A day with World's Strongest Man Bill Kazmaier

Yesterday morning I received a call from fellow Team Underground member Joe Lane and he told me some big news: Big Bill Kazmaier would be speaking at the YMCA in St. Joseph, Missouri later that afternoon. Without hesitation, and with the excitement paralleled only by a twelve year old girl at a boy band concert, I rearranged my schedule and clients for the day, hopped into my truck and cruised the short 80 miles up north to go meet the 3x World's Strongest Man.

For those of you who are not familiar (shame on you), Bill Kazmaier won the prestigious WSM in 1980, 81', and 82' and is still considered to this day by many as “The strongest man to have ever lived.”  He compiled a bench, squat, and deadlift total of 2,425lbs and at a powerlifting meet in 1981 he became the first man to ever bench press over 600lbs (661).  In recent years he's re-surged as the likable commentator for the current WSM competitions on ESPN held annually.

Joe and I arrived early and spent the better part of the afternoon talking with Kaz.  His voice was indestiguishable from his years of commentary.  As Joe and I stood there, our faces were beaming with sheer joy as Big Bill shared stories with us from competition and years past, as if we were old friends reminising. It was like we were mere mortals listening to a storytelling Titan tell great tales of the Gods that ruled the earth in mythological times.  We were hooked.

One of the stories was about Bud Ravenscroft, a legend and Team Underground Honorary Member who was one of Bill's old trainers. Bud trained at the legendary Gold's Gym in Venice Beach, CA alongside the likes of Arnold Schwarzenegger and Franco Columbo, to name a few, back in the “Golden Age” of bodybuilding. Bud Ravenscroft is a powerlifting pioneer having been part of the first USA teams upon the formation of the IPF (International Powerlifting Federation) in 1973-74.  He has such accolades as being the first man to ever bench press 500lbs. raw at a bodyweight under 200lbs!  Bud is still on the scene today at the age of 61, but dominating bodybuilding competitions now instead of powerlifting.  In his time in California Joe was trained by Bud and they have remained good friends ever since.

At the mention of Bud's name Bill's face instantly lit up and he said very calmly and deliberately, “You tell that son-of-a-bitch that next time I see him I'm going to punch him square in the mouth.”  As we chuckled half-nervously, not knowing if he was serious or not, Bill proceeded to tell us the story of why, the story of the last time he saw Bud over 35 years ago at a powerlifting meet...

Bill was seconds from walking from the back to the stage to hoist up 800+lbs in the deadlift.  Bud, in an effort to psyche Bill up and get his adrenaline raging for the lift, shouted, “Let's get serious!” and punched Bill hard in the face.  A thunderous thud sounded as spit flew from Bill's mouth and he saw stars.  Mission accomplished and angered beyond belief Bill stormed out onto the stage and furiously grabed the bar as it sat five inches from his shins and blasted the 800+lbs up with ease.  (For the uninformed the deadlift is a very technical, difficult lift requiring that you keep the barbell close to your legs and body throughout the entire lift to ensure a successful lift as well as a secure and safe one.)  Starting the lift while away from the bar makes it extremely difficult, almost suicidal.  Performing it carelessly and effortlessly as he did is unheard of, let alone over 800+lbs!  Not even being the heaviest lift, but that single act has been referred to as “the single greatest display of strength ever witnessed” by judges and competitors in attendance.

Of course Joe had talked to Bud on the phone earlier and told him that he was about to meet the World's Strongest Man.  In response Bud said to Joe, “that's the strongest man to ever walk the earth you are about to meet.”  So after Big Bill told us the story Joe got Bud on the phone.  “Hey Bud,” he said, “I've got somebody here that wants to talk to you,” as he handed the phone to Big Bill.  Bill told Bud with that same stern tone exactly what he told us earlier, “Next time I see you I am going to punch you square in the mouth you son-of-a-bitch.”  Joe and I were charged with anticipation, waiting to witness what would happen next.  Time was standing still, like the moment when a hunter is ready to squeeze the trigger on his prey in sight.  After a few of the seconds that seemed like hours passed, a quick smile came across Bill's face as he and Bud casually engaged in conversation with big laughs.

They had not seen or talked to each other since “The Punch” over 35 years ago.  The two old friends talked as if they had been in touch all those years.  Joe and I watched and listened with those same ridiculous ear-to-ear grins that had been implanted on our faces since we got there, knowing that we were witnessing something rare and extraordinary.  Legendary Big Bill Kazmaier catching up with another legend, Bud Ravenscroft courtesy of us, 35 years in the making!

I talked to Bill about Underground and he voiced his support and encouragement.  Later he spoke to a small group of kids and parents in the gymnasium, discussing the impact the YMCA had on his youth and upbringing and how it gave him his start with weightlifting.  Joe and I, like skeleton horses riding through the gates of hell, fueled with power of the mighty Kaz, stormed into the weight room and proceeded to push some serious weight, in honor of the World's Strongest Man whom we watched on t.v. and idolized growing up.

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