The Strongest Man in the Gym

TAGS: new member, Jerry Lezon, The Strongest Man in the Gym, powerlifting gym, cancer survivor, build strength, bench only, Monster Garage Gym, Eric Maroscher, strength training

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It is a regular event at the Monster Garage Gym: Someone new walks into the weight room area and comes up to the counter to ask questions. If it is a competitive powerlifter, the question is usually, "Where do I sign up?" More often than not, it is someone who has only just discovered the gym and is inquiring about what we are all about, as aside from our coaching logs, articles, and some social media, we do not advertise the gym.

Over the years I started to play a little game with myself, which I call, “Will they come back?” What I have learned over the years of owning a gym is that you can never tell if someone will come back to the gym and train for years, or ask a few questions never to return.


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The old adage “don’t judge a book by its cover” plays out in front of us on a regular basis. Predicting who you think will come back or not come back simply can’t be done by the stereotype of appearance, as some of the biggest, tatted up guys and girls come by but can’t handle not being the big fish in a small pond. Juxtapose that sometimes with a brand-new-to-the-sport lifter who might not have any strength development at this point in their training. They sign up and never leave, as they are about personal strength and power and are hardly intimidated, but rather inspired by others with greater strength levels. I will let you in on a secret: those are the lifters who go the furthest in our sport. You also can’t tell who is or is not coming back by the questions they ask, how they look, what their total is, how long they have been training, or who they know. Who comes back after inquiring about the gym is simply not something you can predict.

With this being the case, when there is a potential new lifter inquiring about the gym, we answer their questions, give the quick tour, and let things unfurl themselves naturally. We don’t do contracts, we don’t do a sales pitch, and we don’t compromise on who we are. Pick up the weight, put down the weight, add more weight, repeat, and help spot and support our fellow lifters at the gym who are also doing the same. That is the recipe for the day, every day.

That as a backstory, I remember the day that Jerry walked through the doors to the Monster Garage Gym. At about five feet eleven inches, 165 pounds, 65 years old, and with an awesome full head of Elvis-esque salt and pepper hair, Jerry was not a physically imposing figure, nor did he look like someone who had trained with a ton of weight. In fact, Jerry looked like a regular guy but with a disarming and genuine smile. As I said from the get-go, you just can’t tell who is going to sign up and stay, or who is going to walk out of the gym never to return. So I started my secret will he come back game with Jerry.

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Monster Garage Gym, owner, Eric Maroscher, with powerlifter Jerry Lezon

Jerry walked in and came right up to the counter to me. There wasn’t much inquiry. He basically stated that he wanted to train at a powerlifting gym and asked if I would be willing to train him.

I don’t specifically train anyone, meaning I don’t work with anyone for every set and every rep, creating a specific routine for them to engage in and making sure all of the thousands of moving parts that go with that huge responsibility fall correctly into place. If someone is new to the gym and they ask for help, I love to work with them on their technique, as I feel that technique is the critical foundation that everything else is based on. I will share if they inquire, any information that helped me during my decades in the world of competitive powerlifting, and I will wholeheartedly answer any of their training questions. But I don’t specifically train anyone. Training someone—truly training them—is not some lackadaisical thing you do. It is something that requires as much commitment from the trainer as the trainee.

Between running the gym with Dawn and Rich, writing coaching logs, writing articles for elitefts, tending to the responsibilities of my own actual job as an assistant principal at a high school, spending time with my family, and focusing on my own training, time is limited. So I spread the balance of that precious limited time with the full-time lifters at the Monster Garage Gym on technique, technique, and more technique, as well as sharing with those who ask for the applicable nuanced information that comes from decades of competition and training with some legendary powerlifters.

So to be crystal clear, when I am referring to training someone, I am talking about selflessly training someone. What I am not talking about is what we see all too frequently, and that is anyone with a clipboard, a singlet, and two meets under their belt claiming to be a training expert. I don’t have the stomach for watching that sham, as truly training someone is a deep commitment and a serious responsibility.

Mini-rant: Speaking of the two-years-of-experience-only-now-an-expert-trainer, whatever happened to trainers and coaches learning over years and years of training on an experienced team at a powerlifting gym, paying close attention, asking good questions, applying the answers, being humble, competing over and again, and keeping their ears open and their social media mouth shut? When did anyone with a pair of $150 squat shoes and a two-cent opinion become a “coach?” Okay, end of mini-rant, but can you see what I am saying? I am sure some will, and some will not, but I digress.

Point being, I don’t specifically train individuals, as I feel I can help more new lifters with my somewhat limited time in other ways. All that said, there was something about Jerry. Something about his youthful enthusiasm contained in a 65-year-old vessel that I really found intriguing. He has this love for life, an inner light kind of a thing going on. Figuratively speaking, Jerry wasn’t looking for someone to read him all the answers. Jerry was looking for someone to tell him where the good books were, as he was willing and ready to study them all himself. So I told Jerry, without going into all that detail, “I don’t train people.” But Jerry just seemed different. Plain old different than the other 99%. He seemed like a guy that had a few extra gears to him that he could shift into when needed. So, being intrigued by his aforementioned demeanor, and his overall unique effect, I asked him, “So Jerry, out of curiosity, why exactly did you want me to train you?”

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Monster Garage Gym owner, Eric Maroscher with powerlifting legend, Ernie Frantz

Jerry explained. In the 1990’s he had been lifting weights, doing lots of benching, and he really loved it. He told me about a powerlifting gym he lived by back then that he wanted to train at, but for a variety of reasons, it never materialized. So I asked Jerry, “What was the name of the gym you wanted to train at?” Jerry explained, “The gym was the Frantz Health Studio.” I asked, “You mean to tell me, you wanted to train in the 1990’s at Frantz Gym? Frantz Gym in Aurora, Illinois?” Jerry said, “Yes, have you heard of it?”

My mind was racing because, as many of you know who read my articles, Ernie Frantz was and is my mentor, and I learned pretty much everything about the sport from the great Ernie Frantz, training at his gym and with powerlifting legends like Bill Nichols, Stephanie Van De Weghe, and so many others. You cannot train with a group of now-legendary powerlifters like that, in an atmosphere like Frantz Gym and not soak up a ton of applicable powerlifting knowledge. Which goes back to my earlier statements about being a student of the sport. But rather than go into that with Jerry, I asked why now and why this gym. Well, Jerry went on to explain that about three years before our meeting he had been diagnosed with stage IV, medullary thyroid cancer. This is a rare disease and was treated by removing Jerry’s thyroid and right neck dissection. Beyond brutal stuff.

About a year and a half later the disease spread to his chest and he had a sternotomy. More surgery, more life-altering events. After five or so months after this surgery, Jerry was able to work out, but he was getting nowhere. He decided to do some things he had wanted to do in the past and one was to get to a powerlifting gym and take care of some unfinished business.

I have seen some amazingly strong individuals during my decades in the power game. 1100-pound squatting men. 700-pound squatting women. So many feats of strength and displays of unbridled power that I find myself rarely impressed by sheer poundage anymore. But strong—impressively strong—can and does come in many different forms. Jerry is strong. After hearing Jerry’s story and being sort of a believer that some people are destined to meet up, I couldn’t help but think that if Jerry had come to Frantz Gym in the 1990’s, we would have ended up training together. And somehow, some 20 years later, here the two of us stood, together in a powerlifting gym that I designed based on my experiences at Frantz Gym.

All I knew was that this gentleman took on stage IV cancer and fought his way back, and that is a form of strength that is rare, special, and worthy of respect. So, that day, March 1, 2017, Jerry and I began our training journey together.

There was a lot involved in this process, as there were existing health issues with Jerry well beyond the typical gym injuries and the like. On the plus side, Jerry is an expert in his nutritional health and wellness. He sees his primary doctor on a regular basis and is also seeing an herbalist, who communicates with his doctor and Jerry’s health team. Jerry’s goal from the onset was to gain strength and put on some muscle so he would no longer look like he had been sick. So, we started very slowly with some assessments, looking at his technique, examining what he could and could not physically do, and going about developing a plan that would help him re-build his foundation, put on some muscle, increase strength and power, and move forward in a manner that would achieve these goals without compromising his health in any way.

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Jerry, Eric, Ron and Rich at the Monster Garage Gym table during the 2017 AWPC Worlds.

We maxed Jerry to get a strength baseline and Jerry pressed out 115 pounds on the bench. He has some wrist and arthritis issues, and we designed a routine that would work cautiously around those issues.

When you are training Jerry, you notice a few things right away. Jerry is a great listener. He listens, he learns, he applies what he has learned, and he has the ability to hone in on each rep within each set. It is actually quite impressive. As the weeks passed, Jerry grew strong(er) and strong(er) and strong(er), and his body was looking more and more healthy. Each session Jerry and I would dance this dance of pushing his body hard within the framework we created, but never so hard that he would fail a lift or require more than a nudge to get the bar moving. We wanted to cause good muscle damage, but not compromise his CNS health, as we were training to put on some muscle and build strength. We did not want to go past a certain point to where he was compromising his immune system.

Each session Jerry would work up a great sweat. Each session he would meticulously track his sets and reps, pounds, water, and nutrition, and we would follow closely to the plan. But we would always heed to the strength levels that Jerry had that day. It was a plan based deliberately on being instinctive and safe with the health issues involved.

I don’t remember when it was exactly, but around the third month I realized that, although Jerry was leaving our sessions saying, “Eric, I feel like a million bucks”, I was the one driving home saying, “Man, Jerry made me feel like a million bucks!” I mean, there is something to this guy. He is 65 and went to hell and back more than once, yet he finds joy in every single day, be it in preparing a meal, spending time with his beautiful wife, talking with his kids, or blasting through one of our training sessions. In so many ways, this guy is more of a free man than most I know. He looked death in the face, said "back off," then proceeded to move straight forward living and enjoying his life. He has an amazing perspective. Jerry finds the good in all things and has this ability to savor the moment, be present in the moment, live in the moment. Jerry uses those extra gears for getting the most out of his life. The more I was training Jerry and helping him build back his body, the more I was learning about living life through my time with him. I started wondering, “Who is training who, exactly?”

Anyway, here we are. As of this writing, we are about seven and a half months into our training journey together, and about eight weeks ago we decided to enter Jerry into a powerlifting meet for novices in the bench-only raw category. Jerry does squat and deadlift, but for where we are in our training and where we are in our overall goal for health, training and competing in bench-only is the way we want to go.

So, Jerry and I did some more planning and started to prep for this meet. Last weekend Jerry, at 65 years old, not only entered his first sanctioned powerlifting meet, but also pressed a raw 187.4-pound PR with a pause and rack command! It was absolutely spectacular. In my eyes, Jerry was the strongest man in that competition, and although we have had a number of 1000-pound squatters and 800-pound benchers at the Monster Garage Gym, I can tell you—and so would the majority of the powerlifters at the gym—that Jerry is the strongest man in the gym. It is not even close.

All this time I thought I was training Jerry, but in reality, Jerry was training me. You cannot work with Jerry and fail to see the world with a little more clarity. I feel pity for folks who actually spend time out of their day spewing negatives onto others at their workplace or on social media, or who complain ad nauseum about how they had to wait 10 whole minutes for their frappugrandelattefrothy whatever at a Starbucks. Their lives are so without issue that they create issues to get upset about.


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You know these people. You can name these people. They are all around you, at your work, in your neighborhood, perhaps even in your family. You know the negativity they are going to speak even before they open their mouth. You know the ill they will post even before they post it. These folks are consistent in their squandering of life. They are nothing more than mere passengers on the ship, whereas Jerry is the captain, plotting the course, setting the destination, and arriving only after having experienced a great and bold adventure on his lifelong journey.

Jerry can find the joy in a good set on the bench. He can find the satisfaction in working hard in the gym and striving for his day’s goals. He can look back over his hard, hard work and rejoice about adding 72 pounds to his raw bench max in only seven and a half months and hitting a PR in his first-ever sanctioned meet.

I have used Eleanor Roosevelt’s quote in prior articles: “Great minds discuss ideas; average minds discuss events; small minds discuss people.” Jerry represents the great minds and embodies what we should all strive for. That is, to be someone who can see the best in the world. To be someone who never gives up. To be someone who works hard not to squander this gift of strength, power, and health that we are all favored to possess. To be someone who lives every day to its fullest by recognizing our precious time on this planet.

I can still never tell if that new person coming into the gym is ever going to come back or not. But what I can tell is that when the right person comes back, an entire gym can become a better place for it.

Wishing you the best in your training and meet prep. Ever onward.

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