to me. I was not working, so I had good training and was taking a low, soft-box record. I was tired but liked to try all-time records when I was not my best. I made a 735-pound for a record and felt my knee cap move.
Then, two spotters got into an argument about if they could lift the bar off the pins. Remember, no mono lift in 1991. Chuck V. got mad, and so did I, and Chuck said, “Take another.” And I said, “Put it on.” Seven hundred and sixty pounds was loaded, and I forgot about my knee until it had a complete rupture of the patella tendon. I could not believe what just happened.
I had forgotten that I felt my knee tear only five minutes before. So, now I was going to the hospital for surgery. I am very allergic to anesthesia, and they gave me a spinal. Fourteen weeks later I go back to the hospital to have the wires taken out. I was given a shot to calm me for surgery, but as I was dozing off, they gave me anesthesia. I stopped breathing.
Four minutes went by before they performed a tracheotomy and inserted chest tubes – both while I was semi-conscious—and then sedated me. Forty-eight hours later I came to and found I had a lot of things sticking out of my body, but I hadn’t had a knee operation.
I was not in a good mood at all.
So while they had an air tube down my throat, they operated on my knee. They wouldn’t release me for seven days. I was picked up from the hospital on a Tuesday by my wife and Chuck V., and I went to the gym. On Sunday I drove myself to the gym and was told I had to max out on the bench.
I made 355 pounds. I have never been discouraged in my life, and I was not going to start then. I was not going to compete again. After all, I thought I had done all I could. But, I found I was just beginning. I began to receive U.S. patents. I had a business and a gym named Westside Barbell Club in honor of the Culver City, California, men like Bill West, George Frenn, Pat Casey and Joe DiMarco, Superstar Billy Graham, and all the bodybuilders and Olympic athletes that trained there.
The gym was doing great, breaking world records and continuously improving the training methods I started using in 1982 after I broke my back for the second time. I knew in 1982 I had to find a better way to train, and the former Soviet Union way was it. I will always be indebted to all the Soviet Union sports scientists for their endless work for improving training methods. I was told many times that no one said it was going to be easy.
But all the pain and work was paying off. The 1990s were great with the greatest group of lifters Westside had ever assembled, winning the APF Senior Nationals several times. At the Worlds, Westside scored the top six for team points. Westside had four firsts and two second place finishers.
Westside won the WPL Worlds twice. Kenny Patterson and the guys went to Texas for a money bench meet. It was to be the Anthony Clark show, but K.P. won and surprised everyone by winning and breaking the world record in the 275 class. Westside had three world record holders at that time and won a lot of money. Westside went to Lumberton, North Carolina, for a money meet to win $8,000.
I called first and asked if they really had eight grand, and they said yes. So I told them to have it in small bills because we would be down to get it. Well, we won it all. They said they did not think any big names would show up. I said, “Are you kidding? For eight grand we would go to Mars.” About that time K.P. had some minor shoulder problems and had stalled, not going anywhere.
To psyche him, I said I was going to come out of retirement and squat 700 pounds. He said, “Old man you will never have 700 pounds on your back again.”
It was that moment that I came out of retirement.
I had great training partners like Chuck V., Dave Zippy Tate, Joe McCoy, Fuss Dog Fusner and Jerry O. to name a few. But from that point on, K.P. was responsible for what I did.
My first meet back, I totaled Elite at 242, but my squat was 760 pounds—the same weight from when I blew my knee off. But it was no problem. I was back, kind of. I went on to bench 600 pounds at 50 years old when no one had done 550 pounds. I was second in the squat at 920 pounds.
I was fourth in the total. I was 6th in the Top 10 in the 220 bench at 54 years old and 10th in the deadlift with 715 pounds at 57 years old in the 220 class. I had a shoulder replacement in 2005 and a neck problem that made it impossible to train with a squat bar.
But there was no way I was not going to get back on the platform. Finally, after six years, I was able to go to a full meet. I was now 63 years old and had new goals. I made 730, 505 and 675 deadlift at 217 body weight. That’s a 1,885 total. I wanted to total 2,000, but my neck stopped my dreams.
So now I had to have a new dream. I thank Kenny everyday for motivating me to do my very best. The gym is now rebuilding with new talent. Westside holds six current all-time world records, but that is not good enough for me, and I hope not good enough for anyone at Westside, or they should leave me their key and get out. I have 12 U.S. patents and I have written eight books by hand as I don’t know how to use a computer.
Yes, no one said it was going to be easy.
Tom Barry asked me why I did it and why I never stray from the way. My reply is that all my friends and memories are from the four walls of Westside Barbell and its many locations over the years—starting from my basement to several other locations to today’s 3,800 square foot facility.
But in all that time there has never been a sign because no sign is needed. Westside is a mystical place that many seek out, but few experience. In a 15-mile radius of Westside there are 14 men who have held an all-time world record and countless women who have compiled more than 100 all-time world records.
And, at present, Westside lifters hold 19 out of the top 25 totals of all time.
Like they said, no one said it was going to be easy, but all the pain and work was worth it.