I’m always amazed and amused at how many guys are in and then suddenly out of competitive powerlifting and bodybuilding. Many of these guys have almost unlimited God-given potential to become national or even world champions. They rise to the top of the sport like a meteor. Then, incredibly, they’re suddenly gone, never to be heard from again.

What happens when someone dedicates their life to the pursuit of strength and size and then walks away from the very thing that they’ve dedicated their time, energy, and effort to? In some cases, injuries are certainly a reason. A competitor will have a serious surgery and is just never able to get back to where he was. He quits out of discouragement. Others find that life’s pursuits—family, making money, buying a house—are more important than lifting weights for trophies. While these seem like valid reasons for retirement, in my opinion, the simple fact is that most people are unwilling to persevere to the end and see the race through to completion.

When I was bodybuilding back in the late 1980s, our gym had a girl who trained there by the name of Karin Gotto. Never have I witnessed a more physically blessed woman. She stood about 5’8” and was the most shapely, muscular freak in the state. She had the potential to not only become a professional bodybuilder, but in my opinion, a very successful one. One year, she was trying to win the Connecticut state title and qualify for the NPC nationals. Three days before the show, she had me come into the posing room with her to see how she looked. I was astonished at what I saw. Picture a physique similar to Corry Everson. She was just perfection—full, ripped, and awesome.

When she asked what I thought, I said, “No one can beat you. Don’t change anything.” I added, “Be careful about carbing up. Don’t bother with it. Come in flat and ripped rather then taking a chance of spilling over.” The day of the show arrived, and as I sat there in anticipation, Karen walked out looking like she had never dieted a day in her life. She was smooth and bloated without a hint of definition. Her body had totally transformed into that of an off -season bodybuilder.

After the show, we spoke (she came in second to a girl who was nothing). As she cried about the results, I asked her what had happened. She said that after I had seen her, she had started eating oatmeal and just couldn’t stop. She ate three large containers of Quick Oats the night before the show. Can you imagine that? This is a woman who did two hours a day of cardio, trained twice a day for months, and was in the best shape of her life only to throw all that work and effort away because she couldn’t persevere to the end. She came close, but when it was time to grind through for a couple more days, she couldn’t do it. Imagine that. That’s a total lack of will, desire, and heart. The ability to see things through to the end is what separates champions from everyone else. Those who can grind through are rewarded, and those who can’t fall by the wayside.

Once I started powerlifting, I had many training partners with tremendous potential. Some did very well, and others could never live up to their gifts. Mike Olmo is a perfect example of this. Mike competed at 275 lbs and 308 lbs. He had best lifts of a 953 lb squat, a 525 lb bench, and a 725 lb deadlift. These numbers don’t in any way reflect his potential in the sport. I’ve NEVER seen a guy who trained less, ate worse, and had less desire to work then Mike.

On dynamic squat day, Mike would box squat. His assistance work consisted of smoking a cigarette and drinking a coffee. His total protein intake a day might have reached 100 grams, but I wouldn’t have bet on it. However, I’ve witnessed this guy do an 800 lb safety squat bar squat (we count the bar as 45 lbs) off of a twelve-inch box in a single ply Inzer champion suit and look like he had another 100 lbs in him. On another occasion, he did a 785 lb manta ray squat off of a ten-inch box wearing that same piece of crap suit. When he hit his 953 lb squat, we all knew that 1000 lbs was just around the corner.

Alas, one day Mike stopped coming to the gym, and we never saw him again. He never reached the magical 1000 lb squat. He quit. He was unwilling to persevere to the end and see the race through until it was finished. How many others are like Mike? Imagine being that close to reaching your goals and then walking away. How can one do that? The greatest tragedy on earth would be looking back and realizing that if you had just mustered up enough guts to see the journey to its completion, you could have accomplished your goals. Knowing that I hadn’t put in the work would drive me absolutely nuts and make me feel as if my life was a failure.

While Karen and Mike are examples of people who couldn’t persevere, the late, great Dave Barno is an example of someone who could. Dave basically symbolized that adage, “I will go until the wheels fall off.” This guy had a list of injuries that would make even the most experienced surgeon cringe. Pec surgery, shoulder surgery, triceps surgery, hamstring surgery, quad surgery, etc. He even had a swollen brain that was caused by head butting the bar. After each surgery, we would wonder, “Can Dave make it back?” And make it back he did EVERY single time.

Dave would do a meet, hit a monster total, and in the process, blow something off, only to rehab it and come back to do the same thing again. He took the term hardcore and the ability to deal with pain to a whole new level. He was what every person—not just lifter—should be. He was a man who ignored dire circumstances because his desire was more important than his circumstances. Dave wanted to be a great lifter, and he didn’t care what it took to get there. If it meant more surgery, so be it. If it meant dealing with pain, that was fine with him. If it meant ripping himself apart, he was willing. He had a dream to pursue, and he was dammed if he was going to let something like pain hold him back.

Dave and I used to email quite a bit, and he would regal me with his stories. He was one of a kind. Incredibly, the last email that I received from him was about a week before he passed away. He told me that his back was killing him and he couldn’t squat, but he was still trying to pull. When Dave passed away, it was revealed that not only was his back killing him, but he was actually suffering from a broken back. Can you imagine that? He was walking around and trying to train with a freaking broken back. It kind of makes our pulled hamstring or strained peck seem so less serious. Dave wouldn’t even let a broken back keep him from reaching for the stars.

Sadly, it was his back that contributed to his demise, as he got an infection that eventually killed him. However, he’s an example of a guy who persevered to the point of insanity, and that’s why I will NEVER forget him, what he stood for, or what he accomplished. He was the TRUTH, and he was a guy who everyone should look up to because he knew what lifting was all about.

The next time you feel like quitting or you’re injured and thinking about walking away, think about it for a minute. Don’t waste your chance at reaching for your goals. Persevere to the end, and see this thing through until it’s truly over. Don’t be one of those guys who look back and wish they would have hung in there a little longer. Remember Dave Barno, a guy who basically gave his life to achieve his dreams. Is it worth it? You’ll only know that if you see it through to the end. Don’t quit. Persevere.

Glenn “Apollo” Buechlein is a teacher in Indiana with a 700 lb plus bench press at 242 lbs. Best known as “Power B,” Glenn’s gym is in Washington, Indiana.  His gym is perfect—steel, chalk, dogs, and pure mayhem.

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