“When the hell’d you get here?” asked Ricky, reeling from this sudden appearance. He threw out one of his huge mitts and began shaking Myron’s hand vigorously—clearly elated at having him around for a competitor.
“’Bout an hour ago,” said Myron. “Just barely made weigh ins.”
“Yeah? You a 105?”
Myron smiled his slow, casual smile. “Technically. Weighed in just over 94 kilos.”
Ricky roared with laughter and clapped him on the shoulder. “You skinny little bastard! But—still counts! I threw the ref a twenty and he snuck me into the 105s, so it’s you and me, head to head today.”
“Wait, did you really…”
“Nah, I’m just kiddin’. I made weight fair and square.” But as he turned to continue his warmups he winked at me, and to this day I’m not sure if he was serious or not. For all I know Ricky weighed close to 120 kilos at the competition—he certainly looked it, and his hair and beard alone could have filled out the 56-kilo class. Myron, by comparison, didn’t look to be a gram over 85; where he hid those extra ten kilos is more of a mystery than Ricky’s making weight. He was as lean and unassuming as ever, standing around like a marionette of bone and sinewy muscle.
“You didn’t say your brother was coming,” I said to Libby as I took a seat next to her and Pete in the crowd.
She made a face. “He barely said anything about it, and you never know if he’s actually going to come through.”
“Has he been training?”
“Who knows,” she said.
The session was a mixed bag of lifters across the 94s, 105s, and superheavies. There were newcomers struggling to put 60 kilos overhead alongside a couple world-class athletes who’d been in the sport a decade or more. Among this group the contest between Myron and Ricky was the clear highlight. Aside from a superheavy who was a top national lifter, the two of them were fighting for the heaviest lifts—and doing so via means that were almost diametrically opposed to each other.
Ricky came out to the platform overflowing with intensity and grit, as though each movement he made might rend apart the very fabric of the basement. He paced back and forth before the barbell, stared it down, took in huge breaths puffing himself up in size against an opponent. The crowd—even those who didn’t know his history—loved him, feeding off his energy like drawing warmth from a fire. In any other environment he would have been ludicrous—more carnival sideshow than finely tuned athlete—but in that moment, with that crowd, he was at home: a huge and hairy beast of a man shoehorned into a singlet from the 1980s and lifting more through sheer force of will than anything else.
“What a animal,” said Pete while Ricky walked out for his first snatch, and in his voice was both admiration and disbelief.
If only that was enough. He nearly bombed out in the snatch, thanks in part to his exuberance and over-confidence in his own abilities. He opened with 120 kilos—a recent PR. After his first two misses Pete leaned over to me and whispered: “Dollar bet: make or miss.”
“Make,” I said.
“You fool!” he hissed. “Get yer wallet out…”
But Ricky won me that dollar, barely hanging on to his third crack at 120 and nearly bringing the fans—all two dozen or so of them—to their feet.
“Put it on my tab,” said Pete afterward. “We still got the clean and jerks.”
Myron, in comparison, was his usual self: slow and unassuming in everything except where it counted. When Ricky had been on the platform he appeared to dwarf the weights; with Myron it was the opposite, and the weights looked dangerously heavy compared to his lanky frame. Things weren’t helped by his terribly slow first pull: the weight—120 kilos—came off the floor with all the speed of continental erosion, and no doubt many in that crowd were stupefied by what looked like a failed deadlift attempt. But moments later—long moments, by the way they felt—there was the explosion of the second pull and Myron was under the barbell. A few people in the crowd gasped audibly. There were oohs and ahs even from some of the refs.
“God-damn!” said Pete.
Libby just rolled her eyes.
Yet it was hard to deny: he was that impressive.
At the end of the session Ricky and Myron finished with equal totals: 285 kilos. Ricky managed 120/165—the last clean and jerk a huge leap of faith, given that he hadn’t cleaned over 145 recently—and Myron did it via a more balanced 130/155.
“Not bad,” said Ricky afterwards, as each of them stood side by side bedecked with their medals: gold for Myron, silver for Ricky—out of three total competitors in their weight class (third was a new lifter who totaled 152.5 kilos and who wore his medal like it had been awarded for valor in combat).
Myron nodded. “That was fun.”
“You gotta come around more often,” said the older man. “Lifting like that without a coach and regular training, just think what you’d be doing with six months of good training!”
“Yeah, maybe,” said Myron. “We’ll see. See what kind of time I have.”
“You wanna come around, me and Nikos and Russ are happy to have you. Libby knows, right? She got Nationals in her sights. You could be there too.”
“After today I just want a total on my sights…” said Libby.
Ricky put a good-natured hand on her shoulder. “Today wasn’t anything. Forget about today. Think about the next training, the next meet. Stay hungry. We’ll get you ready.” And at this last point he looked at me and grinned—no doubt a not-so-subtle reminder of the conversation I was supposed to have with her at some point…
“Speakin’ of hungry…” said Pete.
“You don’t got some fancy gourmet shit you brought for dinner? Eh?” said Ricky.
“I ate it all! I didn’t think we’d be here till seven in the evenin’.”
“You been comin’ here for years. Ain’t never been a meet we got outta here on time.”
“Well c’mon! Let’s get to eatin’!”
“Myron, whaddaya say? You wanna come for some food?”
There was real hope in Ricky’s voice—as though in this opponent, his physical antithesis, a man twenty-five years his junior—he’d found someone to look up to.
But Myron just shook his head. “Nah, I gotta get going. Told some friends I’d meet up with them. Thanks though.”
“Okay, well. Good work! Take it easy.”
We parted thus—some of us off to eat, some to get an early start on partying down in New Brunswick, some to activities of other designs and other makings. Pete, Libby, and I joined Ricky, Russ, and Nikos for a small feast at a diner—just the right setting for a post-mortem of the day. We ate pastrami sandwiches and greasy cheeseburgers and platefuls of fries and finished it all off with a round of milkshakes. We shared our stories and lamented missed lifts and made plans for the days and weeks to come. When it grew late and we grew tired—and eager to join in the revelries of our peers down in New Brunswick—we parted reluctantly, wanting to draw out that day just a little longer. Competitions were a rare nexus of togetherness—a more focused and distilled time compared to the frenzied training days, when it was less certain everyone’s time in the gym would overlap—and we each knew it would be several months before another such opportunity presented itself.
“You did good today,” said Ricky, shaking each of our hands. “Made me proud. Made us all proud.”
Nikos nodded in agreement. We chatted by our cars idly for a few more moments—torn between this crew of the sports’ veterans and our peers—and then said goodbye.
* * *
Back in New Brunswick we joined our companions—most of whom were firmly established in partying. A few lifters lived in a house not far off College Ave, and there we toasted to the day and drank cheap beers while standing around a dimly lit living room and squalid kitchen. The night wore on and we became first rowdy, then thoughtful, and then alternated between the two. We played 80s songs through a cheap speaker set hooked up to someone’s laptop and sung out with great emotion to “Don’t Stop Believing” and “Here I Go Again,” as though our very souls depended on a sincere performance. In between songs we bonded with each other in the overly familiar way of the inebriated—friends, random acquaintances, anyone within earshot.
At one point Robbie—who’d had an amazing day on the platform, at least as far as his abilities were concerned—drunkenly professed to me his love for weightlifting and those he’d found in it.
“This is the best,” he said, slurring and looking slightly greener than usual. “I mean, I don’t know what I’d do if I didn’t find this sport. You guys. You know?”
“I know,” I said.
“It’s like, this changed me, man. I don’t know what I’d be doing. You know what I mean, Jonathan? Do you know what I mean?” He said this last with terrible urgency and sincerity in his voice, as though a failure to communicate would be too much for his drunken self to bear.
And I—deep into my own partying—nodded and agreed and knew it to be true.
Despite the best of intentions I was swept up in the celebrations, and much of that evening was lost to a fog of Keystone Light-induced amnesia—to my great regret. There are bits and pieces of what followed that conversation with Robbie: more toasts to the day with a handle of Captain Morgan’s rum being passed around the room; shouting at passersby from the porch; consoling Libby over her bomb out by relating my own failures in weightlifting (and trying to act sober in doing so); and then, at some point, she and I walking back to my apartment together, our shoulders touching with every step, as if we could not wait until we were inside to initiate a less random physical contact…