By Andrew DiCiaccio
Arizona is rich in
of the old west. Thoughts of cowboys,
Indians and Wyatt Earp at the OK corral quickly come to mind, but there
is another subject with a long rich history in that state. A history
full of stories, events and characters as interesting as any old west
tale. That history is in powerlifting. For over 35 years Thorbecke's
Gym has produced some of the most successful powerlifters and strength
athletes the state has come to know.
all started at Lucy May Thorbecke's house in North Phoenix, Arizona.
Living there was her grandson, Brick Darrow. Brick became interested in
powerlifting after he saw an event held at J & J Gym, owned by John
Kanter and Joe Petrucci. These were the first powerlifting events held
around Phoenix at the time. With the help of his friend's, Brick, would
sneak weights up to his room to workout. Other friends would come by
and before long his room was full of weightlifters crowded in his room
sitting on his bed waiting their turn at the weights.
Young Brick's bed was
starting to sag under the weight of these giants
and he was forced to move it out doors. The group got together and made
a 12' x 20' carport on the side of the house. Brick and his friends
poured the concrete floor, put up walls and built a roof (which always
leaked), and the original Thorbecke's Gym was born on January 21, 1967.
At this time little did they know this enclosure was soon to be home to
some the strongest athletes in Arizona. The original members were Brick
Darrow, Mike Matousek, Bob Martens, Jim Martens, Val Blask, Bob Calvan
and Wayne Coleman.
The gym was very active as more people became
members and soon the roster had an impressive roll call with ten
members bench pressing 500 lbs or more, members to achieve this level
were Brick Darrow, Jon Cole, Marvin Allen, Rand Collett, Wayne Coleman,
Dave Keaggy, Mike Matousek, John Kanter, John Hawbaker, and Rich Leek.
Also they could boast that 9 of them could squat 700 + and 6 who went
over the 800 lb barrier.
Lucy would become a
caretaker to the little home gym, watering down the
concrete floor and turning on the air conditioning on those hot Arizona
days when the gang showed up. She had plenty of cold water waiting and
when the gym was not in use, did the cleaning and straightening, which
quickly ended when a 100 lb. plate fell on her foot. These were all her
boys in a sense and they showed appreciation by helping her out when
she needed it. One was a painter and painted her house, another put in
the air conditioning. Granny always had a house full of people and was
never alone. Her doors where never locked and all were welcome. As this
group of weightlifters started to enter competitions, the trophies they
won were given to Granny, who displayed them proudly in her house.
Some of the members
achievements are as follows:
bench pressed a world record of 450 lbs. at
a 220 bodyweight and also bench pressed 515 lbs. weighing 242. In 1968
Brick entered the
Golden Gloves boxing tournament after a
dare from the other guys and also to impress the girl he was engaged
to, he won but when the couple broke up he lost not only his ring but
the Golden Gloves trophy too.
Wayne Coleman, who
became Superstar Billy
Graham the world
Arms at the 1975 Mr. America contest, competed in the 1980 World's
Strongest Man contest and had a 585lb official bench press.
Bob Calvan was 9th
world in 1969 with a 410lb bench at
198. He went on to win many arm wrestling titles and later coached
powerlifting teams and became an international powerlifting referee.
Jack Barnes squatted a
world record 710 lbs at 181in 1972. After
winning the World's Championships he went on to set many Master's
Jon Cole became a
in the strength world and his
achievements are well known being a world record class powerlifter,
Olympic lifter and discus thrower.
Bruce Wilhelm was
bronze medalist in 1976
first two World's
Strongest Man contests.
Fred Millan was
Arizona State Champion 7 times held many
state marks and lifted in 58 consecutive meets without a bomb.
Ron Pritchard was
American and pro
football star for the
Oakland Raiders, Houston
Oilers and Cincinnati
Dave Draper, "...I
met Brick back in
1980 when he was involved with
Wayne Coleman, A.K.A. Billy
Graham, Super Star,
in the presentation of a
impressive power lifting championship in Phoenix. I was invited to
participate in the judging and overall presentation. I kicked around
with him and his gang at Thorbecke's Gym for the days surrounding the
event and we got to know each other as athletes do in their environment
and amid the energetic atmosphere of competition. I recall Thorbecke's
Gym to be one of no frill and much spirit. If you arrived at the
workplace at the right time, it was alive with buddies (girlfriends
included) supporting one another as they lifted heavy weight and shared
in their lives. We've got to hang onto these less-than-glitzy
neighborhood shops we're honest hard work is honored and muscle and
might is built, rather than the game and act of physical fitness is
played, poorly. The chains and 20,000 sq. ft. showplaces remind me of
-- I'm not sure -- casinos or shopping malls or downtown twelve-screen
theaters. Win n' lose, buy n' sell, entertain me.
Several years later
offered me a place to stay when I was recovering from CHF -- congestive
heart failure. For three months I resided at his grandmother's house in
the extensive Phoenix area, put in some mild work hours at the gym and
slowly re-righted my life. Our growing relationship with Jesus Christ
became the common bond in our renewed friendship. Today, though
20-years have past without a lot of communication, we are still pushing
the iron and praising God. Those friendships established under crunch,
excitement and need live forever.
God's Speed... ." Dave Draper
Sadly, Lucy May
Thorbecke passed away on May 21, 1996 at the age of
103. During the time of 1965 to 1971, Brick worked as a bouncer and
bartender at JD's, a well know club in the southwest, to support
himself because at the time the dues were only $5.00 a month. This is
where he met and befriended Jon Cole, who became one of the biggest
names in the strength world. Jon spent his time training at Thorbecke's
and at ASU, where he worked. Mr. Cole went on to set many records in
powerlifting and later opened his own gym in the late 70's. At about
1979, Brick wanted to leave JD's and on the suggestion of his friend,
Duke Eldridge, he got into the gym business full-time. He moved
Thorbecke's Gym to a place in Scottsdale AZ, and the 40 members grew to
over 250. The gym was at it's peak at this time with names like Dave
Draper and Bruce Wilhelm added to his
already impressive list.
and Bob Calvan were now coaching the
Thorbecke's team to many teen and
senior national and state titles. Members such as Dave Pasinella, Wes
Phillips and Harold Escorbedo and others were able to travel from money
raised from car washes, and win meets around the country. Thorbecke's
Gym remained here until 1984 when rising rent costs forced Brick to
move the gym to it's present location in Tempe.
A lot has
powerlifting world over the years that Thorbecke's has been in
existence, many clubs have come and gone and now the scene is full of
new organizations and many different types of classes to compete in.
There has been one constant , that is Thorbecke's continues to put out
great strength athletes.
gym had maintained it's
winning ways at it's new home. With names like Mike Wyneti winning in
the Masters and George Soto's 825lb
squat (photo in center immediately below) standing out among
Brick continues to use his vast wealth of
knowledge to train and help
those who still compete at the gym, and also tell a great story or two
from the old days, and Thorbecke's has their own line of supplements
and protein powders that are made with the powerlifter in mind.
Training consultations and supplements can be obtained by calling
one enters Thorbecke's today,
they will find it to be a virtual "Field of Dreams" of the strength
world. The walls are lined with pictures of the greats from a time that
has gone bye. A day when lifting suits did not exist and everyone
competed in the same organization with one set of rules. A simpler time
of true raw power that is exemplified in the stacks of iron plates and
hardcore equipment that litter the gym. You can look around and know
these are the weights that some of the strongest athletes in the world
have trained with and still picture legends such as Jon
Wilhelm, Jack Barnes,
and Superstar Billy
them around. Brick once jokingly described Thorbecke's to me as "A time
warp back to the 70's and that if you stay in here you wouldn't grow
that may not be true but
Thorbecke's Gym is a treasure in powerlifting history that is locked
away out there in the Arizona desert. So if your looking for a way to
get back to training in an honest uncomplicated atmosphere, Thorbecke's
may be your place.