The Sting of Steel

Spring 1993

Part I

In Golden for more than five months of the year, we would be locked in the deep winter freeze, with snow piling up until the universe shifted and pushed us out from our collective hibernation. The spring would then hit with its subtle and gentle warmth that breaking the frost from the mornings and gently sloughing the ice off the streets.

It was a small town blue-collar community where people’s anticipation of the seasons would seemingly motivate their every activity. The winter brought curling, hockey, and skiing. The summer brought motocross, waterskiing, and fishing. The transitional seasons were perhaps the most anticipated of all with the opening of hunting season coming in with the fall and the spring ushered in slush bumps for the mountain’s hardcore loyalists.

Golden was the quintessential outdoor enthusiast’s dream. For many a young person growing up in Golden, the idea of spending prime daylight hours in a classroom seemed an absolute waste. Consequently, many of my more adventurous friends were on the ‘extended high school track’ taking a year or two longer to graduate depending how many excursions they crammed into their respective academic years.

By the spring of 1993, I was a 16-year-old kid nearing 6 feet tall with a 36” vertical and no obvious markers of strength. But, I had acquired a taste for iron. It had little to do with winter’s ski conditions or the changing of the seasons, I had acquired a passion, for the bite of cold hard metal, chalk dust, and the ‘good hurt.' I started lifting two years earlier in the basement of my parent’s house. I lifted because I liked the way it made me feel. I enjoyed the physical struggle that came with the resistance of pushing the weight. In the interest of full disclosure, I also liked that it made me feel a little bit like the warriors of fantasy and folklore.

As soon as I had my license, I transitioned out of my parent’s basement into the ‘big time.' I will acknowledge, the ‘big time’ was still a basement. It was however not Mom and Dad’s basement. A husband and wife team started up and ran “Jump and Pump” (“J and P”) a local supplement store on the corner of the only intersection with a street light in town. The husband, Mike would manage the supplement shop and the weight room while his wife, taught group exercise classes. In the gym’s early days a busy night would see ten people getting their sweat on.

The gym’s entrance was just past the supplement counter, down two short flights of stairs and around a corner. The gym had no view, no windows, just iron and a couple of plants. When you were there, it was pretty much just you and the limits you imposed on own potential. Looking back on it now, that basement at the corner of that intersection became a crossroad on the journey towards my passion.

The new gym did not mean the sudden influx of professional systems, programs or macro-cycles we were all on our own. There were a couple of regulars at the gym that seemed to know a little bit more than the rest of us regarding how to handle the iron, but I wouldn’t say that any of them followed a particular plan.

By far the strongest guy in the gym at the time was Manjit or simply (“The Manj”). The Manj walked around at 185lbs with a 405lbs bench press, he always wore long sleeve black sweatshirt and matching sweat pants. The Manj possessed an almost nonexistent waist (even when he cinched up his faded and worn leather weight lifting belt — you know the one with the metal buckle in the front and flare in the back). After The Manj was Jay also known as “The Beef,” I could not tell you whether the nickname was as a result of his 600lbs shrug for reps in high school or whether it was attributable to his being pretty good with the ladies or whether it was a combination of the two. Whatever the case, those two gents represented our local top two strongmen. Eventually, there was a third notable, a young bodybuilder named Dave (this guy would eventually surpass both The Manj & The Beef before moving on to greener pastures in the engineering field). So, as a 16-year-old in the first two years of his relationship with iron, I was not without examples of what strength could be. What was yet unknown to me was my untapped potential.

One afternoon while finishing my workout at the J and P, Mike approached me and said they were holding a weightlifting contest at the Arena (the hockey arena which was at the time set for a spring lawn and garden exhibition). I asked him what I would need to do and he said, “show up and lift some weights…” It all seemed simple enough, and with that, I thought long and hard about my situation. Meaning I did not think at all about it. I had just spent the previous hour and a bit working myself over in the basement, so yep, perfect timing!? All I needed were two things, and I needed them tout suit! First I needed a honey and sesame seed snack (consisting of honey and sesame seeds pressed together like particleboard because everyone knew that shit gave you energy). And secondly, I needed 500ml of Dairy Maid chocolate milk from the 7-11 because that shit is just plain good for you.

The meet was not a ‘fancy’ operation; there was no registration, no competition numbers, and no waivers. It was simple, get in line wait your turn and hope for the best. And there I was, hoping that when the dust cleared, I was going to lift more than every other guy and win myself a coupon to the supplement store. After devouring a sesame snack and pounding chocolate milk into me, I was ready! Rocking jeans over my shorts and carrying my weight belt I rolled into the Arena. Crowds had already begun to gather around the bench press and the squat rack. I felt their electricity surge though me making me shake as I walked.

I did not consider the bench my ‘best event,' but a couple of warm-up arm circles later I put up the most grueling one repetition maximum of my life and with it came a new bench press personal record of 205Lbs!

Now I just had to figure out the squat. At the squat rack, the number of participants had dropped from a line of 30 eager men to less than six angry looking men. In the squat, they said we could take three attempts, and the heaviest lifter would win it. The squat rack was set up along the boards of the arena, and the bar faced the stands. 150 people stood around on the floor and another 100 in the seats watching from above for me. This was the first time in my life that my athleticism was so clearly on display and I was fucking charged up (I am pretty sure that my sweat could have qualified as a performance enhancing aid at that point)!

I was not about to fill anyone in on the fact that I had never squatted before. It was a little on the late side for that. And I was up! On my first attempt, I had no clue what weight, to begin with, but I remembered taking 225lbs off the rack one time when I was in the gym and thinking it wasn’t that heavy. Additionally, I had muscle-cleaned 205lbs based on an article I had read in Muscle Mag International how hard could it be?

I climbed under the weight and squatted down and stood up, my first squat I ever completed in my life was 225Lbs! On the next set the experienced gents had bumped the weight up to three plates, and I could hear them talking about how no one would be able to stay with them above three wheels a side. As I stood in line and watched them squat, I noticed how the judge was waiting for them to hit 90º of depth and I thought “I am in.” It was my turn again. As the bar was adjusted, they asked me what I wanted, and I said “315lbs”. The judge looked at me, shrugged, locked the collars in place, and I climbed under the bar. I stepped out, squatted down and stood up. Another personal record.

Wow! I couldn’t believe that I was hanging with the adults in the squat and I had one more attempt to go. I asked the judge what the next weight would be, and he said, “It's 405lbs, and you can try if you like, but it will be heavy…” Now let’s be clear, I had no idea what 405lbs of heavy would feel like, and just looking at the four steel plates, a side made my adrenaline surge. Not lifting was not even an option for me. I was in it, and I was doing it. As I looked on everyone was missing the lift but two. The first barely got it and the second looked pretty comfortable, but then again it was The Manj.

Then, it was my turn. And I thought, “If I am going to do this, I am going for it!” I motioned for the judge to put a 10lbs plate on either side. It was at that moment that I felt my focus narrow to the head of a pin. I walked to the bar, cinched up my leather weight belt, and grasped the cold hard fucking metal. For the first time I tasted the rage, I heard the voices in my head. The center of the bar became all that I saw; the crowd faded away, the noise faded away, the entire world faded away. With one swift motion, I drove myself under the bar mashing my traps against it, feeling the steel biting into my neck, the battle had begun.

“Red Rage and Hate; that is what I have always felt at the moment when I flip the switch going from intellect to savage, never denying the fact that I loved the moment it happens. To be in a place of such pure energy and passion, without the restraints of society dictating what is next for they are no longer apart of the equation. Red Rage and Hate followed by the perfect silence when all the noise is gone, and all that is left is an inextinguishable focus taken from a place of darkness and focused towards the result of success…”

I stepped out from the rack with 425Lbs of weight across my 16-year-old frame, focused and tight. I descended to the bottom of the squat waiting for the judge to make the call. Moments passed in slow motion as I felt my will slipping under what was a large load across my back. I felt the pain and the tremors of my body fighting not to collapse. And then finally I heard a shout, and I powered out of the hole I had gotten myself into and finish the lift, racing to the top. I felt myself come to the completion of the lift and rack the bar hard knowing that I had won my first victory against the iron. I didn’t win the coupon. I took second place but in my second place finish was the start of a journey with the iron. I had learned the important lesson that the ability to be strong was not only for me, but it was something that I could cultivate for the rest of my life