31 May Dondell Blue- One of My Greatest Influences
By Brian Carroll
For part 1 of this series – click here: Louie Simmons of Westside Barbell- One of my Greatest Influences
Chances are if you call yourself a ‘student of the game,’ or at least have been around the sport for a bit you’ve likely heard the name Dondell Blue. “Blue,” as he is known as, is a veteran powerlifter initially from South Carolina but has lived in Jacksonville, Florida for as long as I can remember.
He is also one of the originals from the first WPO in 2000 as a 198’er.
Blue’s best-equipped lifts are a 1050 squat, 750 bench and a 750 deadlift at 220lbs, with the first and a very controversial (more on this below) WR 2500 total at 220lbs accomplished in 2006. Blue’s best raw lifts are an 800 plus squat, 540 bench, and 720 plus deadlift, 2000 plus total at a very light 242lbs.
How is Blue one of my biggest influences?
Where do I even start? Blue was one of the reasons I quit bodybuilding in 2001, and here writing this article today. I learned a great deal from Blue, and I will always be grateful for this. Though I haven’t spent much time with him over the last ten years, his influence will remain as I finish my lifting career. Admittedly, many times I didn’t see or understand the impact he had on me. I often I saw him as a rival, sometimes even a nemesis; a man that would f#ck my head all up, for lack of a better way of putting it with mind games and all of the intangibles many don’t understand prior to competing at the highest level.
People part ways, it’s just life. I truly miss him as a training partner but life happens, but people go different directions. Blue was one of the guys who indeed pushed me and challenged me mentally, physically and psychologically. For this, I will always be grateful even if at the time I despised it.
First, we must go back to the late 1990’s when I joined Bailey’s Powerhouse Gym. I entered the day I turned 16 years old in 1997. I wasn’t allowed to train before I was 16 due to their policy. Before the gym, I trained at my high school and in my garage, but I didn’t fall in love with training until I had access to a real gym and got to train with people better than me.
One afternoon training at Bailey’s, I met a guy who went by Blue, just in passing. He said he recognized me from a bench only meet earlier that year. When he told me his name, I remembered seeing it on the roster. A first and last name “Blue Blue” on a roster will grab your attention. Plus, he was super-3D-jacked; Jacked AND strong. Quickly I learned that he was very well known for not just his size and strength but even more: his willingness to help others with their training and would help anyone.
Jacksonville, Florida, where I was born and raised is vast. It’s the largest land mass city in all of the United States. But, oddly enough, it’s also the smallest-large city ever. My point is even in this gigantic city, over the years, I would run into Blue at the most random places at the most random times.
By the year 2000, I was a full-fledged gym rat. All of my interests were in training and my work at Coca-Cola. When not working, I lived in the gym. I would sometimes train 2-3 times a day because I had nothing better to do.
One typical late night, while lifting at the gym alone, I noticed a tremendous individual across the way at the squat rack training alone in the dark. The gym was already ‘closed,’ but once you were in, you could stay all night. The trick was the only lighting you had was the backup emergency lights which were few and far between. Depending on where you were in the gym, you may or may not have any view. A few minutes later I heard someone shriek from the vicinity of the squat racks. The noise caught my attention, so I turned toward the disturbance.
What I witnessed was something I’d never seen before. As I started walking that way slowly, I observed a very imposing and deliberate shadow sprint across the gym. And upon further examination it was that guy Blue; no shirt on, jeans and knee wraps over them, sporting steel toe work boots. In one swift motion, Blue un-racked 600lbs without hesitation walked it out just as fast as he ran to it, squatted to the floor then gutted it up. I thought to myself “that’s one bad man.”
A little bit of right timing
On another seemingly typical work day in 2001, Blue and I crossed paths at a Winn-Dixie Grocery store as we were both waiting to check-in with receiving. Blue worked for Premier Beverage and I Coca-Cola. Blue recognized me and asked what my training goals were. I told him that I was currently bodybuilding but had dabbled in bench only meets. Somehow, Blue heard that I recently benched my first 405lbs raw in the gym touch and go. I guess back then it was a big deal to bench 400 plus in the gym under 200lbs as not everyone competed as soon as they benched 225lbs; I assumed I had to get stronger (earn my right to get on the platform) by actually being strong and competitive with those in Powerlifting USA. The snowflake era had not started yet.
As the conversation progressed, Blue suggested I try a full power meet and even offered some help. He asked me what I could squat after mentioning the 405lb bench. I replied, “I squat reps mainly, my best is 405 x 10-12 in a belt.” Blue went on to assure me that if I could squat 405 x 10, I should be close to a 600lb squat in belt and knee wraps. I wasn’t convinced, yet this got me thinking. I was over bodybuilding and had no interest in bench only meets, and others had already been in my ear about competing. This crossing of paths was just the catalyst I needed.
After a couple of weeks using Inzer’s Iron Wrap Z’s (red and black classics), I took and nailed my first 600lbs squat. How the hell did Blue know this? And this wasn’t the first, nor the last time he knew much more than I did! Never, ever, underestimate one’s wisdom from years under the bar and the innate ability some are gifted with to not only see potential in others but to speak positivity and belief in one’s life.
After this influential encounter, I didn’t see Blue for a period. I slowly took more interest in powerlifting, and finally, after one of my mentors Skip told me about an APF meet in March of 2003, I decided to do it. Flat out Skip said to me that I was doing the APF Powerlifting meet. So it was settled in 2002 that I would do my first full meet.
Prepping for my first full meet
As I started my prep, I doubled 600lbs pretty quickly in my first go at equipped squatting. I was using an old-faithful Marathon squat & deadlift suit. Keep in mind; there were no ‘true’ raw competitions at this time- not until 2006. Gym-rats lifted heavy raw; as did I, but powerlifters donned gear as they prepared for game day. Blue happened to show up at this particular gym I was going to and I was fortunate to have him wrap my knees and talk me through it.
So, after my first equipped experience, I had a one rep carryover above the raw squat test a little while back. After the squat session, Blue nonchalantly said, “You’re a strong squatter and have excellent form. You’ll be squatting 800lbs in a year or so when your back and body gets used to that weight.”
Honestly, I think I laughed in his face. Not out of disrespect, but I didn’t have the confidence in myself like he did. “I was like, what the hell does that even mean? My body gets used to the weight?” In my mind, I was like, “Bro, you squat 800 plus and look like you could eat me.” Instead, I said, “Yeah?” He said, “You watch, Brian.” I didn’t buy it, once again. I was good at ignoring wisdom, knowledge, and personal belief as you can see.
Unfortunately, looking back, I started my prep about 25 weeks out and of course, was going far too heavy at this point in training. After about six weeks of heavy squats in a row my left hip, the same one that bothers me on occasion to this day, felt like someone stabbed it with a dull knife every time I squatted. Even with just the empty bar.
After a couple of weeks not being able to squat (forced time-off) at this point, I had pretty much told everyone I was not going to proceed ahead with the meet. Blue was adamant about me having plenty of time and pushing forward and doing the competition. “Give your body some rest, and you’ll be fine.”
Not surprisingly, after a couple of weeks off, my hip ‘miraculously’ healed itself. Imagine that! Taking time off, simply leaving it alone (not picking the scab) had me feeling like a million bucks. So I was ‘told’ I needed to do the meet since I felt better and had plenty of time. I think, in hindsight, I could have been looking for excuses not to do the comp, honestly. I had never even observed a full power meet before, much less competed in one and frankly, was very intimidated at a very green 20 years of age. The closest thing I had been to a full meet was the WPO Bench-Bash in Daytona, Florida where I saw Kenny Patterson drop 714lbs for the all-time WR on his face. The sight of someone with 700 plus lbs on their face was quite intimidating, but I loved the hardcore vibe.
Admittedly, I stumbled through meet prep, mostly without experienced coaching but with my regular gym buddies helping me the best they could with our limited gym-rat knowledge. I did have pointers here and there and an old-school progressive guide of what I should be doing. However, I was not coddled and had to figure out the details on my own. Looking back, this was both good and bad.
Good because I learned a lot during this time and I feel it’s essential for those new to the sport to struggle, suffer and do things the wrong/hard way. It was terrible because I think (I know) I beat myself up early on and set the stage for some awful choices. I believe this is one of many components of what’s so different these days in the sport. If someone struggles for a meet or two, even a year or two, they automatically want to quit. Fighting is part of everyone’s success. We tend to remember the hard way; But, I digress.
On meet day March 15, 2003, Blue was there in my corner while he was also competing and offering me helpful advice when he could. Of course, he won the “best lifter award” with an 800 plus squat and 700 plus deadlift at a light 242lbs. I also met Adam Driggers at this meet for the first time, and I placed third to him (which you can read more about in another upcoming article).
After my first meet was a wrap, Blue and I exchanged information, finally, and started training together. Random times, random places (he drove a truck, so his schedule varied vastly).
I was quickly out of my comfort zone as he would beat the living dogshit out of me. I had no idea what ‘hard training’ and pushing the body meant. For years, I was the leader in the gym, so this jet-fueled boost of training with Blue was what I needed and frankly even more: what I wanted.
Training with Blue early on
We didn’t always go heavy during the offseason (the time when a meet isn’t imminent), but copious amounts of volume: loads of exercises with various movements that I sucked at, ignored or didn’t do to properly. We attacked my weak points.
I was learning how to powerlift.
I can remember the only time I’d ever TRULY gotten physically ill from a training session vividly. It was a deadlift marathon at the local Gold’s Gym on a Saturday night in August 2003. The reason why I got sick was that I had never pushed myself like I should have been. I didn’t know any better- you only drive yourself as hard as 1. You know your limits to be or 2. As hard as those around you and you eventually adapt. This location was also the very same gym that Kai Green trained at when he turned pro. The other gym (Bailey’s) had Dexter Jackson training with one of my mentors Skip Sylvester. Now, 15 years later we know these are two of the most decorated bodybuilders EVER. I had no idea how much greatness I had around me! Regardless, these gyms were not conducive to powerlifting in any way. We needed something more.
Getting Lucky 15 years ago
As luck would have it, in September 2003, I crossed paths with Adam Driggers at an AAPF meet in New Smyrna Beach, Florida. Adam was at this very time assembling a team as he had just built the Team Samson compound in his backyard, located in North Jacksonville, Florida. After talking with Adam throughout the day, he invited me (and Blue) out to train. Excited, and after reaching out to Blue, we were there the next day on Sunday just as soon as I finished working my route.
Strength training (mostly powerlifting) groups around Jacksonville were plentiful but scattered about our town. “Team Jax” was located on the Westside of Jax; Jim Hoskinson and his crew in very North Jax; Charles Bailey (RIP) was down in Jax Beach, with a few smaller groups in between huddled in garages and such. We wanted (and needed) to train with an influential group and get the hell out of the commercial gyms so we could utilize chalk, the competition bars, monolift, etc. and train with minimal distractions.
Learning about longevity
The first few years I learned so much just from training with other more experienced powerlifters. Blue had the biggest total on the team, and even more -the state at the time, yet I would be blown away by how little he ‘seemingly’ trained at times. I fell into the misconception/trap that many of us have; I always thought I would outwork him and overtake him just by attacking the weight and wanting it more. I also thought you needed to go hard all the time if you want it bad enough.
The go hard or go home concept is very, very flawed thinking that many of us get caught up with. Especially early on when the gains come quick. It’s not about doing as much as possible, or keeping up with what others do; It’s about finding each individuals optimal range which includes a myriad of variables.
Let me tell you; I learned this the hard way more than once. As Dr. Stu McGill and I discuss in Gift of Injury, many would be surprised how little volume, frequency, and intensity some very top level lifters adhere to when prepping. Also, how low some bouts of intensity may be in part of their offseason- the real pros know when to push and when to coast.
As recent as three months ago, Louie Simmons and I had a similar conversation for about 3 hours. I bet Louie still thinks Dave trains too little, but nobody can argue with his results. I think we can all agree that things do change at the highest levels, so this is something to consider for coaches who promote high volume plus frequency for the long haul and of course, the athletes out there grinding away every year with less than ten years in the sport.
It should go without saying, but those who hoist massive weight will likely require more rest, recovery and time between sessions for their body to adapt and recover. In many cases, it’s not the opposite regardless of what the latest trends are; the high frequency with high volume and load/intensity will break down bone and soft tissue, eventually. Some much faster than others. There are always exceptions, and in most cases, you are not the exception. Remember, bone takes longer to adapt than soft tissue. Also, just because the area seems to be pain-free/recovered does NOT necessarily mean it’s healed or ready for the load you’re asking of it.
History has shown us that the legends, the real-true pros, those with a minimum of 10 years of lifting at the highest level do take breaks as they don’t ‘boost’ and lift heavy year round every year. Wear and tear become cumulative. Some will take months or even longer where they ‘cruise’ and heal up; some hardly train in some coasting periods. They don’t lift big weights year-round because they know better and have likely tried it. This example is yet another way of working a variation of offseason in your game plan. Blue was the first top lifter than I watched from a distance and learned from concerning this strategy.
The jury is out on what the newest generation of freaks (raw-ish-minimally equipped monsters) will be dealing with after ten plus years in the game. I have a feeling that longevity may not be part of their legacy. Time will tell but 20 years in the sport tell me otherwise.
Smart, intelligent training with incredible self-belief and confidence
I’ve witnessed Blue do things you can’t describe in the gym, all due to extraordinary self-belief. Whether it be missing 900lbs on the squat (getting smashed), and for his next set going up to 1000lbs and making it look easy. These feats which I would see on a regular basis helped me know that self-belief is a necessary and likely the most important intangible for those who want to push the human limits in any field.
You MUST believe the impossible to be possible. A few people I have known on a personal level who have this great attribute come to mind: Blue, Shawn Frankl, Travis Mash, Chuck Vogelpohl and Dave Hoff all have other-worldly levels of confidence in their ability that I am still chasing to this day. The absolute belief that you can do whatever is loaded on the bar no matter what. After my back injury, I have a more-healthy fear of load and understand what can happen when lifts go wrong (they do, shit happens), or if you’re unprepared for the load. This fear is good and evil, but I am way less reckless than my former self. Everything is a give and take and something I am still working on perfecting to this day.
Holding back and listening to your body
Over the years of training with Blue from 2003-2010, Blue would take weights out of the rack, shake his head and put it right back in the rack. He would start to tug on the bar from the floor, then stop, shake his head vigorously and walk away and “say not today; I need a couple more weeks.”
At the time, I thought Blue lacked intensity, work ethic or wasn’t ‘hardcore’ enough. Maybe even lazy or complacent. But, what I should have noticed more importantly was the weeks that followed as he made the small, necessary adjustments behind the scenes. These modifications, I have learned since about, will vary lifter vastly to lifter. It could be a mindset, nagging pain or random tightness, supplementation, rest, outside stressors or even merely getting used to going heavy again. Maybe the fact he drives cross-country for work could be factor #1?
For some, I have concluded it’s often a little or a lot of all the above. We all vary significantly in how we respond, recover and adapt to stressors and load.
The wisdom I eventually soaked in by seeing the bigger picture is Blue would come back to smoke the missed or barely finished lifts of weeks’ before like an empty bar. The point is, he understood his body and how it worked much more than I thought or realized. It was evident one time in particular while training for the WPO Finals in 2006 when he placed a controversial second place to the artist formerly known as Matt Kroczaleski.
You will have a couple of days per cycle that are awash – remember this
Just a few weeks before the Arnold 2006 WPO Finals, Blue missed a 500lb raw bench badly. It flat-out nearly cut him in half. I’d seen Blue bench 500 so many times at this point and thought, “WTF, here we go again.” Well, the next week, he came back and tripled it. He then said, “OK, I’m ready.” Just the week before, I assumed he was underprepared. I was wrong.
I was just a few years in and already considered a top lifter in the world at the time. But, I was still obtuse; considerably unaware of how much went into lifting at that level and how one LITTLE thing being off or wrong could result in 10% or more of performance decreased. Or worse-life-altering injury. I also thought that a one-size-fits-all formula was the cure-all.
This observation is a yet another huge takeaway that I use every day in my speaking, coaching, lifting, and programming. Shit happens, you will have horrible days. You will likely have sessions (2-3 in my experience if you’re lucky) in just about every training cycle that is a complete wash; These training sessions feel like a completely wasted day, though they are far from a waste if harnessed correctly and noted.
Lousy training days, (sometimes more than great training days) can teach you so much about what you are doing right, and of course, where you missed the mark. This concept also applies to getting injured as long you are learning; you are getting better. The best advice I can give is studying, learn from the day, make a note and move forward. And most of all, be thankful this happened in training and not meet day.
Intelligent lifting and attempt selection – take what the meet will give you
Every competition, Blue, without fail, opened up with 500lbs on the bench raw to secure his squat and stay in the comp. He then would take his next two attempts in his bench shirt. Around this time, quite a few top lifters would open raw (or very light on the bench) to stay in the meet or to save their WR squat (since so many made unwise attempt selections and eliminated themselves).
Blue was always consistent and hardly ever bombed. I can only think of one time ever. After a while, it became a running theme for many lifters who should, in theory, beat the brakes off of Blue, whether on paper with more significant totals, longer, better resume, coming off of world record performances etc., But he always seemed to be able to adjust while others fell apart under the bright lights of the big meets. Blue took what we could get on that day, and was never too greedy.
I learned this strategy from watching Blue consistently place in the top 2 at every single one of these meets big meets with greats like Chuck Vogelphol, Travis Mash, Jesse Kellum, Kenny Patterson, Arnold Coleman, Mike Danforth, Mike Cartinean, Matt Kroczeleski, Shawn Frankl, etc. but I wasn’t ready to apply it quite yet.
There is a stark difference between knowledge and applied wisdom.
Side note: To those who question why would one open raw or ‘light,’ I’d like to provide a classic and legendary example most are likely familiar. Chuck Vogelpohl, in 2004, won the WPO Arnold Middleweight class with a puny 363 raw bench press. Everyone was competing in this meet – the who’s who of top powerlifters but on this day everyone struggled severely. You know the meet, the one where Chuck needed and of course, pulled 816 (WPO WR.) for the win (to beat training partner and Westside barbell teammate Kenny Patterson) where hail, fire, and brimstone were flying from his mouth and eyes shot out lightning bolts? Lord of Thunder anyone? Much more than sparkles, no doubt.
Many bombed, missed lifts or made ridiculous selections that took care of themselves. Chuck gladly took the middleweight belt, cash, and victory.
It’s not always the best lifter who wins but the best athlete on a given day, regardless of accolades. Another priceless lesson about powerlifting.
Training days and resumes mean nothing.
Bumping of heads
As you might guess, Blue and I didn’t always agree on things or get along. I will never say that I didn’t have training knowledge or was completely ignorant because I had robust intuitions, I was just a bit unseasoned, young and had the wrong type of confidence. I had success pretty early.
On the other hand, I wouldn’t say Blue was always right, but he had much more wisdom and knowledge than I did. He’d also f#ck with my head often which took me a while to catch on and understand.
Blue would often ‘rattle my head’ about competitors and what they are supposedly doing in training, or how my training partners were going to run me down and beat me. “Brian if Adam pulls 675 at the meet, you’re doing to have a bad day.” It used to get under my skin and piss me off too really. He wasn’t innocent, nor was I.
Blue and I went round and round very often starting in about 2004. Blue, being the elder by nearly 8yrs, I looked to like a big brother. I’m ashamed to say that at the time I believed (colossal mistake for anyone reading this) that I could never beat or be equal to him or his level. I believed it, I just couldn’t ‘see it.’ Big, big mistake.
One should always strive to be the best, and this is why I think athletes who claim to compete against themselves, only, are making a grave mistake.
Webster defines sport as: “a contest or game in which people do certain physical activities according to a specific set of rules and compete against each other.”
In my opinion, this is a cop-out for fragile egos. You’ll never tap your full potential if you don’t compare yourself to your peers and strive to beat the best. Look at any sport, as one person crosses a barrier thought to be impossible, then often, so do 4-5 others shortly after.
Whether it be hitting more than 61 home runs in a year in baseball, a 3:00min mile; how about the first 1100lb squat done by Steve Goggins at 40 years young weighing only about 265lbs!
The first 2500 (and the first 26, 27, 2800) total achieved in powerlifting by Gary Frank, then just a few years later, 4-5 guys cracking 2500 at only 220lb; followed by multiple guys at 198.
The first 1000lb and belt only squat semi-raw squat (“raw” with 3 of the strongest guys on the planet wrapping him- Jay Nera, Sam Byrd and someone else so he has the minimal-most assistance possible), first 1000lb deadlift. You see the trend: we all elevate as other do.
Keeping your head buried in the sand and not comparing yourself to the best will only hold you back and place an arbitrary limit on your ability. Seeing the seemingly ‘impossible’ achieved helps us all elevate our game. Though it may hurt our ego & pride temporarily, it will make us better inside and out if we allow it.
Learning a little bit about strategy
After watching Chucks savvy and strategic win at the 2004 Arnold, I took note and conjured up a plan about two weeks out from a bench only competition. On July 31, 2004, all of us at Team Samson competed in a local bench press meet for charity in conjunction with a bodybuilding show. This meet was also the first time I ever saw Kai Green in shape outside of the gym. (Side note: This was the meet we met Clint Smith, and started a dialogue with him before he joined).
After being beat mentally by Blue a few times in competition and the gym and learning some new strategy/tricks, I decided to give one a go. I was starting to learn more attempt strategy, become more of an intelligent a lifter and wanted to see if I could beat Blue. A win even if it was only by attempt selection. This strategy test was an experiment because I wasn’t peaked (ready), nor was I a good bench presser.
Weigh-in day I was only about 225lbs and decided not to cut down to 220lbs. At the time, Adam Driggers was on fire with his bench (he’s just hit a 540 in April) and was closing in on a 600lbs bench rapidly. I was low 5’s at best and very inconsistent.
Blue, on the other hand, was well into the 600s but lately was struggling in the bench shirt more than usual. I knew he’d open with 500 raw and it was highly probable he’d miss his next two attempts. I started at 475, then went 505 on my second but lost it. Blue as predicted, opened at 500 raw, then missed 6-something in his shirt. I put pressure on myself to execute and came back to make 505. Blue lost his 3rd over his face, and I won the class.
Looking back, I think I started something more significant than I realized by doing this. Both good and bad. I’ll never apologize for winning but sometimes what matters more is how we handle it going forward.
As the next year passed, my confidence grew (to a fault). None the less, I became a better lifter and was starting to approach the 2300’s in total with squats in the mid 900’s, benches in the high 500’s to low 600’s and my dead crossed the 700 barriers by early 2005.
Blue would compete mostly at 242 but sometimes at 220. One thing that would drive me nuts- I could out-lift him on a regular basis in the gym, but that didn’t matter. Blue always saved his. This lesson is yet another thing I learned from Blue: what you do in the gym doesn’t matter-always save it for the meet. Pick your battles.
Jonathan Byrd figured this out (with many friendly reminders) many different times during his tenure at Team Samson (about five years). He would, at times, out-lift me in the gym (at this own demise- going far too heavy), but we both knew how the training cycle was going to end as I was ‘saving mine.’ And I’d remind him often that I was “saving mine and he’d get his at the meet.” I saw a lot of the same give in take in Jon and myself as I did a decade earlier with Blue. Even lately with Clint Smith playing mind games to see how could pull the biggest on a given day, with no intention of trying to beat him.
Jon often went far too heavy in the gym (for a while it seemed he was trying to pull 750lbs in the gym on a regular basis). Jon reminded me of a younger version of me in ways with the hardheaded brute force that would often be his undoing and keep him from performing when it counted. Jon and I went round and round many times about him going too heavy, especially with his pre-contest cycle. I can remember two different instances in particular. The March 2015 Arnold, and the RPS South Florida Conquest, last September. I had already tried this way and learned.
A rivalry was born
I think this rivalry was more between me and Blue, more than Blue and I, but I could be wrong. I was gunning for him. I was ready physically, but not mentally. We’d have competitions and lots of trash talking sessions in the gym. One day in particular in the fall of 2005 I set out to pull 750 for the first time and had been close many times.
Blue, of course, said he would out pull me. I picked up a super-fast 600, Blue followed with a 605. Sound familiar? I made a silly-massive jump to 750 and missed it at the very, very top, as my callous tore severely.
Blue had a good time with that as he ran around the gym laughing at my ‘baby soft hands.’ As you can imagine, I wasn’t pleased, but Blue had scoreboard.
A few months later, at the APF Southern States in 2005, Blue was lifting once again at 242lbs and I at 220lbs. I made the grave mistake of clapping back after he whispered something to me before my final deadlift. After his 722lb 3rd attempt, as I was chalking up, he whispered to me “the pressure is on you baby.” Blue in my ear has always fired me up, especially remembering what happened in training. I went out to the bar on fire. I think I was surprised that the bar came up so fast since Blue had “beaten me” so many times. Regardless, after I made 733lbs, I blacked out like the Ralphy from “A Christmas Story.” I honestly had no plans to say anything, but I blurted out a bunch of things I shouldn’t have while holding the bar at the top, showing him up.
Blue here, showing some “tough” body language after the meet, still beat me out for best lifter and this started something I shouldn’t have. This incident, in particular, didn’t help our relationship much going forward and began to build some thick animosity between us.
Who has the World Record
In 2006, at WPO Semis/WPC Worlds, I had just come off a PR total of 2376lbs and a controversial 1030lb All-time world record squat at 220lbs. The reason why it was controversial is that word had just come out that Blue squatted 1050 at 220lbs and set the new All-time world record not only in the squat with 1050lbs but 2500lb in total at an obscure meet in Indiana that was supposedly a push-pull competition.
Honestly, I didn’t know what to think. I got caught in the middle of something I didn’t plan to be. I guess I was pissed that Blue didn’t compete with all of us at the WPO Semis. But I should voice my opinion and then move on.
The next month, while at the 2006 APF southern states, I found myself in another guy’s corner competing against Blue at 242lbs. I was talking to him and giving him tips to edge Blue on the final deadlift even though Blue was still part of Team Samson. You will do and say sorry things when animosity, rivalry, gunning for a #1 spot and competitiveness come into play.
Let this be a lesson for those that train together- never betray a teammate in a meet in any way, no matter what position or means you think you can use to justify. Beat them yourself, or keep your mouth shut. At the time I didn’t consider this as a big deal. But, looking back it was a gutless move on my part.
Sometimes you don’t quite understand how things will appear or pan out, and how it may impact future relationships for years to come.
I was wrong and falling on my face
Even being in a rival’s corner is wrong, and as this made me a lousy teammate. Blue rightfully so was angry when he noticed that I was talking to Christian to make the pull. Our relationship indeed became rocky after this, and this all lead up to bigger rivalry going into the WPO Arnold Finals in 2007. We both were ready to clash head to head at the 2007 Arnold, so to me, the gloves were off. “Eff it,” I said in my young, foolish 26yr old mind.
Blue went and trained elsewhere for the prep for the WPO and kept a low profile.
I was so motivated for the WPO Finals that I beat myself into oblivion even before the end of 2006. Keep in mind; the meet was not until March of 2007. I was a little dinged up from a big day at Worlds/WPO in November. And of course, only three years into full meets, I thought I had it all figured out. I was ranked top 2 in the world at 220, with Frankl and Blue (Matt Kroc close behind) and I didn’t care. Travis Mash had retired, Chuck had moved up to 275lbs, and the 220 class was ours for the taking.
I went right away to destroying my body, and I must say I did an excellent job. Only a couple of weeks in, my upper back/trap became was so bad that I couldn’t un-rack or deadlift more than 300lbs without shooting/stabbing pain in my neck/trap/rhomboid area. Looking back, I had herniated a few discs in my neck (I have 4-5 unhealthy discs in my neck now, and this likely started in 2006) and tore my rhomboid or trap in my prep for the World record squat of 1030 the last meet prep.
To me, taking some time off wasn’t an option- silly as that is now with my entire philosophy being “availability supercedes ability.” But, in my defense, I did what any intelligent athlete would do: I had my training partners shoot Lidocaine and Bupivacaine into the painful area in my trap/neck/rhomboid area to numb/block the nerve pain so I could ensure ultimate & proper destruction of my body in an epic fashion.
Jokes aside, I did get tons of body work during this time, as I was working full time as a Massage Therapist. But as with so many injuries, overuses, tweaks and dings, a little time off from picking the scab goes much further than grinding away, even with bodywork daily and medication. Another lesson difficult and painful learned, especially when this area still can flare up to this very day, 12 years later (it’s flared up right now as I write this).
Regardless of my best but misplaced efforts, Blue shut everyone up, (me included) in March 2007. He won the WPO Finals by a landslide and is the last middleweight champion of the WPO.
One thing I promised myself I’d do was shake his hand and congratulate him as a man and competitor should. That was indeed one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. But since this day, when I do lose, it’s something that I always make a point to do. Sportsmanship is all about this, in my opinion, regardless of how you feel about someone else winning. Whether you like them or hate them, they still beat your ass. Don’t like it? Don’t lose to them.
After this meet, I wisely made my way up to compete at 242lbs and Blue took a break for a while. We would train here and there together, but eventually, after a short raw lifting stint in 2009-2010, Blue’s trucking business took off, and I didn’t see him for close to a decade.
Most learn about psychological warfare the hard way
I’ve talked about how Blue would mess with my head. How he would talk about how badly he was going to “split my wig” at the upcoming meet, or how some guy nobody has ever heard of was going to beat my ass at the next event. I could go on and on. After falling for this so many times, I eventually caught on and started to learn, while seeing the patterns. Saying less is more. Not showing a reaction is important – never reveal your weaknesses as they will used against you. I would get worked up and emotional when he would get under my skin about Clint or Adam or anyone else running me down about a lift, and I fell for it every time. Then one day, I stopped reacting like a confused child but instead started firing back at him.
Let’s go back to the late 1960’s and early 1970s. Many know of Arnold and his ability to ‘trash talk,’ sabotage and throw off his competitors with mind games and tricks. What many people do NOT know is that he learned these tricks by being beaten and humiliated with the very same type of skills.
In Arnold’s book, “Arnold’s Encyclopedia of Modern Bodybuilding,” one of the first training books I ever read as a teenager, Arnold discusses what Sergio Olivia did to him in 1969 just before Arnold’s string of Mr. Olympia victories. By the way, I believe Clint Smith still has this book, and it’s probably under his bed with the other ones he ‘borrowed.’
In short, he got embarrassed, defeated and humiliated.
Arnold knew his back didn’t match-up well with Sergio’s and Sergio was keenly aware of this. So, at this particular show, Sergio hid in the darkest corner of the pump-up room, hunched over with his back looking small. He donned a large butchers coat (he worked as a butcher) during the whole pump-up session and kept his back looking narrow with shoulder blades pinched together.
Arnold made an enormous tactical error and thought “his back isn’t that big, I got this.” Wrong. WRONG!
As it was time to go out on stage for pre-judging, Sergio, while walking just ahead of Arnold “lowered the boom” (as Arnold explained it). Sergio tossed off his cloak, and the stage lighting revealed what was hiding under the giant coat. Sergio flexed his other-worldly back and said, “take a look at this, baby.” And with that, “BAM” Arnold lost the show before it even started.
Sergio taunted him throughout the posing rounds and Arnold was like a deer in headlights. This experience changed Arnold. The Arnold you see in “Pumping Iron” teasing Louie & Father, telling stories and pulling pranks was just five years before falling prey to the very same games.
I guess you can say I can relate to this story a little bit on a much smaller scale. But I tend to learn the hard way. I bet this happens a lot more than people realize.
More knowledge and wisdom through difficult experience
I’d like to say I learned a lot, even when embarrassed mentally it has only helped me, though It hurts at the time. It’s embarrassing looking back. It hurts at the time because you don’t quite understand what happened and even if you do, you’re out of it mentally; caught off guard- like a deer in headlights. But, if you’re wise, over time you learn, and you pick up on things. You get it. I think everyone needs these type of ‘beatings,’ mentally, psychologically and physically but unfortunately for me, it took a while to learn from them. I say this because I credit Blue with learning so much about mind games and staying on your path no matter the background noise.
Giving credit where it’s due
I learned so very much from Blue from listening to my body at all times to holding back in the gym as well as taking plenty of time off before the meet from your last training day. Blue always hammered home “you’re not going to get any stronger the last three weeks before the meet, you need to rest.” I’d continue pushing hard two weeks out and closer, but after a while, I found my sweet spot and what it meant to hyper-compensate and recover. My best meets have been when the very heaviest lifting has been done three weeks out or further.
Another valuable nugget of wisdom I learned was to take what the meet gives you on that day, i.e., be flexible with your attempt selection and always get to the comp. I learned that your body needs to feel big weights; It takes time to get used significant load, and subsequently, you need adequate rest and recovery. You can’t get paid if you aren’t playing; “you gotta be in it to win it.”
Blue would take time off from training heavy to let his body recover, and many would question why? Well, I can tell you looking back and knowing what I know now that he always been pretty healthy with no significant injury. Over the years, I have reevaluated this in my training, many times and realized that I indeed have competed too much and not taken enough appropriate time. Hence, in 2017 and so far in 2018 I have competed and lifted heavy very infrequently but instead worked on the little things that I’ve missed over the years. I.e., mental approach, efficiency, recovery, diet and better supplementation and focus. More of a reboot and a fresh start mentally and physically.
I’ve run into Blue a couple of times over the last two years, and we have had brief but pleasant exchanges at meets. As far as I know, he has no plans to compete at this time. But it’s always good to see him, especially when you can look back and now truly understand the influence someone has had on you. You see how someone pushed you to the limits, in all facets of the sport. You see how much you benefitted from having someone like this in your corner.
There comes a time in the sport where you *start* to ‘get it.’ You see the err of your ways and how others were trying to help you, not hold you back. You ‘get’ what others were trying to articulate to you, but you would put up walls and be defensive and knew better than squatting an inch or two deeper. You take it personally, which at the time feels very personal. Maybe they aren’t in a good mood at times, come across as a dick even but does it change the fact that they have more experience than you and likely know better?
You ‘get’ how frustrating it can be dealing with 20-something know-it-alls, no matter their talent or skill. You start to ‘get’ how with age comes wisdom and even though at the time you felt that you had it figured out, the more you learn, the more you realize you don’t know.
This its self is a terrifying realization that many of us have toward the end of our lifting careers.
If only youth brought wisdom; But it doesn’t work this way, as we know.
Listen and take heed to those who have come before you and treat them with respect. The veterans will likely be more-wise than you could ever realize, regardless of the delivery package; there is wisdom to learn from all who have come before you.
Editor’s note: After starting this article in March and as he was finishing April, it got Brian thinking. Subsequently, Brian decided to reach out at the end of April to Dondell to mend the fence. For the last month they have been training together at Samson once again. Dondell is going to make another run at 242 raw, and will be using Brian’s 10/20/Life approach and coaching to make another push toward even more enormous numbers at age 44.
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