The World’s Strongest Man
“Cinderella Boy, tears in his eyes…”
Delusional thinking as a sport psyche strategy
During the filming of Caddy Shack, Director Harold Ramis asked Bill Murray to do some imaginary commentary, giving an example of how he (Murray) encouraged himself when jogging by pretending he was announcing his performance at the Olympics. Ramis wanted the commentary while “Carl the Groundskeeper” was “trimming” Mum flowers.
What an incredible Cinderella story. This unknown comes outta nowhere to lead the pack at Augusta. He’s at the final hole. He’s about 455 yards away, he’s gonna hit about a two iron, I think … (Carl reels back and swats the head off a mum. Petals fly like confetti)
Boy, he got all of that. The crowd is standing on its feet here at Augusta. The normally reserved Augusta crowd is going wild for this young Cinderella who’s come out of nowhere. He’s got about 350 yards left. He’s going to hit about a five iron, it looks like, don’t you think? (Carl demolishes the next mum)
He’s got a beautiful backswing … That’s … Oh! He got all of that one! He’s gotta be pleased with that. The crowd is just on its feet here. He’s a Cinderella boy, tears in his eyes. I guess, as he lines up this last shot that he’s got about 195 yards left, and he’s got a, it looks like he’s got about an eight iron. This crowd has gone deadly silent. Cinderella story, out of nowhere, former greenskeeper, now about to become the Masters champion. (Carl reels back one last time and blasts the third mum to smithereens)
It looks like a miracle!! It’s in the hole!!! IT’S IN THE HOLE!!!!
I watched Caddyshack for the 79th time last week and as Carl the Groundkeeper went through his famous “Cinderella Boy, tears in his eyes” monologue, it hit me that I used to use this exact same “mental imagery” strategy as Carl as a young Olympic weightlifter.
For things that matter to me, I have a near photographic memory, so it was easy to dig into the dusty mental archives vault to revisit how a lone boy, me, training by himself would transport himself, transform himself, psyche himself, into a psychological fever state by accessing an imaginary pretend world.
My father gifted me a barbell set in 1961. A 110-pound Billard barbell set purchased from Montgomery Wards. Our house had a wonderful unfinished basement with excellent windows and lots of open space and daylight. I used a plywood sheet for my lifting platform. I was given an old AM radio. I saved money and bought four 25-pound weight plates and a six-foot weighlifting bar to replace my five-foot bar.
In the basement, I could play my rock and roll. The smooth floor and raw cinder block walls created a crystalline echo chamber that made the Everly Brothers, Roy Orbison, or Ray Charles come alive. Any time I was stuck at home in the house, I would end up in the basement. I made a homemade squat rack, a weight bench for flat benching, and a dip set-up. I brought lawn chairs from the outside. I created a Boy Cave.
No one trained with me at this point. That would come later, in Junior High school, when I started to muscle-up and the other Alphas wanted to know what was going on - how had I figured out how to muscle-up? They wanted some of what I had. The tribe grew. As a senior in high school, there might be 15 lifters, wrestlers and football players, lifting on three different platforms – with other dudes sitting on picnic benches along the walls just hanging out. The basement of my widowed father’s house became a beehive of activity by 1968.
I was self-motivated and starting at age 11, I was determined to transform myself. I knew that by lifting bigger weights I would grow bigger muscles. It was all that simple in my boy’s mind. Lift more poundage, get stronger, grow more muscle, it was that simple and remains profound. Plus, I ate like a swarm of locusts at every meal and slept like Rip Van Winkle.
My inspiration came from the muscle magazines. I aspired to be a great football player and Olympic weightlifter. I watched the 1960 Rome Olympics where Yuri Vlasov, the world’s strongest man, was given the honor of leading the Russian athletes and delegation at the opening ceremony. He held a 40-pound flag and flagpole in one hand at arm’s length and walked the entire quarter mile track. He won the Olympic Gold medal, becoming the first man to break the 200-kilo C&J barrier. The silver medal was captured by Jim Bradford, a DC guy and one-time training partner of my mentor, world powerlifting champion Hugh Cassidy.
The resistance training strategies of the early 60s were primitive. Basically, do every exercise imaginable with a barbell three times a week. No multiple top sets, one top set, move on. A typical training routine would consist of clean and press, snatch, clean & jerk, squat, bench press, snap cleans, deadlift, curls and dips. Every session the goal was to set a new personal record in whatever exercise was being done. I was too stupid to know this was impossible.
At age 12 I had my full height, 5-10, and weighed 120 with a 120 clean and press. At age 18 I weighed 195 with a 270-pound clean and press. I had very few sticking points during that six-year period: I was a boy growing into a man experiencing the fuel-injected testosterone of puberty. I would gleefully “eat my way through sticking points” to quote Cassidy.
In the early years, I was a very young boy training alone in a basement. I would purposefully enter a fantasy world in order to get myself psyched up for a limit-exceeding lift. I had a vivid imagination and would insert myself into mental fantasies while dealing with limit-exceeding poundage.
I got really, really, good at “fantasy world-real world” lifting. Imagine a 13-year-old, 130-pound boy, about to attempt to better his current 160-pound all-time best in the clean and jerk…if you were able to get inside that boy’s head at that instant, this is what you would have seen and heard…he stands behind the barbell, staring at the bar with soft focus…a vivid movie runs in his head, here is the dialogue…
"It is an incredible moment here at the 1964 Tokyo Olympics. Hi – I am Curt Gowdy for ABC Wide World of Sports and we have interrupted our regular Olympic coverage to take you to the weightlifting hall where an incredible upset is brewing.”
“That's right Curt, Al Michaels here. I am backstage. A young American weightlifter, Marty Gallagher, has come out of nowhere to being on the verge of upsetting 10-time world champion Yuri Vlasov. It is a clash of civilizations Curt. The Russian is considered the world’s greatest athlete. Does this incredibly good-looking muscleman have a chance against the Russian Behemoth?!”
“This young Gallagher is an interesting character.” Curt says.
“Indeed, he is. He is the only man ever to win two Congressional Medals of Honor for his secret work as a Green Beret. Gallagher was taught how to fight by Sonny Liston and has many beautiful girlfriends…Gallagher shook up the world when he shattered the world record in the press…”
“That is right Al, and Vlasov came right back with a world record in the snatch.”
“Now it comes down to the final clean and jerk. Vlasov has just set a new world record with an incredible 460-pound effort. Gallagher needs to do the impossible: become the first man in human history to lift 500-pounds overhead to win the gold.”
“As we mentioned earlier, Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev is in attendance. It looks like the Premier is drinking champagne with Vlasov in the front row. They are already celebrating the Russian win.”
A hush then descends over the rabid audience as Gallagher emerges from backstage.
“Look at the muscles on that man! Al! He looks ready to kill someone!”
If you were to time it, it takes 75 seconds to say this pretend, back-and-forth dialogue between Curt and Al. In little Marty’s internal 75-second movie, the camera pans the packed hall and spots Khrushchev and Vlasov toasting their victory over the United States of America. It’s up to Gallagher to stop communism dead in its tracks!
At this point, young Marty steps onto the plywood platform with the bar loaded to 170-pounds. In his mind, it is loaded to 500 and this is for the golf medal at the Olympics, this is for America over Communism and this is to wipe that smirk off Khrushchev’s ugly face.
“Gallagher looks incredible Curt!! The Japanese crowd is going crazy with chants of USA! USA! Khrushchev is holding his ears!
Young Marty is now so fired up, psyched out of his little Mind, adrenaline floods his system. He bullrushes the barbell, rips it off the floor with terrible technique. Because he is a good and diligent squatter, the 13-year-old pops erect easily. Now the hard part: he dips and push-presses the 170-pounds overhead, not quite locking it out. He staggers awkwardly and finds something deep inside himself: he steadies up, pushes the elbows to a hard lockout and stands erect triumphant.
“In your FACE Khrushchev!!!”
Young Marty lowers the barbell to the floor, careful not to make noise and draw his father’s wrath.
The proud possessor of a new 170-pound personal record, alone and uninhibited, he stands erect and raises his arms above his head, accepting the accolades of the imaginary Japanese audience gone crazy…
“Curt, I do not think it's any exaggeration to say that we have just witnessed the greatest athletic feat in human history! Gallagher, with his incredibly muscular body, is without doubt, the world's strongest man!”
“Oh, without a doubt Al! Khrushchev has stormed out of the building! Vlasov and the entire soviet coaching staff are reportedly headed to Siberia!”
I must admit, I get a little fired up reading this today. I just got an adrenaline spike.
I think I am going to sign off now and head to my garage gym and do some clean and overhead barbell presses. It might be the return of the world’s strongest man.
“I got that going for me – which is nice!”
The Wisdom of Carl the Groundskeeper, Spiritual Avatar
“So, I jump ship in Hong Kong and make my way over to Tibet, and I get on as a looper at a course over in the Himalayas….So, I tell them I’m a pro jock, and who do you think they give me? The Dalai Lama, himself. Twelfth son of the Lama. The flowing robes, the grace, bald… striking.
So, I’m on the first tee with him. I give him the driver. He hauls off and whacks one – big hitter, the Lama – long, into a ten-thousand-foot crevasse, right at the base of this glacier. Do you know what the Lama says? Gunga galunga… gunga, gunga-galunga.
So, we finish the eighteenth and he’s gonna stiff me. And I say, ‘Hey, Lama, hey, how about a little something, you know, for the effort, you know.’ And he says, ‘Oh, uh, there won’t be any money, but when you die, on your deathbed, you will receive total consciousness.’ So, I got that goin’ for me, which is nice.”
About the Author - Marty Gallagher
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 multiple 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 for a more in depth look at his credentials as an athlete, coach and writer.