Rites of Passage
Featured Equipment: free weights, weight bench, squat racks, weightlifting platforms, York Barbell
In 1962 I attained my full height of 5 foot 10 inches at age 12. I had started producing testosterone and developed acne that same year and in retrospect I strongly suspect my year of intense weightlifting had triggered the premature onset of puberty. My brother did not train and started his ‘man' phase a full two years later than the onset of my manhood changes. My "tween" years were spent playing sports, lifting weights, running and ripping and eating everything in sight. Even at that young age I was goal oriented and worked hard to attain my first athletic goal: to military press my bodyweight. That happened on Thanksgiving in 1962 when in front of visiting cousins I power cleaned and strict pressed 130 weighing 130. By age 14 I weighed a muscled-up 170 and I looked ten years older than I was. I pressed 200 and began competing in organized lifting competitions.
My widower father had to work a lot of hours to make ends met. A big change occurred when I turned 14 and he fired our long-term care-keeper, who my brother and I referred to as "Nazi Nanny." She was an acquaintance of my dead mother's closest friend. Squat, ugly, never married, this beast of a woman was 65 years old and an ex-army nurse with a nasty disposition. She lived in our house for ten years and lorded over us. She was brutal: lots of "punishment" was handed out for the most minor of infractions. She had my dad over a barrel: put up with her sour disposition and insanities or she'd quit and we'd be packed off to live with hillbilly relatives in Arkansas. When my dad felt we were old enough to look after ourselves, he fired her. Her unceremonious firing was a great day. I felt like an inmate liberated from a prison camp.
Jim Harrison, recently deceased author and uncompromising curmudgeon once said of his own abusive childhood, "I was a dog kept on a short chain and suddenly there was no chain." My brother and I were dogs kept on the shortest of chains and when the Nazi Nanny was sent packing suddenly there was no chain. So quite naturally we went Buck Wild. In quick order we discovered friends old enough to drive, high school girls that thought we were hot, booze, cops, partying and skipping school. Plus more sports and harder training. The training gave me my physique and my status and identity with my ever-expanding circle of friends. We turned our spacious, clean, dry, well-lit, windowed, unfinished basement into a welcoming clubhouse for the neighbourhood's athletic males.
Our basement became a communal gym. I had lots of free weights, a weight bench, some squat racks, plywood weightlifting platformsand a radio. The back basement door was always unlocked. My dad actually loved the bustle and the maleness of the training sessions as they contrasted magnificently with the stark bleakness of Nazi-Nannie's totalitarian regime. All our parents were drinkers so it seemed only natural to sneak booze and try it. We liked it and starting at age 14 I sought out alcohol on a repeating and regular basis. I made an incredible discovery at age 15 and this discovery made me legend within my alpha male community. In 1965 the first ever 7-11 convenience store opened a half-mile from my house. Two clerks were on duty during the morning rush and again to deal the evening rush hour traffic headed north on Georgia Avenue. From 10 until 3 the store had one clerk and the day clerk was unusual. He was a Chinese albino with a thick accent. He had blotchy white skin, eyes like a pink-eyed crying rabbit and you could tell by the way he squinted that the bright midday sunshine hurt his eyes.
I was in the store alone one fall afternoon being checked out when the clerk squinted at me and said, "We having special on Budweiser beer. You like Bud?" Oh my god, he thinks I am 21. I grocked in a nano-second that he likely could not see details with his weak eyes, just outlines of people and I had a man's body. "Why yes, I like Bud!" I said in my best baritone voice. "Thank you for reminding me. Let me go fetch some now." It was as if Jesus had flown into the 7-11 with trumpets blaring. Thus began my reign of power and influence. I, Marty Gallagher, could buy beer at age 15. The high school football stars had problems attaining beer. Not me. I was smart. I never told anyone how or where.
I would gather money and then hang out in the woods (that I knew well) right behind the 7-11. I would scope the store and when it was deserted I would dart in and buy two cases of Rheingold beer, high-octane cheap shit, green bottles with "chug-a-mug" tops. One of the two cases I would sell, usually a dollar a beer and the other case was reserved for me and my ever-expanding circle of friends. I would march the cases of beer into the woods and stash them. My beer scam went on for a year until that tragic day when the albino clerk transferred to another store. Still, my alpha status could not have been higher.
Entering into high school, I had the good fortune to cross paths with a new teacher. I was an incoming sophomore and star football player and the new teacher, Roy Patmalnee, was starting a "weightlifting club." Roy was a counterculture hipster and walked with a swagger; he wasn't much of a lifting coach, but as a promoter, travel expeditor and go-between with the adult world, he was invaluable. Roy was the hip, supportive, cool uncle and we were his badass team of competitive lifters. He entered us in Olympic weightlifting and powerlifting intermural competitions and we effortlessly crushed other high schools. We had topflight wrestlers and football players and a bunch of us were pressing over bodyweight, snatching bodyweight, clean and jerking over 300 and squatting and deadlifting double bodyweight. We did countless intermural meets with our top competition coming from a select group of expensive Catholic high schools.
At age 16 I was asked if I wanted to accompany groups of grown men, high level lifters, that would routinely carpool to York, Pennsylvania for weightlifting and powerlifting championships. York Barbell was a world epicentre for big league lifting and here I was, 16 years old and being included into a tribe of real men; macho and muscled-up. I was admitted into this group my lifting exploits and through the efforts of a local strength power-player named Glenn Middleton. Glenn was super smart, an engineer for the giant firm Bechtel. He refereed lifting competitions and saw me lift on a regular basis. He helped me enter into senior mens competitions and exposed me to the larger adult lifting community. I became the mascot or an apprentice.
At the 1968 national powerlifting championships I ended up sitting in the front row next to the monstrous and fearsome Hugh, "Huge" Cassidy. He was weighing 270 and was seeking to push his bodyweight upward to 300 pounds, "where my leverages will come into play." Everywhere Hugh went he carried a large cooler full of food. In the cooler would be two half gallons of whole milk, fruit, endless turkey tuna and meatloaf sandwiches (slathered in mayo,) chips, deserts, it was a veritable portable grocery store. He would eat sandwich after sandwich, drink the milk, gobble down fruit and in between bites offer up insightful, witty, biting, running commentary as we watched one immortal lifter after another ply their trade onstage. I did not know Hugh well at the time, though I had actually visited his house once with Glenn and an Iranian national weightlifting champion, Artishan "Eddie" Bagapour, who also worked for Bechtel.
"Eddie" became my first adult training partner. He lifted in my basement gym and helped me with my awful Olympic lifting techniques. With his help as a high school senior I overhead pressed 200 pounds for 10 reps weighing a thin 195. I squatted 500 in competition. I set age-group national records and won a national title. All that was well and good, but I had been struck by wanderlust, I wanted to see the world. I could not wait to leave home. Plus my widower father was getting remarried and I was happy for him. So I hit the road. Childhood's end.
About the Author
As an athlete Marty Gallagher is a national and world champion in Olympic lifting and powerlifting. He was a world champion team coach in 1991 and coached Black's Gym to five national team titles. He's also coached some of the strongest men on the planet including Kirk Karwoski when he completed his world record 1,003 lb. squat. Today he teaches the US Secret Service and Tier 1 Spec Ops on how to maximize their strength in minimal time. As a writer since 1978 he’s written for Powerlifting USA, Milo, Flex Magazine, Muscle & Fitness, Prime Fitness, Washington Post, Dragon Door and now IRON COMPANY. He’s also the author of numerous books including Purposeful Primitive, Strong Medicine, Ed Coan’s book “Coan, The Man, the Myth, the Method" and numerous others. Read the Marty Gallagher biography here.