Spotlight: Marshall Johnson – Relentless Drive

TAGS: Marshall Johnson, Brian Carroll, team elitefts

Spotlight: Marshall Johnson – Relentless Drive

Adding a new member to the elitefts™ team is not a simple process. As you can imagine, we get a flood of applicants wanting to join the most respected team of lifters in the world. The applicants are pored over by a panel of consultants and vetted through a number of interviews. I was proud to be asked for my input into those choices for this recent batch and it certainly is not something that I (or the others that review applicants) took lightly. The chosen lifters represent not just our team, but are a reflection of the truly amazing company that Dave Tate founded over 14 years ago.

Now Dave is one of the most decisive leaders I ever worked with, usually because he strives to be very well-informed before making a choice. You may not guess this when first meeting him, but he is also a deeply emotional person, and I suspect that he often analyzes decisions to make sure that both his heart and logic are fully aligned. I came on board during the tail end of the process with this new group of sponsored athletes. It takes (at the minimum) 2-3 months and, in the case of Marshall Johnson, almost a year.

The selection process involves each person being reviewed by six different people including advisers, employees and finally...Dave. At the minimum, the prospects need to be ranked at an elite or pro level and must fit the same values and culture of elitefts™. The 2-3 month process involves background checks, referral checks, written and verbal interviews, as well as asking current team members if they know the person or anyone else who knows the person. Dave is the LAST person in the decision-making process and he is provided with a file of notes (roughly the size of a FBI case file) to review before deciding whether or not he will call the person for an interview. This remains an ongoing process and there have been many people who were selected over a year past their application being filed. With some, we just were unable to collect enough information. With others, we just needed to watch closer (or a host of other reasons for the delay), but it is always with the best interest of the site and team culture.

Marshall came up on our radar over a year ago and there was just not enough info out there about him to make a decision. He was located in a remote area and just had not interacted enough with the powerlifting community for us to get a strong feel for him. We also wanted to see how his rather short competitive history played itself out. He was unknown to us as a lifter and we needed more time to watch him and see how he would fit within our culture.


Mr. Johnson Goes to Columbus

We got many visitors on the weekend of the Arnold Classic and XPC Meet. I’m not sure if it's just because I'm new here, but I really enjoy helping visitors that request a tour of the gym. The look of reverent awe that every single one of them express mirrors the way I feel every time I walk into that sweat-stained temple.

When we need quiet or an extra dose of inspiration, we will sometimes take our work to the conference table that serves as the centerpiece of the gym. On this particular day, I went in there and was reviewing the application of 28-year-old Marshall Blaine Johnson and making notations in the margins, when the man himself walked in with his wife, Kathy. He was accompanied by Matt Goodwin (sales director and equipment expert here at elitefts™), and I walked over to meet them. Marshall is easily one of the most personable and likable people you could ever meet. His sincere warmth and passion for lifting was obvious and he was not shy about expressing his excitement to be touring the power mecca referred to as the S-4 Compound.

Marshall LOVES powerlifting. Not just at the level of someone with a devoted hobby, but with the all-consuming fervor of a strap-on-a-vest-made-of-explosives-to-prove-your-point religious fanatic (but with a decidedly more sensible approach). “Powerlifting, to me, is a brotherhood,” Marshall said. “There is nothing I love more than driving to the gym on a Sunday and training with my teammates, being around them and putting everything on the platform. On meet day, I absolutely love how people that you have never met before are cheering for you. You go to a meet and everyone gets behind what everyone else is trying to accomplish. I ABSOLUTELY love it and the camaraderie involved.”

Marshall is well aware that the average person on the street meets him with certain preconceived notions. I suspect he also takes a certain level of pride in the fact that he can shatter those misconceptions and have them walk away with a positive view of him and the sport of powerlifting. “I think people are often caught off-guard once they get to know me,” Marshall said. “The way I look, with all of these piercings and tattoos makes many people take me as an angry hate-filled powerlifter. The truth is, there is a not a person I won’t talk to or enjoy helping. I want this sport to grow and for everyone to have fun with it.”

Marshall’s Iron Journey

While most of us started training during our formative early teen period as our way of forging our adult identities, Marshall was a late-bloomer. He was not involved in sports in school and his gym indoctrination was delayed until his early 20's. As Marshall related, “I did it just because I felt like a 98-pound weakling.” Now, here's where I personally got a bit pissed off. As a true former 98-pound weakling, I have to break it to him that he is NOT invited to any of our alumni gatherings. As he graduated from high school weighing a non-skeletal 170 pounds at 6 feet tall, he does not qualify. But hey, everything is relative so, if that's what it took to drive him into becoming a power addict, so be it.

“I was just really tall and skinny,” Marshall said. “A buddy of mine always bugged me to go into the gym, but you don’t want to go into the gym and curl just the bar or bench with just a bar. When my friend had finally pestered me enough, I went with him to the Spencer (Iowa) YMCA and fell in love with it.” Marshall's body responded to the weights immediately. Size and strength came quickly (and at this point the 98-Pound Weakling Alumni Society gives him the collective finger).

Like many lifters, Marshall started out as a bodybuilder and has only been powerlifting for three years now. In his my mid-twenties and after already doing two bodybuilding contests, he met Bob Bruner, who encouraged him to focus his heavy off-season bodybuilding training into prepping for a powerlifting meet. “I was hooked,” Marshall said. “I suppose I enjoy eating and lifting heavy things as opposed to looking pretty.”

One of Marshall’s earlier training influences was Jason Ehlert, owner of Dakota Barbell in Fargo. “Jason is perhaps the best squatter that nobody knows about,” said Marshall. “At the Relentless Meet, he squatted 1,036 at a bodyweight of 232, while suffering from pneumonia. The guy is all business. In the gym, he is a machine. He was and is my greatest inspiration in squatting.”

Now Entering P-Town

Another of his lifting mentors is Jeff Adkins, who Marshall met at a state meet. As a 198-pounder, Adkins can bench three to four times his bodyweight and is ranked third on PLWatch just behind Caslow and Coker. “Again,” Marshall said, “He's one of the strongest people that nobody knows about. He is incredibly smart and has a huge depth of knowledge on lifting and, in particular, geared lifting.”

When he met Adkins, Marshall was not training at a real powerlifting gym. He started making the three-hour drive every weekend with Kathy to train at P-town Barbell with Jeff and his team. After a year of making the weekly pilgrimage, the couple recently moved to Princeton, Minnesota, in order to train with Adkins in his fully equipped garage. Marshall reflected, “Anyone that wishes to do their best at their craft or sport has to sacrifice everything just to do what they want to do. I left a very good job to move to the middle of nowhere…just to become a better powerlifter. This is what I love and sacrifice is what gets you what you want.”

Even though it is a young team of about 8-10 members, all of the full-power lifters at P-town earned an elite status and the bench-only guys racked up their first 600 and 700 pound benches. With Marshall’s numbers climbing, it won’t be too long before everyone has heard of P-town Barbell.

Developing His Competitive Resume

Marshall focuses on just three meets a year. “When I first started, I would do a meet every month or two,” Marshall said. “When you are younger and lifting lighter weights, the toll it takes on your body is not as severe.” Three years into his powerlifting career, and after climbing the ladder from smaller raw NASA meets to single-ply to the now being a contender at some of the biggest multi-ply meets, Marshall is just getting to the point in which progress is not easy for him.

His breakout meet, where he realized that powerlifting is what he's supposed to be doing, was Relentless, an APF meet promoted by Scott and Rachel Nutter. This was a charity meet for Hopekids, an organization supporting the families of terminally ill children. Being the first meet in which he squatted 1,000 pounds, it was a big deal to him. Marshall said, “I didn’t go there expecting to squat a grand, but my first and second attempts went so well that everyone told me that I had to go for it. As petrified as I was, I tried it and I hit it, and it just seemed like one of those things that was meant to be. Afterward, I cried on stage and looked like a big baby but for me it felt like my breakout meet. I won my weight class and won the overall with some pretty stiff competition.”

But it's not as if Marshall’s rise to powerlifting glory didn't have some bumps in the road. He went to the 2011 APF Senior Nationals and it came down that he needed to hit his final deadlift to win, but he just didn’t have it that day. After that, he competed in one of Bill Carpenter’s UPA meets in Iowa. “I bombed out on deads,” Marshall recalled. “It was actually pretty catastrophic on me. I put too much pressure on myself. Even though I bombed in that meet, I think the most opportunities and friendship in the sport came from that weekend. It was the worst meet I have ever had and I was so embarrassed, but everyone was so supportive and not one of these people cared about me bombing.”



Thrown into the Mix at Lexen

This brings us to the Lexen Xtreme Meet. Marshall said, “Competing with all of these people that I have idolized was just craaaazy! I still feel more like a fan than a competitor. Walking around backstage with Chuck Vogelpohl, Brian Carroll and Jeremy Frey was unreal. I sort of felt like I didn’t belong there because they are so high above me, but the meet itself was probably the best thing that could happen to powerlifting. The judging was strict, but it was fair and consistent. I didn’t have the day I wanted: monolifts are different, stages are different, platforms are different…but if you can’t adapt in this sport, then you really don’t belong.”

An important moment came when Carroll came up to Marshall after the meet. “He asked me what I had totaled and I said that it wasn’t really worth mentioning,” said Marshall. This is when Brian imparted him with some Yoda-like wisdom.

Carroll replied, “I totaled almost 200 pounds less than I normally total. This was a hard meet and it was your first pro meet. You came to the big show and made it out the other side. There were a lot of pros that bombed out here, but you finished.”

That change in perspective served to change Marshall’s attitude and brighten his spirits. Since the XPC Meet, the two lifters have been in regular contact and developed the start of what Marshall hopes will become a friendship. Being one of the younger members of Team elitefts™, he is bound to benefit from the guidance and experience of his new teammates.

I spoke to Brian about Marshall later and this was his take on our new Team elitefts™ member:

“Marshall has a lot of heart and determination. It's evident in the passion he displays when he's lifting and talking about lifting. He’s a super nice guy who has a ton of potential in the sport of powerlifting. He showed a lot of grit at the XPC Meet, even though things didn't go his way on the squat and deadlift. He's even more fired up to get qualified for the Arnold 2013 and hit the lifts that he's capable of. Marshall brings a lot of passion to the team with giving and helping raise money for unfortunate kids through 'Relentless,' an APF meet for charity.”

We are pleased to have Marshall Johnson as part of elitefts™. We look forward to watching him reach his full potential as a lifter, and I'm sure that he will demonstrate what passion and relentless drive can accomplish.

Walk-through Monolift

EFS Heavy Elbow Sleeve

Marshall is currently training to qualify for the 2013 XPC Meet at the Arnold Classic. To follow his training log, go here.

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