How This OLD MAN Ended Up in My First POWERLIFTING Meet!

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Since I was a young man, I always loved to lift weights.

I remember back in high school, when I was preparing to try out for the freshman football team, training with the other guys on an old Universal weight machine. But football wasn’t my game (at least tackle football–flag was a blast in grade school!) as a 115-pound guy can get his bell rung quite easily, as I soon found out.

Basketball was more my game, and I logged likely thousands of hours playing at my school or local parks–often late into the evening–until my dad would come looking for me in his old Ford station wagon (you know, the kind with the fake wood panelling on the sides!).

Not only did I play a ton of basketball, I also trained my body hard for the task. My training included running up flights of stairs with five-pound ankle weights at a nearby hospital after hours, plyometric training (jump-training), and “jump squats”–where I’d put a barbell behind my neck and then jump as high as I could for a given number of repetitions.

I also used a fast squat machine called a “Leaper” to increase my vertical jump.

All of this paid off. I could nearly dunk a volleyball at 5 foot ten (and white!). And I ended up getting the “Best Defensive Player” award my Senior year of high school, highlighted by my performance against the California state scoring champion and later-to-be NBA player and referee Leon Wood. What did I do? I “held” Leon to 19 points in one of our two meetings ( believe he scored 29 on me the second time around).

When I say that I “held” Leon to 19 points in our first meeting, that is literally true–I remember holding his jersey quite a bit when the refs weren’t looking. That’s not legal, by the way, and come to think of it, who knows–it may be one of the reasons he chose to become an NBA referee 🙂 .

The point is that resistance training has long been a part of my life.

Injuries and surgeries–no rehab!

At the age of 19, I joined a bodybuilding gym, and then another one. I worked up to being able to bench press 300 pounds with my butt off the bench (not a legal lift in powerlifting, but not bad).

But my poor technical form caused me one injury after another, particularly low back and shoulder injuries.

Later, at the age of 27, I blew out my lung carrying a load of roofing shingles up a ladder. I needed surgery to restore the lung, but I did the same thing again ten years later and needed a second surgery!

In both cases, I received excellent medical care, with one exception: I received no rehabilitation help. And so after leaving the hospital with my upper body tilted to the right side, and starting to heal that same way, I knew I needed to do something to straighten out my posture, so I began doing exercises I learned along the way from yoga, Pilates, Callanetics, and martial arts, as well as other exercises I created on my own.

I ended up creating a system I called Greek Yoga™. I successfully trained clients in this method, and created a video that people found real value in. I have not had the video for sale recently, due to an issue with Vimeo (the video host), but I do plan on offering it again in the future.

The “beautiful” world of calisthenics

This led me into the amazing world of bodyweight calisthenics–not the kind you probably picture, which features endless repetitions of jumping jacks, running in place, etc. But the “old school” version of calisthenics, which focuses on strength, movement, skill, and fun!

The English word “calisthenics” comes from the Greek kallos (beauty) and sthenos (strength).

I found a book called Convict Conditioning by Paul Wade (I’m not making money on this link, btw), which blew my mind and started an amazing journey.

Yet, because of my age (I’m 61 now) and history of injuries and surgeries, I shied away from heavy weight lifting, which I’m sure you can understand.

That all changed recently, when I moved to Northwest Florida by way of Middle Tennessee, by way of Southern California (it’s a long story that perhaps I’ll tell someday).

Powerlifting–a decades-old dream

Before moving–still feeling the “iron bug”–I began researching powerlifting gyms, and found one that is the real deal–The Bar successfully trains men and women like nobody in the area–and some of the guys there are as strong as freight trains!

I talked with gym owner Bryan May’s mother Kathy (who works at the gym) by phone. She was nice enough to explain everything I needed to know about the facility and training there.

After moving and getting settled in, I went to check the gym out–Bryan and Kathy were super helpful. But after trying some heavy squatting and deadlifting, the bottoms of my feet were killing me. I have flat feet, and assumed that this was the reason for the pain.

I met with Bryan one day and told him about my feet, and said I was quitting the heavy lifting.

Bryan was amused at my naivete regarding heavy lifting. He asked me if I had been running, and when I told him “yes” he told me to stop. Then he convinced me to give powerlifting a chance–to stick with it and my foot pain should work itself out.

Bryan also offered to let me work with an intern–Draven–at no cost to me. Draven is an experienced, successful strongman and powerlifter.

What could I say? I accepted, stuck around, trained for weeks with Draven (a real nice guy and patient teacher), my foot pain went away as Bryan said it would, and when I heard about an upcoming powerlifting event in a nearby town, I told Bryan I wanted to compete–the rest is history, shall we say!

Training for the powerlifting meet

Draven did a great job providing me with a map to achieving strength, but as the meet got closer, his internship ended. He suggested I get a coach to provide me with specific programming and coaching for the meet. It was sound advice, but I wanted to see what I could do just working with the instruction Draven had already given me, and I made some necessary tweaks based on the way my body responded to different things (adjusting stances, etc. for increased power and lifting comfort).

I also videotaped myself, to see what my lifting form looked like. One thing I noticed–I don’t have many natural advantages for powerlifting. For instance, I have a long torso and short arms, which makes it difficult for me to assume a strong stance at the bottom (start) of my deadlift.

Those short arms that are a detriment in the deadlift are actually an advantage in the bench press, but years of shoulder injuries are definitely NOT an advantage in the bench press!

Even though I already had many years training in different strength and movement disciplines, I was quite weak at the bottom of my squat–I was uncomfortable in that position–so when I started training with Draven, I was only working with 70 pounds! It was embarrassing!

But through different methods, such as putting a 12″-high “box” behind me and making sure my butt touched it each time I squatted (box squats), as well as performing “belt squats” and training on a funny-named machine called “The Gluteator” (butt power!), I learned to develop more and more power “out of the hole” (squat bottom).

A big key in my success training for the meet, was that I missed very few workouts, even though we had some epic rainfall during that period in Northwest Florida. And my coach Draven volunteered to work at the meet as a spotter, which I–and the other lifters–really appreciate!

My shock at the weigh-in

In order to weigh-in for the meet, I had to drive to the meet location–far out of town–the day before the event. Despite my worries, I had no trouble “making weight,” as my weight on the meet’s scale was at least two pounds lower than on my home scale.

The problem was that I thought all I had to do was weigh in, but there was much more I wasn’t aware of. Somehow I did not get on the email list for competitors, which explained procedures and rules for the event. So when I walked into the facility for the weigh in, I saw the owner of my gym, Bryan (our gym was a Sponsor for the event), who said, “Where’s your singlet?”

I said, “I don’t even know what a singlet IS!”

Here’s what a singlet is. The rules said I had to wear one for the event.

Bryan wondered aloud if I even signed up for the event! I assured him I had, and also showed my registration for the United States Powerlifting Association (USPA) as well.

Bryan informed me that I needed a singlet and knee-high socks to compete, but said not to worry about it, that he would bring both to the meet the next day for me. Just come early to put on the items before the meet operator explains the rules. Bryan or someone likely mentioned I needed a t-shirt to wear under the singlet too, but I didn’t remember that, nor did I bring one!

Meet Day

So I drove back to the meet facility the next morning with everything but the t-shirt. I had everything on, but no t-shirt underneath. One of the meet handlers told me I HAD to have one on to compete, and so Bryan gave me a meet t-shirt and told me to put it on quickly, which I did.

The problem was that in putting the t-shirt on, I missed some of the key instructions, which–given that this was my FIRST powerlifting meet–were very important!

I was to pay the price for missing those instructions.

The Meet Director, John Micka, knowing this was my first meet, was nice enough to take me aside and let me know to come to him with any questions.

Here’s the official meet page (DOFFL Ryan Blackwell Powerlifting Classic). DOFFL (Defenders of Freedom Florida) in partnership with Ryan Blackwell, The Monument to Women Veterans and Emerald Coast Wounded Warriors, hosted this event–the Ryan Blackwell Classic. The event was a sponsored USPA (United States Powerlifting Association) sanctioned event. It brought the community and military together to help bring awareness and help combat veteran suicide, TBI (traumatic brain injury), anxiety and other issues our post 9/11 veterans face.

Crestview Community Television ended up LIVE-STREAMING the event on Facebook! Here’s a link to the page which contains the entire day’s event.

If you want to see my third and final attempts on all three lifts, go to:

Squat: 24:10 to 24:55

Bench Press: 247:50 to 248:30

Deadlift: 4:56:20 to 4:56:50

Awards: 7:02:30 to 7:02:58

My goal for the meet was to hit a total of 600 pounds. Now I realize that that’s not a huge amount of weight, and a number of guys hit OVER this number on their deadlift alone! But I don’t think it was a bad goal for a 61-year-old new powerlifter with a long history of injuries and surgeries too.

My biggest issue was not the weight–it was the rules. The rules are quite specific, and I quickly found out that you must follow the judges’ commands closely. I found the commands to be hardest for the first lift (squat), not quite as hard for the second lift (bench press), and fairly easy for the third lift (deadlift). Most lifters I talked to agree with that assessment.

The squat is the trickiest, also because you must “hit depth” (squat low enough), or the lift does not count. You must also keep your knees firm before descending, and stand all the way up to finish the lift. Then you must wait for another command to re-rack the weight.

Successful squat of 176.3 pounds; Draven spotting (behind)

The trickiest part of the bench press is, once you lift the bar off the rack, wait for the command to start, and then bring the bar down to your chest, you must hold it still on the chest before pressing up, and once still, a judge gives you the command to “lift”!

And once you successfully press the bar up, you must wait for another command to re-rack the weight.

I was warned after my first attempt (of three attempts allowed) to wait for these commands. They allowed my first lift, possibly because I was new and they were being a bit lenient, but they disallowed my second bench press because I returned the bar to the rack after successfully lifting–before the judge gave the command to do so.

Successful bench press of 159.8 pounds

One of my fellow lifters–John Shumard–an older lifter like myself (though not nearly as old as me 🙂 but much stronger)–was there watching; and seeing that I was new and was having trouble with the commands, helped coach me past the difficulties.

It’s almost a foregone conclusion that I would have scored much lower without his help. Thank you, John–you were at the right place at the right time!

Later, John set a Florida state record in his category (Men’s Classic Raw, Master 50-54 years old, 148 pounds) with a nearly 204-pound bench press–congratulations!

This brings up something that I found fascinating throughout this story: At every step of the way, key people were placed in my path to help me succeed! It reminds me of the story of the man who walked between the Twin Towers in New York City on a tightrope (Philippe Petit). And no, I’m not comparing what I did to what he did, believe me! But the story is similar in that we both had a goal that we were set on achieving. And people were placed in his way to help him achieve it–sometimes in inexplicable ways.

I do believe that God shows us favor when we seek to do right in our lives.

Lifters, results

I’m sorry this post has gotten lengthy. I hope I haven’t bored you to tears with details. It’s just that I found so much that was meaningful in the event including how I ended up even competing at all. I didn’t expect it to come about, even though I had wanted to compete in a powerlifting meet for a long, long time.

Believe it or not, I ended up hitting my stated total goal of 600 pounds (272.5 kilos) EXACTLY! Here’s the meet results (I’m number 44: “Patrick Rooney”).

My total included a 176.3 pound squat, a 159.8 bench press, and a 264.5 pound deadlift. These are not big numbers, and I know men older than myself who’ve never entered a powerlifting competition, but who can lift much more than this.

But considering the rocky road I’ve travelled and it being my first meet, I’m quite happy with these numbers.

Successful deadlift of 264.5 pounds, Draven spotting

Thank you, God! And thank you to all who helped me achieve this long-held dream!

There’s an interesting side note I’d like to mention, related to the photo of me locking out my third deadlift attempt above. Notice the judge at the right, seated in the blue shirt. This man’s name is Paul Wallis, and he lifts at our gym (The Bar). I have seen this man squat gargantuan amounts of weight from a special lift-squat machine–weights that left successful strong men and powerlifters shaking their heads and talking to themselves! And the kicker is that Paul is 56 years old, and has set state and national lifting records while recovering from bone cancer!

Physical conditioning and medical specialists helped, but Paul gives all the credit to God! Paul is the not only super-inspiring, but one of the nicest guys you could meet. And “by chance,” I happened to meet Paul’s wife Anna when she drove by a protest I was taking part in on behalf of medical freedom for all! I could tell that Anna has a big heart for her family, and for people.

“Little” Layla and “Big Al”

Speaking of strong people, I must mention the youngest contestant in the meet, eleven-year-old, 83-pound Layla Hicks. She trains at my gym with her father, Josh, who also competed at the meet, squatting over 400 pounds and deadlifting 563.

Layla’s grandfather (Paul) and grandmother also compete as powerlifters, and have both recently broken national records! Paul recently hit a record 300 pound benchpress as a man in his 50s!

Layla–the 83-pound eleven year old–squatted 137+ pounds, and deadlifted over 170 pounds! This is more than most full-grown, able-bodied MEN can do!

And 78-year old Al Eike (“Big Al”) squatted 248 pounds–a Florida state record for his age and weight class (182 pounds). Al also deadlifted 319 pounds! I spoke with Al at length during the event, and he said that he’s only been powerlifting for a year! And yet he has competed in a dozen meets during that time! How can he put that much time in for meet training and competing? He’s retired!

“Big Al” setting a Florida state record!

A disabled female lifter also competed and did well, so age, size, and disability are not acceptable excuses in the powerlifting world!

And… I won!

At the conclusion of the event, awards were given out. I’d thought that I might have a chance to get some award as I didn’t think there was another man in my category (Masters 60-64 year old male, 165 pounds or less, raw–no special lifting suit), and sure enough, I won first place and got a nice medal!

Now where?

So where do I go from here after my first powerlifting event success? My gym, The Bar, will be sponsoring a big event called “Bending the Bar,” which I believe will take place this coming March. I’m considering competing.

While I was training for my first powerlifting event, I often thought of my calisthenics training, which I really missed. Calisthenics is my first love, and my base. There are many reasons why I love it, and perhaps I’ll go into some of them in a later post. But I was looking forward to getting back to it.

So since the event, I’ve been doing almost exclusively calisthenics training, and plan on doing that at least through the rest of this year. From there, we’ll see.

I have this idea or dream of training in calisthenics only, and entering a powerlifting competition to see how I’d do. I believe I could do pretty well. Could I hit the numbers I was able to hit when I trained exclusively for powerlifting? I don’t know, but I believe I could post at least respectable numbers.

But believe me–if you are interested in competing and posting your best numbers at a powerlifting event, then I’d recommend that you train in powerlifting–not necessarily exclusively, but seriously. And consider getting a knowledgable coach. I’ve asked a couple of the best coaches at my gym, and their rates are quite reasonable!

I used to work as a personal trainer in Middle Tennessee, before starting a personal training company called Greek Physique, which ended up morphing into Old School. I never stopped fitness coaching, and I see myself being pulled back into doing more of it, now that I’m settled in Northwest Florida.

So I’ve opened up my schedule some to allow myself to train a few more clients–online or in-person. I am NOT a certified powerlifting coach, nor would I pretend to have that expertise. But as I said–I do know of several guys from my gym who are–and who really know what they’re doing.

One of these trainers–Matt Milbury–competed at this event and did quite well, hitting a 1,449.5 total. I talked with him at the event, and he’s a nice guy too.

But what I DO know how to do is help people–particularly older men–overcome obstacles, and train for overall fitness, longevity, mobility, strength, and fun!

I know how to help improve habits to reach health goals without the client having to try to run their way to weight loss.

And I know how to keep people accountable to their goals.

If you’d like to discuss potentially fitness training with me, drop me a note at the email address below, and we can start a conversation. I only work with people I believe I can help. If I’m not the right fit, usually there is someone else out there who is.

I’m trying to keep my rates affordable, although “Brandon’s” policies will force me to raise them fairly soon, likely after year end. I’m currently charging the same price for online OR in-person training (THAT will likely change soon too), and offering to train an additional person at no extra charge! (I can almost ASSURE you that that won’t last!).

Here’s my current Fitness Coaching rates.

If you’d like me to help you with your fitness challenges and goals, let me know.

I will say that my first powerlifting meet was a blast, a great learning experience, and I believe a work of God. I recommend doing it, IF you are healthy, have sound technique, and stay within your abilities. Pure strength is a key attribute in overall fitness. And competing is a whole lot of fun! But I already said that!

Patrick Rooney is the Founder of OldSchoolUs.com. He communicates clearly and fearlessly during perilous times about natural health, success, and freedom. To reach Patrick, email him at [email protected].

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