I never dreamed I’d be able to lift 300 pounds, and certainly not of attaining such a feat as I’m approaching middle age. On a family vacation to Tennessee many years ago, my father told me about some mountain curves that are so sharp the back end of a vehicle will pass the front. I think he wanted me to slow down. My road to pumping iron was not quite that crooked but it was close.
My earliest inspiration for body building came from Charles Atlas. His ads were everywhere during my comic book addiction days in the late 1950s and early 1960s. On the inside covers were his cartoon character ads. They featured a skinny young guy at the beach being berated by a muscular bully. It was even more humiliating because his girlfriend heard every word of it.
The poor fellow was depicted as a 97-pound weakling having sand kicked in his face. I didn’t have a girlfriend, and no one had ever kicked sand on me, but I identified with that hapless string-bean of a guy. His physique reminded me of a toothpick, and I needed twenty pounds to have that much shape.
I didn’t start off skinny. I was a big kid with more than my share of muscle until about the third grade, then things suddenly went uphill. Mama ordered some Levi blue jeans from Sears & Roebuck that were two inches too long. By the time they came they were closer to my knees than my ankles. At nighttime I could lie on my bed and see the sheet move as my feet slowly inched toward the footboard. I slept sideways to make sure I didn’t get stuck.
Daddy made me what he called Super Dupers. It was a glass of whole milk with two raw eggs, generously sweetened with sugar, nutmeg, and vanilla flavoring. Daddy was so skinny as a kid that he had a floating kidney. I don’t know if that’s a real thing or something his doctor made up, but they put bricks under the foot of his bed so his kidney would reposition itself. And they told him to drink a lot of raw egg milkshakes. He turned out quite solid, so it seemed like a good plan. But I just kept growing taller and thinner.
Charles Atlas had a sculpted body and a case full of trophies. He credited his success to “Dynamic Tension,” a sort of one man arm wrestling contest. The picture I remember showed his left hand pressed against his right with his biceps bulging during their friendly competition.
I sent a dime in with the order form and I sure got my money’s worth. I tore into that brown envelope and found a bounty of information explaining how to get the actual life changing workout program. I don’t remember how much it cost, but it was more than my budget could stand. I shrewdly developed my own Dynamic Tension routine but quickly tired of fighting with myself.
I put body building on hold until I went to college. The weightlifting physical education class under Coach Arnold seemed like a good way to get a muscular body, but something went awry. I began the quarter looking like a pencil and ended the same way. The one thing I was good at was chinups. It was a low ceiling in an old gym. When I stood on my tip toes the bar was at eye level. I probably hold the record for consecutive chinups at Valdosta State College, but I don’t think it was documented.
This past Christmas, Jane found some exercise equipment in our attic. I had bought it on sale a few years earlier and had forgotten about it. Over the next two months I gained a great appreciation for “Some Assembly Required.” Once I figured out where the cables went it looked almost like the picture.
In early April I began pumping iron with enthusiasm. On the tenth of May I reached a milestone by lifting 300 pounds. Instead of taking a shortcut to success, I lifted 20 pounds for 15 repetitions.
I’m no longer the poster child for Skinny Kid Syndrome either. A regimen of two buttered homemade biscuits with pear preserves five days a week has completely cured me. I’m thinking it should only take a month or so to convert this newly acquired bulk into well-defined muscles. I’m planning to buy a new swimsuit and take my girlfriend to the beach before long. If anybody kicks sand in my face, it better be one of our grandchildren.