Of Iron and Bronze – 8

(photo by Lou Mangiaracina)

(photo by Lou Mangiaracina)


If I had any doubts or second thoughts about the decision I’d made, via text message to Ricky, in the fall of 2004—that I’d be taking his suggestion to get back on a regimen of chemical restoratives—they were swiftly erased the following Saturday morning’s training. Just as I was getting into my short warmup routine, which at the time consisted of little more than putting my shoes on, Libby entered the gym—accompanied by her brother Myron, the greatest natural talent in weightlifting I or perhaps anyone in our group had ever seen.

“Who is that guy?” said Joe, rubbing his eyes in a mimicry of disbelief. “Is that…?”

Myron—moving slowly, almost sedately, as was his habit—smiled a little and shook his head.

Myron?!” cried Joe. “We thought you were dead!”

“Lookit this,” said Ricky, himself disbelieving as well. It’d been months since any of us had last seen Myron in the gym. Although this was also his habit: show up for a training session or two, maybe a week, and then disappear, like some phantom that made irregular hauntings. And perhaps that was part of his appeal—you never knew when a Myron sighting might happen. Though he’d been coming longer than Libby—and it was he who first introduced her to the sport—he never trained with anything near her regularity.

“I figured you guys would appreciate this,” said Libby.

“The hell you been, buddy?” asked Pete, offering his hand in greeting.

Myron just shrugged. “Been around. Just busy with different things. Haven’t been able to get to the gym.”

Libby rolled her eyes. “He’s full of shit. He hasn’t been doing anything.”

But Myron let this accusation roll off him with only the slightest acknowledgment. Such was his character, as least as much as we could discern: someone who seemed to move through the world with minimal excitement or agitation. A figure who could convey absence even as he was standing right in your midst, so subdued was he at times. Only when he was lifting did he reveal a different character entirely…

“Jesus Christ,” said Joe, as he and I watched Myron put 100 kilos overhead after he’d warmed up and gone through some lighter weights.

I nodded. “He’s a mutant.”

There was little in Myron’s physical makeup to suggest his abilities. He was tall and lanky, with thick wrists and elbows that accentuated his leanness. Off the platform, and even on the platform—until a specific moment in his lifts—he moved as though walking through syrup. You’d never think there was a fast-twitch muscle fiber in him. It’d be hard to think there was muscle fiber of any type in him, and his lifting—off the floor at least—seemed to confirm this. He pulled the bar up along the shins and toward the knees with a speed that was best described as glacial. Moss could grow on him during his first pull. To watch those first few moments of his lifts was often to think he’d horribly misjudged his abilities, and would be lucky to deadlift the weight, let alone attempt to put it overhead…

But when the bar passed Myron’s knees his body snapped like some giant rubber band, as though the hand of an invisible god of strength had come down and smacked him into motion. His second pull was a terrifyingly fast burst of energy, so violently explosive that a few people in the gym that morning who were unaccustomed to this lifting gasped in shock. His torso extended violently backward, ending up almost parallel to the floor, and an instant later Myron was under the barbell, which he’d lifted to precisely the height he’d needed to secure it overhead. Not a centimeter more. Indeed, for all his explosiveness, the bar moved very little compared to many lifters in that room.

Nobody taught him to lift like this; in fact it would be downright reckless to teach anybody to lift in this fashion. But Myron’s body just knew, at some instinctual level that most of us could but dimly comprehend, that this would work for him. And since he came so infrequently nobody bothered to try correcting him.

Even Nikos, who in his day had lifted alongside some of the best athletes in the world, was impressed. He nodded in appreciation after the 100-kilo snatch.

“Still a man,” said Ricky, in a compliment that had about it the touch of jealousy—although perhaps I was projecting.

The presence of this great talent—raw as he was—spread among us that morning, as is often the case when a new athlete injects a little life into a gym. I certainly felt it, as I tried to make my own lifts just a little faster, a little crisper.

Libby was the only one among us who seemed unimpressed. “Imagine if you trained,” she said, and then set up for her own snatch attempt.

When Libby’d first started training with us she had a similar style. Her brother hadn’t necessarily taught her how to lift, but she’d learned by imitating him. The result was disastrous. She may have had his power, but she was built differently: shorter, stockier, more muscular even if lighter than he. The slow pull off the floor worked, but when she opened up and hyperextended the bar’s path went wild, like a chromed moon ejected from its orbit. Viewed from the side her barbell trajectory at the beginning of her lifting traced out a hideous question mark that was totally at odds with what anyone should be striving for. Nikos, during her first training session, watched in silence for about five minutes and then put a stop to it.

“Is very powerful,” he said. “But we have to start from beginning. Take PVC. ”

And to her credit, she did.

Her lifting, though still in need of refinement, showed how much she was willing to step back and learn. She’d snatched 80 kilos on this Saturday morning—her PR from the previous week—and it looked so good that Nikos had allowed her to go up a full five kilos for an attempt at 85.

“Like the last one,” said Nikos, and Libby nodded in response.

She stepped to the barbell amid the growing silence of the gym. This was nearing national-medal territory weight, and just about everyone there knew it. I’m not sure what the others thought, but I had little faith in her making the lift. For most athletes the tendency at maximal or supramaximal weights is for form to break down: the weight feels heavy—rightfully so—and it throws the mind and body into chaos. You start panicking—I need to get under this! I need to pull like a maniac! What was I thinking?!—and everything, in short, goes to shit. I was thinking all of these things as she was setting up and thus almost missed the near perfect snatch that she executed with 85 kilos. Nothing had changed from her previous attempt, and though she struggled with the barbell overhead for a moment—perhaps at the shock of securing this new PR—she resisted the pull of gravity and patiently let herself settle in the bottom position before standing up.

“Holy shit,” I said, legitimately impressed. She was improving beyond what any of us had expected.

“She’s comin’ after you,” said Pete, turning to Myron. “Only fifteen more kilos…”

I don’t think Myron was really affected by such remarks—his motivations were wholly different or unknown to us—but that didn’t stop him from adding more weight. Inscrutable and strange as he may have been he was still susceptible to the lure of more weight, more snatching. On his next attempt he made a similarly impressive 110-kilo snatch, despite not having trained in months.

“I don’t fucking get it,” said Joe, who’d just missed the same weight. Five times.

“Look like you ain’t missed a beat,” Pete said.

And it was true. For most of us a week off from training meant taking several steps back. For Myron, a week or a month or half a year seemed to make no difference at all.

As the day’s training neared its end and the space began to clear out Ricky approached me and Pete. He did so in a way that suggested feigned casualness, and I knew at once the nature of his sidling up. He smiled broadly as he milled about our platform.

“You still in?” he said, grinning ludicrously.

I nodded, trying to maintain an air of discretion.

“Good,” he said. “Puttin’ the order in today. I told Frankie to take care of the details for you.” He then turned to Pete. “What about you?”

“No pins,” said Pete. “I hate needles.”

“You pussy.”

“Just same as last time.”

“Okay,” he said, nodding and perhaps slightly disappointed.

A group of us walked out together—a small company comprised mostly of those who’d dedicated the better part of our daily lives to the sport. Me and Pete and Ricky and Nikos and Joe, along with Libby and her brother. In the parking lot Myron made promises to come again soon, which we knew with near certainty would be broken but which we hoped to be true all the same.

As he and Libby drove away Ricky stared at the car almost wistfully. “Guy could be a world champion,” he said. “You ever seen anything like him?”

Nikos shook his head. “He have talent,” he said. “But—sister is better.” This last part he added almost as a whisper, as though not wanting the respective parties to hear what he had to say even though they were long gone.

Joe screwed up his face in disbelief, as did several of us, I imagine.

“She work,” said Nikos, by way of explanation. “He no work. Is big difference.”


[next chapter]

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One Response to Of Iron and Bronze – 8

  1. Pingback: Of Iron and Bronze – 7 | Decadence and Depravity: Tales of Weightlifting, Food, and Everything Else

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