It was such an ironic moment, as I was just watching, for the umpteenth time, Pumping Iron, when I read Laree Draper’s (Dave Draper’s wife) post about Ed Corney’s passing on New Year’s Day.
I myself am very much enamored with two eras in the world of muscle, strength, and power, with the first being powerlifting from the 1990s, and the second being the classic era of bodybuilding from the 1970s.
In the ‘90s, powerlifting was steeped in the philosophy of competing for one's own self, for one’s own love of the sport as an internal challenge to lift more than should be possible while collecting, fostering, and growing lifelong friendships along the way. It was an era before socialookatmedia, when great training sessions, believe it or not, actually occurred without having to be shared for validity or to stroke one's tender and oh-so-soft and needy ego.
I competed internationally during that era, and its authenticity with regard to one’s own individual and internal lifting motivation was inspiring. Are there individuals like that training and competing today? You bet. Is the whole sport today cut from that same ‘90s cloth? Hardly.
I am likewise enamored with 1970s bodybuilding for the same core reasons. Looking at footage from that era, which I grew up during, I was merely a spectator living vicariously through those athletes’ journeys, and now watching interviews of those folks (Draper, Robinson, Arnold, etc.) talk about that era, you can glean, that like ‘90s powerlifting, the ‘70s were also all about personal accomplishment, and if others found out, then that was a mere bonus.
No Instafamous, no here-is-my-discount-code sponsorship this or that; it was just a subculture within a subculture, training for that delicate balance of muscularity, symmetry, and definition in the hopes of earning a place on a page of the history book that was the sport of competitive bodybuilding. Is there anything wrong with making a buck, getting a break on supplements, or selling one’s online training through modern bodybuilding? Absolutely not. Is the sport of bodybuilding the same sport as the one Ed Corney, Draper, Scott, and the like lived? Hardly.
Personally, I enjoy looking back at how lifters during those eras trained with one another and reflecting on that brotherhood and sisterhood of iron that ran so deep and true. I think back to the many, many gyms I trained at over the decades (Drew’s Gym, Robinson’s Gym, Pumping Iron Gym, Lantz Gym, Bobby V’s Gym, Mark’s Gym, Son Light Gym, Heavy Metal Gym, Frantz Gym, and Monster Garage Gym) and reflect on some of the wonderful training partners I have had over the years (Keith Early, Tom Carnaghi, Larry Tischer, and Mario DeBenedetti) as well as the gang I enjoy training with today.
One of my hopes in this new year (and really each year) is that even with the stresses and complexities of life happening all around us, we will take a moment to hit the pause button and look around and enjoy those individuals with whom we train. We should also take stock in our own health and make sure we maintain it through balance, as our health is the mighty fulcrum required for our lives “under the bar” to exist.
Although there might not seem to be a ton of those magical moments in life or in the weight room, the reality is they are happening all of the time and all around us. Some might not be able to see this reality, as they are slaves to their phones’ reality, or they are stuck perseverating on petty differences or submerged in the inane. We all know people like that. Those who are so deeply wallowing in their own excuses and woe-is-me, focusing on others’ imperfections that they have become unable to see the amazement of the forest for the trees.
The way the film Pumping Iron captured some moments from that classic era with guys like Ed Corney is simply wonderful. Imagine if that footage never existed. Imagine if we could not look through that window of time and see how things were then.
I filmed a lot of footage at the Monster Garage Gym and actually have good chunks of training and competition footage from the late 1980s and the 1990s through the 2000s of larger-than-life characters like Bill Nichols and Ernie Frantz. That time period from the late 1980s through the 2000s is becoming a long time ago now, and I am glad I have footage of it.
We film a lot of workouts today of lifters moving the big weights, like Steve Brock, Tom Krawiec, Barzeen Vaziri, Crystal Tate, and others whose weights are not so great, but their efforts are just as mighty.
I filmed a lot back then, not realizing how important it would be decades later to have captured on film great training sessions with great friends, all in pursuit of becoming the best and most powerful versions of ourselves while at the same time working to help our training partners toward their goals and aspirations.
Today, I purposefully film as I know, although they don’t realize it now, that in 30 years, some lifters at my gym will look back at this footage of weights lifted, competitions held, sights seen, and friendships forged in iron and steel. And if we are all lucky to live into our 80s like Ed Corney did, and like Ernie Frantz still is, we will have clearly been smiled upon from on high.
Reading about Mr. Corney’s passing and more importantly, his life, a life well spent, brings back into focus something that often gets blurred by the everyday routine: Life is too short not to take a pause and see all the pretty amazing things around us, with our time moving iron being one of them.
Maybe it is just me, but after watching a work like Pumping Iron (how many times have you seen it, I wonder?), you feel like you know those guys, and with Mr. Corney passing, well, it just makes me take a moment.
It causes me to reflect on Eleanor Roosevelt, or a quote that often is attributed to her, as it is always something to heed as well as take stock in, especially as we are a species that measures things often in the context of time and with this being written on January 1 of the New Year. The quote reads, “Great minds discuss ideas; average minds discuss events; small minds discuss people.”
Great moments in time, those uncommon moments that are actually quite common, so much so they blur and blend together and thus seem mundane or passé or almost trite in nature. We all know someone fighting with a serious health issue, and oh, how they would love to be able to have a merely “mundane” training session. Oh, how they would love to take for granted going max effort and hitting a PR. Great minds are those who discuss ideas are the ones who see the mundane for what it really is: spectacular.
And those small minds that discuss people are so busy spending precious energy, time, and resources pointing out how others fail that they couldn’t see the miraculous and great moments even if one smacked them in the face. You know the type, the one whose each and every social media post points out something wrong with someone or something else. So full of petty venom and strife and so myopic in vision, they fail to see they have exposed themselves for who they really are and what little they actually have to offer. Social media is today’s ring of Gyges. It does not make a person who they are; it reveals who the person actually is.
Pumping Iron’s Ed Corney is a reflection of the pursuit of self-improvement, living in the here and now, and a life well spent as he competed from 1968 all the way until his last competition in 1998.
Looking through the window of time provided by this film and seeing all of these great pursuers of their own created destinies is so strong and powerful that reading about one of their passing can make us reflect on our own mortality.
In my humble opinion, reflection is a good thing. Hitting the pause button to reflect helps us to look with a critical eye to see if we are on the right path, not only physically and training-wise, but in our moral and ethical journey as well.
Are we doing all we can to be the best version of ourselves? And are we also working on our essence, who we are and what we stand for along the way? There is something to be said for putting on the blinders and going 110 miles-per-hour in our training. And in some instances, that can work for a time.
But there is also something to be said about taking off those blinders and finding our bearings first, then going 110 miles-per-hour in the right direction in our training. One way will get you the furthest on your training journey, and the other merely slams you into the wall, derailing you from ever reaching your zenith of strength and power.
Having symmetry and balance between the drive and determination for physical achievement, as well as an overall strong morality and an ability to find the good around one, is the symbiosis that makes each of the parts of this balancing act exponentially powerful.
The founding fathers of what we look back at as the classic era of bodybuilding, the Ed Corneys, Arnolds, Zanes, and Drapers are getting older. Some are in their 70s, and some are in their 80s. For me, as an aficionado of that era, it is becoming more apparent that how they trained and lived still provides valuable life lessons for future generations of powerlifters, bodybuilders, and strongmen/women, and that is this: along the journey, while collecting victories, attaining PRs, amassing titles, and racking up big numbers, we also should work to collect and gather and cultivate friendships, relationships, memories, and goodwill.
When combined, these two worlds, the world of cold steel and the world of warm humanity, are parts of the critical formula that helps make a life well spent.
Wishing you the best in your training and lifting journey. Ever Onward.
Header image courtesy of Muscular Development