12 Apr Team Samson – My greatest influence
By Brian Carroll
Editor’s note: Please understand that for years, powerlifting was my only outlet and my entire life. It’s all I thought about, all I cared about, and all I focused on. I’ve worked on becoming a little less passionate about it, but I always find myself teetering between love and hate with it. Thankfully, I’m currently in a place, once again, where I love it and enjoy it and am building something cool-even though I’m starting over in many ways with my team, my lifts, and my approach to lifting and life. Without meeting the group in 2003, and in particular Adam Driggers, I wouldn’t be who or where I am today (the good and the bad). For that, thank you to every former and current member of Team Samson Powerlifting regardless of how our relationship is now, how much or how little we see each other, and for all the help and support over the years. You’ve all had a lasting impact on me.
For the first two parts of this series, please read Louie Simmons and Blue some of my greatest influences. In the third part of this series “my greatest influences,” I dive right into Team Samson powerlifting and what it’s meant to me along with some of the ups, downs, and other things that come with training with a group of men for over 15 years. As I’m no longer training at Adam’s and currently assembling a group of athletes who train here at my house. I’m implementing many of the things I learned from Adam & training with the team for example boundaries, leadership, comradery, and cohesiveness. No gym or situation is perfect, but I have to say that I wouldn’t trade the last 15 years for anything! There are many life lessons to be extracted from my experience with Team Samson.
In 2003, a young(ish) group of powerlifters came together organically in Jacksonville, Florida. Some of the very best times of my life have been in a simple 2-car equivalent ‘barn-like’ metal structure. To me, it was one of those once-in-a-lifetime type groups of people and times in my life. Sadly, after just over 15 years- in November 2018, it was time to move on to a different chapter. It was apparent that the team was fractured and not on the same page. This didn’t happen overnight, unfortunately, but eventually does with every group- it’s just reality. Adam has moved onto the next phase of his life, and the property the gym was located on is going on the market soon for sale. It’s how things work. I, in fantasy land, believed that the gym would always be there no matter what.
I feel the need to be forthcoming about the path of the team from my perspective there’s no way I can go through all that’s happened in 15 years, nor do I care to, so that I will discuss a little bit of everything. There is typically a shadow side to every good thing; there is no perfect idea, person, job, or gym. People change, and so do their priorities; people get complacent, comfortable, and tend to take things for granted. Other’s get injured, some forced out, and others get out before they’re forced to. Some become lazy and take special things for granted- I know I have. But before I talk about the end, let’s go to the very beginning.
I met Adam Driggers in 2003 at my first full meet. He was in my weight class and beat me handily, as I finished in 3rd place. Adam stood out, not just because he was motivated, a powerful, stocky and intense guy in my weight class – like a bulldog in many ways, but more – he had a bright white shirt that said on the back in royal blue “I am a Christian.” Being a believer, this got my attention. I enjoyed my first full meet much more than the previous bench only comps, and I finished in 3rd place, missing a deadlift that would have leap-frogged me into first. I didn’t see Adam again for a few months until September of 2003 where Adam and I were both handling lifters at the AAPF Southern States. I was handling an old school lifter by the name of Sebastian, and Adam was handling a lifter named Shane and another named Brandon. Adam and I recognized each other, and Adam even offered to wrap my lifter since he had way more experience. I was glad for the help and graciously accepted.
Adam had been doing meets for a couple of years, and this alone had me gravitating toward him. As the day progressed, he casually mentioned that he (now) was training in his backyard in the “gym” – the size of a two car garage as he had just moved out of a smaller garage set-up just recently and was excited about having his gym. This got my attention since I was lifting in a commercial gym. As you know, there is no chalk allowed in most commercial gyms; the bars and equipment are not up to standard, and of course, there is no yelling or slamming weight allowed. On occasion, Dondell Blue and I would train together at random gyms, but I still didn’t have a home where I could powerlift. This is what I needed. He asked me, “what are you doing tomorrow-we are squatting.” I said I have to work, but I’ll be there whenever you need me. I have learned that whenever inviting a new person out, giving them plenty of notice is not always a good thing. By inviting them last minute, you see where their priorities lie.
You know, I was desperately looking for a place to ‘really’ train in 2003 and knew this was an opportunity of a lifetime that no matter what I had to do to train there, I would make it happen. I went that Sunday in September and hurt my back during the session. Didn’t matter, I was hooked. Whether I needed to buy equipment and contribute-whatever sacrifice I had to make (and there were many), I would be there to train with the crew every Saturday AM, Monday PM, Tuesday PM, and Thursday PM. This meant making less money, cutting hours when I could at work, this meant more driving (when I drove for a living with Coca-Cola) from the Southside, beaches and St. Augustine to the Northside of Jacksonville 4x a week. Some days it was a 30-45min drive, other times it was an hour+. It didn’t matter. I lived 1 mile away from the gym I was leaving and passed two to three other commercial gyms on the way. This meant training before/during/after work, this meant fitting in working fulltime, school 5days/20hrs a week, relationships, etc. You either do it or don’t, and if it’s important to you, you make it happen. I despise people’s excuses. We all made time regardless of what was going on.
We were all pretty young, and some of us were pretty new to the sport, but all had responsibilities – the first group of lifters at Samson was Adam Driggers 30, Tony Garland 33, Shane Sheppard 25, Brandon Tripp 24, Blue 30, and I was 22, joining a group who had already been formed. Training heavy and hard with a Westside/ Conjugate method was our focus, and doing meets together and competing was the only goal. Lots of bands, chains, speed work, box squats, and good mornings. Starting in December 2003 at the APF States, a 3-day meet, we ALL went to meets together to handle and support each other. We didn’t miss training days or ever leave people hanging when we committed to helping them in training and especially at meets. If you didn’t compete or were not interested in competing, or at the very, very least-weren’t interested in learning and contributing, then you didn’t train with us.
Adam and I lifted in the same weight class – 220. So did Blue, for some meets, others he lifted at 242. Shane lifted at 181, Tony at 198. We all trained together; we didn’t have an outside coach. We didn’t worry about videoing every single lift and grabbing pictures for IG. It was very organic and powerful. It was intimidating. It was the way powerlifting should be; it’s not for everyone, IMO. Powerlifting is a mentality, not just what you do. When we started together, it wasn’t just about strength, because more than a couple of people we trained with were not top lifter caliber, necessarily. Instead, it was about your dedication, mental toughness and overall willingness to learn, get better, and push. As Adam put in it early on: “everyone here on the team brings something.” In my opinion, this is how it has to be. When people stop bringing something to the table, they are only taking; it’s time for them to move on.
Our first real meet traveling together as a team was APF Seniors June 2004, where Adam hit his first ever 2000lb total in the 220 class and won best lifter as ‘smooth criminal’ blasted from the speakers. I got my first real ass kicking and taste of national competition; I realized the true stressors of traveling, living in a hotel, and trying to put it all together at a big comp. It’s not easy!
Meeting Clint Smith
On July 31st, 2004, we were all (Samson) participating in a bench press meet, and I remember seeing this guy, Clint who was in Adam’s class-220. He appeared super powerful with a snappy 405 raw bench warm-up like an empty bar. I was lifting head to head with Dondell Blue, going a light 242, but I also paid attention to Adams competition to see what he was up against. I then went to rest after one of my warm-ups, and then I looked over at Clint again but now taking 385 with his bench shirt on! I said to myself, “this guy must be special.” We ended up having a blast lifting together, and we exchanged information with Clint. One of our handlers, Daniel, was on ‘fortified iron’ forums and had been talking with Clint Smith for some time. After some correspondence back and forth, Clint joined us in 2005 and started pushing toward his first full meet where he totaled over 2000 out of the gate at 220.
The infamous dismissal of Keith Southwood
A veteran powerlifter by the name of Keith Southwood joined us shortly after but didn’t last too long. It came down to this: Keith missed his opening bench attempt at 2005 Seniors in Detroit because he was in the bar eating Pizza. For the record, it was not about the pizza; it was about his mentality and the mental error he made. Remember in little league baseball when your coach (if you had a good one) would tell you that making a bad throw is acceptable, this is a physical error, and they will happen. But, what is not acceptable is having the ball hit to you and not knowing what to do. The reality is Keith didn’t care about his lifting very much.
Further, if he didn’t care about his lifting then why he would care about his training partners? He had to go. This is only covering the start of the fire that ended up consuming Keith’s lifting items/belongings in a wheel barrel of fuel, fury, and ferocity. You’ll have to ask Adam and Keith about this one.
We took our lifting very seriously and had no room for this lack of focus. So much focus that over the next few years, Dondell Blue totaled 2500 at 220 (he was first) in 2006, I totaled 2500 at 242 in 2008 and so did Clint Smith in 2013. In March 2016, Jonathan Byrd became the 4th Samson member to go 2500 at 275. It was “just another Saturday” when Adam, Blue, Clint, myself and eventually Byrd taking 1000lb squats regularly. It was not rare for guests to drop in from out of town to train like Garry Frank, Shawn Frankl, Larry Hook, Sam Byrd, Al Caslow, Mike Cartinean, and other powerlifting legends. It was the ideal atmosphere.
New blood and motivated partners are a must
Over three months ago, when I started writing this article, it was likely going to have a much more profound negative tone to it due to the way such a good thing that was so much a part of me ended abruptly. This is not the ending I would have wanted, so I needed to take a step away and pump the brakes. I’m glad that I have let some emotions pass and get things settled in and adjusted for everyone. Break-ups are hard, and people will see thing differently than you. This is something I’m still learning. In my opinion and experience with over 15 years with the team, I can now look back and see how over the years we lacked new, motivated and excited teammates. I know, these people are hard to find and we sifted through multiple candidates over the years. As some members were stagnant, others seemed to be only going through the motions; some checked out on autopilot and too distracted with life. We also let some of the mandatory rules slide like having females come out to train, which cost two people being removed from the gym. But one of the most crucial things we let slide was this: everyone having the goal to compete in powerlifting (this was a rule at one time via Adam). And lastly-making it mandatory for attendance on Wednesdays for deadlift day and or assistance work. Other’s didn’t have the drive anymore, while some were focusing on their careers and have retired and moved on from powerlifting. There is nothing wrong with this, as it’s much better to be upfront about goals than to be lukewarm-which only hurts everyone. People move on to bigger and better things and go on to the next phase of life.
It was a slow regression, but after a while, I saw the writing on the wall; I found myself having to motivate or even bribe teammates to come and spot, and sometimes break-in my bench shirts. At times, it was difficult to get people to show up on time to train, to eat together, to train together on ‘inconvenient days’ (meaning Wednesday), etc. I knew I needed to move on, and the end was near when I trained alone, every single Wednesday during the offseason and pre-contest prep for the WPO. I asked others to come and train, I even tried to sweet talk, convince or even bribe them. It simply was not their priority, like it was mine. We didn’t speak the same language, and so if nobody else was going to change, I decided that I would.
The beginning of the end
In all honesty, the team wasn’t the same or had the drive and focus as it did when Adam, the founder retired in March of 2014. Adam set the tone for the gym, being it was his house, and the founder, so it really shouldn’t be a surprise that it didn’t last but another four years after he left. Adam had an incredible passion, drive, work ethic, and dedication that inspired all of us. He was intense and driven, at times in his own words to his demise as he admits he pushed too hard. But we all do! We trained holidays, weekends, birthdays; you name it, we were training. If you missed, you would be ridiculed into coming the next time you considered missing. The crowd was tough, and we were brutal to each other, but there is no other way. It kept you sharp and on your toes. Even after Adam stepped away in 2014, we had some very productive spurts with Byrd moving here in May of 2013 and lasting nearly five years-this helped cauterize the loss of Adam, but we still felt the lack of direction. Byrd came with his best total of around 2370-ish at 308 and in less than three years at Samson, hit a 2500 total at 275. Byrd brought a bunch of fire to the team, as Adam was stepping away from competing, but certainly not lifting. Adam still spent many days lifting, gearing up and talking trash during training sessions. The difference was it was no longer Adam’s priority, and he helped push the team when he was driving toward a meet. Adam was gracious enough to keep the gym open and allow us to remain with our training.
So what exactly is the catalyst that leads to our demise?
As I stated, at the start of Samson, EVERYONE competed, and everyone showed up to a meet to help. We didn’t have excuses as to why we ‘couldn’t’ make it (didn’t want to train), the traffic/distance or the lack of convenience that comes along with seeking ultimate performance was accepted as part of the process. Excellence and convenience cannot coexist. We made time to train because it was our passion and what we wanted to do. We sacrificed for each other- we each had ‘skin the game.’ This is what we did, end of story, you’re either in or out, there is no lukewarm – which is something I have discussed with Adam at length. The key to all of this now that I’ve learned a bit more is that if you are going to take training seriously, then people either get it or they don’t. If they don’t, remove yourself because their lack of focus will end up impacting you one way or another. Something I’ve discovered is that you won’t be able to MAKE people get it, they either do, or they don’t. I learned the hard way at my last meet in 2018 that the team just wasn’t on the same page and was disjointed. I take this is a hard lesson learned not to let things slide too far. Otherwise, you put yourself in a position that you could have and should have avoided. I take the blame for who I had in my corner that day regardless of any dereliction of duty. Teammates should know what their job is when they travel and it’s not your responsibility to babysit anyone and make sure they are there at the start of the meet.
This was a mental error on their part and in my opinion, unacceptable and a deal breaker. Like the Keith Southwood situation- if some of my teammates choose to disappear for a couple of hours instead of helping me on meet day, it’s obvious they aren’t concerned with my success as #1 priority. Looking back, it’s my fault that I put myself in the situation and trusted people that showed signs of not being focused. That said, it won’t happen again, but I was still hungry to train and compete but needed to remove myself from the situation. The timing was just right, so after a talk with Adam, I told him how I needed to move forward, and he informed me that the gym was going to close anyway and he was moving forward with his life. Some of the team went to the local Powerhouse to train while others followed me. There was a bit of a split.
Nothing lasts forever.. or can it?
Oddly enough, around this time the requests for in-person clients and consults had grown to a point where I needed my facility. After years of going back and forth on where I wanted a brick and mortar physical location and being close to signing a lease, the wife permitted me to convert our 3-car garage into a gym. What started as just a “place to train clients” slowly turned into “having the best gym possible.” This brought me to the next fork in the road: what do I do as far as competing, and do I want a team of lifters training here at my house? I knew about as well as I could what goes into having people come to train – it’s a massive headache at times. Initially, I planned to continue my training with Samson to avoid this, and just doing business at home, but it was time for a fresh start. I had a choice to make. I decided I wanted to continue training and needed a team.
Once we cleaned out the gym, got the equipment out, moved into my garage and set-up, I had to run back to Adam’s to grab a few odds and ends. By this time, the gym was unrecognizable, with all of the banners pulled from the wall and now looking more like a storage shed than a gym, which Adam joked about for years; ‘if we didn’t use the gym properly, he needed a good place for his mowers.’ He wasn’t kidding. As I sorted through the banners, I left the Team Samson banner as I didn’t know what to do with it. This leads me to call Adam to ask him if it was OK to hang the banner in my new gym. To be honest, I didn’t know how to approach the topic. Adam had no issue with me hanging the banner, so this leads me to the next question: what do you want to do with the name Team Samson? Do you want it to die or would you like for it to be carried on? After some discussion, we agreed that I would take on the name, inherit the ‘team’ and legacy of TSP with the new home being in my garage. This is a great honor to me, and as I build a great team, I will represent it to the best of my ability. I’m going to uphold the same rules: no female training partners must train to compete, come three days per week-even on Wednesday, bring something to the table to offer the team, be consistent and have the desire to learn, be dependable and trustworthy.
The truth is, it’s rare that a group of individuals stay together for five years. It’s even rarer that a team stays together for 15+ years. Even further, it has to be nearly impossible to last this long at SOMEONE’S HOUSE. Think about this: how sick would one get of cars rolling up and down their driveway at all times of the day and night for 15 years? People showing up early and waiting for you in your driveway will drive you nuts, at least it does me. Not to mention: the loud music thumping, people yelling and carrying on, idiots driving through the middle of your yard, leaving messes, forgetting/leaving stuff outside, scattering weights/sleds in the yard, asking to use the bathroom (this stopped quickly), etc., etc. I could go on forever probably, but I’m sure Adam could name more than a few things and so could his lovely wife, Jamie, of 25+ years! She is a saint!
I want to say from the bottom of my heart, THANK YOU, I appreciate Adam (and Jamie) for inviting me to their home/onto their property/ the gym aka the “Lab,” and trust me all of these years. I think the reason why there weren’t any fist-fights (it was close a few times), people arrested (I tried looking back), people shot (same), or more general shenanigans and theatrics overall was the respect we have for Adam, his team, his gym, his home, and what he represents. If this was located anywhere other than Adam’s property, I’m sure there would have been a lot more stories to tell, so as long as I was still ‘around’ to tell the tale!
For those whose interest is piqued from this article, and are curious about training with me here in Jacksonville, Florida with Team Samson Powerlifting, please email me at Brian@PowerRackStrength.com and tell me about yourself, what you can bring to the table and why you would be a fitting training partner in relation to the criteria above. I look forward to hearing from you!