There are limits to what the human body can withstand. And there are men that, for little more than the sheer pleasure of doing so, thrive on pushing their bodies beyond those limits to a place only their minds see as possible. In the world of lifting ridiculously heavy things, we call them powerlifters. They area stoic bunch, typically, until the impossible is laid out before them and they are called to face what is often a potentially deadly challenge. At this point there will only be one outcome; they move forward to face what lesser men would not. They approach the bar and annihilate fear. Whether they get the lift or not, they crawled under or pulled on enough weight to crush a human body to death.
This is what these men choose to do.
Ben O’Brien is one of the best 220lb powerlifters in the world today. This past Saturday at the 2017 Mr. Olympia Pro Invitational Powerlifting Meet in Las Vegas, Ben successfully defended his weight class title earned in 2016.
While he was not successful in all of his nine attempts (3 in the squat, 3 in the bench press, and 3 in the deadlift), he did successfully squat 788lbs, bench press 650lbs and deadlift 744lbs for a total of 2182lbs.
He called it a bad day.
While those numbers hardly qualify as a bad day I understand his disappointment. He had trained and carefully calculated his capabilities for that day and fell short of what he thought he could do, but from a spectators point of view, it was spectacular. Falling behind after the squat and bench, Ben needed to pull some big numbers in the deadlift to get his total for the day up to where he wanted it to be. After struggling with his second attempt, he asked for 62lbs to be added to the bar for his third and final attempt. In powerlifting at this level, it seemed like a ridiculous amount of weight to add to a lift that appeared close to the limit.
But then I saw it. Standing off to the side while the other lifters did their thing, Ben looked cool and calm on the surface. But I could see something start to build in his eyes. He was focussed on something no one else could see and I saw that focus build into a near unbridled rage. He was ready and I could sense something big was about to happen.
As he pulled on his lifting suit, tightened his belt, chalked his hands, and began spooling up for his approach to the bar, I could feel my pulse quicken. He could simply fail at pulling this attempt, or much worse, injure himself, maybe ending his career, or he could pull this mountain of iron all the way home, earn three white lights from the judges, and be more than a champion, he would be a great champion.
As Ben approached the bar it looked ominously heavy sitting there loaded with 744lbs. He set his feet, snapped his body erect, cast his eyes forward into the abyss, then placed his hands on the bar, the muscles in his forearms bulging as he tightened his grip. A split second later with every fibre in his body straining and near ready to burst under his super-human effort, he tore the bar off the floor in one violent explosion and didn’t stop until he reached the finish position.
It was an epic lift, and a heroic end to a meet filled with the world’s best lifters that spent the day setting and breaking national and world records.
I did my last powerlifting meet in the mid-1980’s and never felt the need to look back. Ben O’Brien got me dreaming of the impossible again. Thats what great men inspire in others. I suppose common sense will kick in the day after my first heavy squat workout, but I will never tire of watching Ben slay the poundages that he does. Nor will I tire of the kind of men that shared the platform with him that day that supported and encouraged each other like the respected brothers they are.
Those men don’t do much talking; they just do, and they are humble about it. After the meet and before Ben loaded into his pickup for the long drive home to Phoenix, he posted a lengthy message on Instagram. He was apologetic about not getting the numbers he had planned but spent the lions share of his post thanking those that supported him, and he told the world what that support had meant to him. There were no Olympia parties he cared to attend, no shoulder rubbing or glad handing with the “right people”.
He simply hit the send button when the post was done, started his truck, and drove home through the night to his family.