It isn’t the weights that are odd at Clark’s Championship Gym. It’s the lifts. Common sense might also argue that any weightlifter who engages in an exercise named the crucifix would have to be an oddity, if not downright crazy.
“A man is essentially nuts that does this,” owner Bill Clark said with a smile on his face after pounding out 20 repetitions of 1,005 pounds in the Harness lift.
Clark, 71, has five artificial joints (two knees, two hips and a right shoulder) and can no longer perform lifts such as the crucifix. The crucifix and the harness lift are two of the 175 lifts that oddlifters do at Clark’s Gym and others like it scattered sparsely about the nation. Other oddlifts include the recently approved Van Dam lift, which has only been performed once by its namesake, pro-wrestler Rob Van Dam, and a variety of index and middle finger lifts.
The International Weightlifting Federation governs Olympic lifts, the two-hand snatch and the two-hand clean and jerk, and the International Powerlifting Federation governs the bench press, the squat and the dead lift.
“Everything else is an oddlift,” Clark said.
In 1987 Clark helped start the United States All-Around Weightlifting Association, the sanctioning body for oddlifting in the United States. That year he also bought the weights and equipment for Clark’s Gym from Mike Kennedy, a former All-Big Eight Conference linebacker at Nebraska after Kennedy closed his gym in Omaha. Kennedy’s equipment is in use 17 years later, prompting many of the gym’s patrons to call it a “dinosaur gym.”
“That harness over there is in about half a dozen gyms in the whole United States,” Clark said pointing to a leather belt and chain used for the harness and hip lifts. “Nobody much does oddlifting any more.”
Part of the reason, Clark said, is that strength is becoming a less important factor in American fitness. Oddlifting’s aim, he said, is to build strength and not necessarily looks, which is why there are “strongmen” and not bodybuilders at Clark’s Gym.
“We focus on brute strength as opposed to toning,” gym member Joe Garcia said.
Garcia holds the world record in the hand and thigh lift with 1,910 pounds and is the President of CalType, a local computer programming company.
“When a guy is an outlaw in any of the local fitness centers, they tell him to go to that other place out there, that’s us,” Clark said. “We just got a guy (Demetrius Davis) out here who’s been run out of two local gyms because he’s a power lifter, and he bangs around pretty heavy stuff, and it scares the people in those gyms … he’s in hog heaven out here.”
Clark knows about having a hard time as a power lifter.
Clark, a member of seven weightlifting halls of fame, was one of five men who petitioned the AAU to recognize powerlifting as a sport in 1964.
“We had a two-year battle and it almost came to fists a time or two in the national meetings … but we finally pushed it through,” Clark said.
A decade later Clark led the movement to start National Masters weightlifting in the United States for competitors 40 and older.
“I couldn’t compete with guys who were 22 or 32 when I was 42,” Clark said. “I had competed in Masters’ Track and Field, so I thought ‘why not do it in weightlifting’.”
Clark also sanctioned the first women’s weightlifting competition in 1976. Clark did similar sanctioning as the Assistant Recreation Director of Columbia. He left in 1968 to work full-time for the Pittsburgh Pirates.
While Clark was with the city, he brought many offbeat sports to town.
“I’d read about somebody in Amherst, Massachusetts who had this unusual program and I’d try it here.” Clark said. “I’d go to the national AAU convention and get meets that nobody wanted, like one-wall handball, masters horse shoes or long distance swimming and bring them back to the recreation department and run them.”
Clark revived the Centurion Club, for racewalkers that walked 100 miles in 24 hours or less, as part of his race walking program in Columbia. Many of the programs Clark started, such as the Heart of America Marathon, continue today.
“Today the Diamond Council is a separate entity, the Columbia Track Club is a separate entity and those things were all under the recreation department budget in the past,” Clark said.