This is the story of how I ended up at Westside Barbell. Before powerlifting, I had been into lifting while in high school and training for football. I was interested in lifting competitions but didn’t really know where to find information on competitions in my area. After high school, I started working in a factory to pay for college and just didn’t have time to work out. While in my third year of college, I switched jobs so that I could have an open availability for classes so that I could finish school sooner. It was at this time that I began working out again. I had no plans to train for competitions. I just wanted to not feel so flabby.

RECENT: Gripping the Bar

So, I made time in my schedule to be able to go over to the college weight room at OSU Newark to work out each day. My second day of working out I met Chris Scott, who turned out to be my first training partner. He knew a lot more about training than I did at the time and he was strong for his size. His training partner, Greg McCarron, was out for a while because of a broken hand, so I came in at the right time. Chris and I would kill ourselves each day, doing back and biceps on Monday, chest and triceps on Tuesday and Friday, and legs on Thursday. We used to do the 10-8-6-4-2-1 workout every day.

Eventually, Greg came back and we had a good group the three of us. But then Greg sustained a hernia injury that required surgery. While recovering, Greg told me about this guy that he referred to as, "This huge badass with a mohawk that lifted in this private gym in Columbus." This huge badass he referred to was Jerry Wiloughby and he trained at Westside Barbell. He gave Greg a Powerlifting USA magazine and pointed him to the Inzer advertisement. It was then, reading that Powerlifting USA and reading about Westside Barbell, that I knew what I wanted to do.

matt smith train

I continued training at the college gym until the end of the spring quarter. I had to find a gym to train at after that, as I was not enrolled the summer quarter. My ex-wife had gone to school with Joe Bayles and he had told me that he trained at a place called J&M Body Success in Newark, Ohio, and to come check it out. I knew Joe was strong so I headed over there in hopes to train and learn something new from Joe, as he had already done a few powerlifting meets. I started buying lifting gear with Joe’s help as I got more into powerlifting.

One day while at the gym, the door opens and in comes this little guy who everyone starts talking to like he is someone important. I remember asking Joe who the hell that was and he told me that it was Walter Lombardi, who wrapped knees and handled several guys at Westside Barbell. That was all I needed to hear. I began talking to Walter and he began helping me train for powerlifting and passing on what he knew about training that he had learned from the Westside guys. It was through him that he introduced me to several members of Westside Barbell.

I first met Jerry O, Tom Waddle, and Bob Coe. I became good friends with Jerry and I learned a lot from him about powerlifting and training. In the beginning, Bob Coe hated my ass with a passion. We were all from Newark and Bob had a kid, Josh Guthridge, who was at about the same level as me. For a minute, it was a battle as to whether Josh or I would bench 500 first. Josh trained with Bob at Westside and I trained in Newark with Walter.

I got my ass kicked and Josh benched 500 at a Circleville APF bench meet and I bombed out. I cracked under the pressure. Eventually, with Jerry O helping me, I ended up at Westside as well. Once I started training at Westside and proved myself, Bob Coe and I became friends and he began handling me and wrapping my knees at the meets as Walter was retiring.

Once I got to Westside, I didn’t just want to train there. I wanted to prove I deserved to be there. At the time I started at Westside in July of 1999, I had an 1818 total. Matt Dimel had the highest total at the time but he had passed away several years prior to me coming to Westside. Tom Waddle was next in line with a 2260 total. My first meet at Westside was in August of 1999. I totaled 2085 and got my first elite total as a member of Westside Barbell. I continued to better myself for Westside and for myself, and in November 2001, I totaled 2445 and was the first from the gym to reach 2400. Over my time at Westside, I achieved an all-time best and totaled 2673. I took pride in being at the top of one of the strongest gyms in the world, if not the strongest gym in the world, for nearly eight years.

My goals were clear. There was only one goal and nothing else mattered. It was to make it to Westside and get as strong as I possibly could. As a result, I have had three failed marriages and countless failed relationships, all because of the gym. It was either them or the gym, and the gym won. I passed up job promotions because I couldn’t take a chance at my job interfering with my training. Training came first. My job was just that, a job. It was something to give me money to live so I could train.

The way I see it, you can’t be great at everything at the same time. So, for a large portion of my adult life, I focused on being great at one thing and that was lifting. Nothing else mattered. There was the gym and training and then there was everything else. No, I was never a world record holder, but I was the very best that I could be at lifting.

Now my priority is no longer lifting. My number one priority now is being the very best dad that I can be to my daughter. Aside from that, I do still work out to try to stay as healthy as possible and stay in decent shape. I also, while at the gym, try to assist and coach those who seek help to achieve their own goals in powerlifting and general training. I try to follow the example set by those who took the time to teach me along the way, as there were many along my road in powerlifting.