Thursday, February 17, 2022

My First Set of Weights - By Jim Duggan

    


  The Summer of 1976 was a special time for me, and the United States of America.  On July 4th, America celebrated its bicentennial, and I celebrated my twelfth birthday a couple weeks later on July 20th.  Something else would take place that Summer which would have a lasting impact on my life.

     On July 17th, the Summer Olympics would take place in Montreal, Canada.  It was the first Olympiad that I would take an active interest in watching, and there was a lot to see.  Nadia Comaneci dominated gymnastics, Bruce Jenner won the decathlon, and the American basketball team won the gold medal, after having been cheated by the Russians four years earlier.      

     But the event that stood out for me that Summer was the Weightlifting.  Each night, a different weight class would be highlighted.  And while the American team struggled, there was a lot of great lifting to get excited about.  Some of the dominant performances in the heavier classes left an impression on me that remains to this day.  

     It was while viewing the heavy classes that I was bitten by “the Iron Bug.”  I just couldn’t get over the fact that such powerful men walked the earth.  Can you imagine being twelve years old and seeing these athletes hoist over 500 Lbs overhead?  As the television announcers proclaimed, these were the strongest men in the world.  And I wanted to be a part of it.  

     There was just one problem.  I needed a set of weights.  The good news was that the local sporting goods store sold a 110 Lb set for about thirty dollars.  The bad news was that I did not have the money to pay for it, but there was hope for me.  That Summer, I had begun mowing the lawn of our elderly neighbor, Mrs. Johnson, for six dollars per week.  There was light- and weights- at the end of the tunnel.

     Fortunately- or unfortunately, depending on your point of view- Hurricane Belle struck Long Island about a week after the Olympics ended.  It enabled me to earn extra money from Mrs. Johnson, cleaning her yard from the storm damage left behind.  Additionally, since I had been a big help to my parents, it was decided that I would only have to come up with half the price of the weights.  I was in business!

     I’ll never forget the day we drove home from the store.  The five foot bar ( which looked even longer!), the two dumbbell bars, and, of course, the large box containing the various plates.  I didn’t realize it at the time, but my Dad carried the large box into the house by himself.  No dolly, or hand truck.  I was too young to realize how impressive that was.

     From that very first day in August1976, until the day I joined Bruno’s seven years later, my training took place in the enclosed porch of my parents’ house.  It was sweltering during the Summer, and during the Winter I froze, but I didn’t care.  I just wanted to lift.  Even if I didn’t know what I was doing, I wanted to lift.  And, with my Dad’s encouragement, I rarely missed a workout.  “Just keep lifting” he would say to me.

     As I got older and stronger, we would drive to the nearest place that sold gym equipment and bought additional weights, not to mention benches and various attachments.  Eventually, the porch of our house resembled a small gym.  But rather than get upset, my Dad would still encourage me.  “Just keep lifting.”

     After I joined Bruno’s, the weights in the house kind of gathered dust over the years.  Bruno’s, The All Natural Gym, and Iron Island are the three commercial gyms I’ve belonged to over the years.  During that time, I’ve competed in Powerlifting and Strongman competitions.  I’ve met and lifted with some of the legends of the Iron Game, but I’ll always remember my introduction to the world of weights and lifting.  And I’ll never forget how it all began.

     Two weeks ago, on January 29th, my Dad passed away suddenly.  No matter how you prepare for that awful day, it still hits you like a tidal wave.  It’s been said that losing someone you love can seem to diminish your own existence.  Perhaps.  But there will always be precious memories from which to draw strength.

     One particular memory of my Dad has been documented on this website by Bob Whelan.  It was in the article “Training and Eating in the Big Apple.”  On July 20, 1996 I turned 32 years old.  That night, “Maximum” Bob, Drew Israel, Howard Menkes, and myself went to the famous Peter Luger Steakhouse, in Williamsburg, Brooklyn.  While the four of us were eating, I happened to look up and there was my Dad!  He was in uniform and on duty ( his firehouse was a few blocks away from the restaurant).  He took the time to stop by and surprise me on my birthday.  He later confessed that he also wanted to see just how much steak the four of us could “put away.”  I don’t think he was disappointed.  But I sure was happy to see him.  It remains one of my favorite birthdays.

     Over the years, I’ve admired many Iron Game figures.  Bruno Sammartino, John Grimek, Bruce Wilhelm, Jon Kolb to name a few.  But the man who has had the greatest and most enduring influence on me is my Dad.  He is also the person who made it all possible. At his funeral, I concluded my eulogy with a simple statement:  He was a hell of a man.


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