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ASL Interview with Mark Keshishian

This is an interview with Mark Keshishian conducted on July 21st, 1998

An updated interview with Mark (2/8/99)

ASL: Would you care to share with us some statistical and biographical information with us?

Keshishian: My name is Mark Samson Keshishian. Some people might make fun of my middle name, but it was actually my great grandfathers name. So, I guess subconsciously, I've been trying to live up to it. I was born on December 16th, 1961 in Washington, D.C. I'm five foot eleven inches tall. I weigh in between 220 to 240 pounds. My arms are 18 inches. My chest is 48 inches. My waist measures 35 inches and I have 28 inch thighs.

My PRs are the following in competition:
Squat: 685 pounds at the IPA Seniors
Bench: 451 pounds in 1993
Deadlift: 606 pounds in competition

My PRs in the gym are the following:
Squat: a double at 685 pounds in 1992
Bench: 450 pounds
Deadlift: 625 pounds

These are my raw (i.e. no equipment) PRs:
Squat: 465 pounds for 11 reps
Bench: 355 pounds for 5 reps and 325 pounds for ten reps
Deadlift: 465 pounds for 10

I have done 655 pounds for 4 reps with only a belt on in partial deadlifts out of the racks 18 inches up to simulate the silver dollar deadlift.

I won the 1993 IPF Pan American Championships or the Championships of the Americas in the 220 pound division. I was also named best lifter for the heavies. I also won the 1996 IPA Seniors in the 220 pound amateur division, which is drug free, in the submaster division. At that meet, I also won the best lifter in the amateur division.

ASL: Are you a professional strongman/powerlifter or do you have a business or job also?

Keshishian: Actually, I am not considered a professional strongman yet. I had intended to turn professional on August 1st competing in the Strongest Man Alive contest, but it was unfortunately canceled. So, now I plan on turning pro with the 1998 Full Strength Challenge instead and then hopefully move on to the World's Strongest Man competition from there.
Now, I am manager of Mark Keshishian and Sons Inc., Oriental rugs. It is a third generation company founded by my grandfather in 1907. It's located in Chevy Chase, MD. We have two websites. The first one can be viewed by clicking here and the other website can be accessed by clicking here.

ASL: Were you always and big and strong as you are now? When did you start lifting and competing? Did you play any sports as a kid or in college?

Keshishian: No, I wasn't always big and strong. I started to lift in 7th grade at the age of 14. My 7th grade History teacher, Mr. Dennis Pepperman, started me lifting. At the beginning of 7th grade, I had a 90 pound bench. By final exam time I was benching 185 pounds so I could get a 185 pound club t-shirt. By the time, I entered 9th grade and it was time for football pre-camp, I was benching 210 pounds and got the 200 pound club t-shirt. That was big stuff to me back in the day. I was still very skinny in 9th grade. I only weighed 145 pounds. During high school, my best bench was 310 pounds in 11th grade. Just before Senior year started at pre-season football camp, I could do 270 pounds for eight reps. As far as organized sports went, I played football, wrestling and track all during high school.

ASL: Who were your heroes/idols when you were growing up?

Keshishian: Mr. Pepperman, who started me lifting weights, is one of my heroes. Later on, I guess, bodybuilding influences became my heroes like Arnold and Tom Platz, because I had one of his books. Then, I became fascinated with Vasily Alexeev, the Russian Olympic lifter.
In 1985, I had an accident and lost a finger. This actually gave me more of an incentive to train. Shortly after my accident, I met my next hero: Mike Solono. Mike trained at Mark Challiet's gym. Within six months of my accident, Mike had convinced me to compete in my first powerlifting meet. In that first meet, I squatted 501 pounds. I benched 381 pounds and deadlifted 545 pounds. I look back on it now and wow what a difference I have made over the years.
I was under Mark Challiet's tutelage for several years and got to meet and train with some national and world class lifters like Don Mills. I even got to train with the late "Big John Stud." It was great.
But, the person who has effected my lifting the most is Gary Mitchell. We've been training together steadily since 1991. I don't want to say too much more because I don't want Gary's head to get any bigger. Ha Ha. Gary is a great motivator, trainer and friend. We've gone on a lot of trips for lifting competitions-some for me and some for him. In a couple of them, we have both lifted, luckily in different sessions, but occasionally on the same day.

ASL: Could you name some powerlifting accomplishments or feats of strength (e.g., ripping phone books in half) that you have done?

Keshishian: In my front yard, there are what my mother calls, two lawn sculptures. In reality, they are McGlashen type stones. One is about 200 pounds and the other is about 250 pounds. They are perfectly round and smooth just like the real McGlashen stones. On Sundays, we all get together and play with them. I also have two acetylene torch canisters that we use for farmer's walk practice. Then, of course, there's the log. We have a metallic log that we practice log lifting with. We have plans to make a super yoke, a truck pull harness and a hand over hand truck pull apparatus soon.

ASL: Do you plan on doing strongman contests and/or powerlifting?

Keshishian: I am officially retired from powerlifting.

ASL: You are training partners with Gary Mitchell. Could you tell us for how long and what it has been like going with him to all of his competitions?

Keshishian: I've known Gary Mitchell since about 1988. We've been training partners since 1992. Since 1992, I have been to at least 4 Senior Nationals with him in a coaching capacity. I've been to at least 3 strongman events with him as his coach and will be going to Scotland with him on Thursday for the World Muscle Power Classic.

ASL: Could you tell us about your WSM Competition experience from the point of view of a coach?

Keshishian: I attended the US Strongman Finals in Prim, Nevada in 1997 with Gary. Due to injury and some other problems, he didn't show much of his potential as a strongman. Even in Scotland in July of 1997 with three different injuries, he did better there than in Prim. Setting up the events for TV can really mess things up for the competitors.

ASL: Could you tell us about coaching Gary for his 903 Squat at the 1991 APF Seniors?

Keshishian: Coaching for Gary for the APF Seniors where he hit his biggest competition squat was fun. A couple of weeks before that, I had gotten some competition advice from one of Gary's old training partners and his best man at his wedding, Steve Elgin. Steve had recorded a phenomenal 2000 pound total in the 220s. Steve said, "When it comes time to pick the attempts and you have got the choice of two weights, you have to go for the heavier." For Gary, it was either 881 or 903. So, I remembered this advice and we used it. Needless to say, the 903 was "smoked like a big cigar." Gary almost smoked his third attempt at 931, but the squat suit leg hem flipped up and he lost it. Oh well.

ASL: What is your general training schedule?

Keshishian: We basically follow this training schedule:
Monday: Shoulders and Bis
Wednesday: Back
Thursday: Chest and Tris
Saturday: Squat and legs
Optional Sunday: Strongman implements training

ASL: Do you have a funny story about the WSM Contest or something the viewers would not have seen on TV?

Keshishian: Phil Martin is one funny guy. We grabbed one of the security guy's bicycles and putting it in front of the bus like he was going to pull the bus with it. Ha Ha
When Gary sat the last day out due to his bicep injury, the sumo event happened. Gary was out of the competition, so he didn't have to do it. Finally, after a little delay the competitors came out of the dressing room in their sumo diapers, everyone laughed hard at them. The audience, the producers and, of course, Gary and I had a great laugh. I am sure it was very embarrassing for the competitors. When they saw Gary sitting out and laughing along with everyone, they all gave him the finger with a big friendly smile.

ASL: Is there any message or greeting you would like to give your many, many fans out there?

Keshishian: I have fans? Wow! Well, be strong!