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ASL Interview with Gary Mitchell

This is an interview with Gary Mitchell conducted on July 19th, 1998

ASL: First of all, I want to thank you publically for allowing me to conduct this interview and learn more about you for the last 15 weeks or so. I have really enjoyed every minute of it and it has been one fun time after another. So, thank you.

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

Mitchell: I was born on January 17th, 1965. I'm six foot one and weigh right now 308, but I've been as heavy as 333. Last year, going to Scotland for the World Muscle Power Championships, I weighed about 327.

ASL: What are your body measurements?

Mitchell: Well, my chest measures 58", my waist measures 37", the last time I measured my arms were 21 1/4", and my thighs are at least 34". Needless to say, it's pretty difficult to buys clothes off the rack

ASL: What are your best competition lifts?

Mitchell: I did a 903 squat at the APF Seniors in 1992. My best competition bench was in the USPF Seniors where I did 496. I did 507 at the APF Seniors.

ASL: In what year?

Mitchell: The year before, in '91. I pulled 733 at one APF Seniors. And I've pulled 722 at the USPF Seniors with a herniated disk in my back.

ASL: That's one way to do it.

Mitchell: Yeah, it was tough.

ASL: And what about your gym lifts?

Mitchell: In the squat, I've done 705 with belt and wraps on for 5-no suit. I've done 805 with belt and wraps on for three. I've done 505 with no belt, no wraps and no suit for 17 reps at one time and 15 at another time. I've done a 535 double in the bench in the gym and a 735 double deadlift in the gym.

ASL: What happened then with the bench in the competition?

Mitchell: It's just that every time that my bench has gone well in training, something has happened in the competition that negatively impacts my bench press. For example, in Baton Rouge, I caught the flu right before the competition. Then, my squat suit blew out on my last warm-up, and then they misloaded my bar, so I had to take 4 attempts. So, as you can imagine, the whole meet just feel apart.

ASL: Are there any other lifts in the gym that you have done that stick out in your mind?

Mitchell: In a seated dumbbell press, I've done 125's to full lock out for 12 reps. I've front squatted 605 for three reps and then did a backdown set for eight reps with 505. I've also doubled 315 in the barbell curl.

ASL: As far as your education background?

Mitchell: I went to University of Maryland.

ASL: On a full-ride football scholarship?

Mitchell: No, actually I wasn't given a full athletic scholarship. They only gave me a partial scholarship in the beginning.

ASL: What position did you play?

Mitchell: I was a linebacker to start with and then a defensive tackle. While playing football at Maryland, I won the Best Athlete Award which I really think carries over into my strongman background because you can't just be a strong person and compete, I think you have to be a good athlete. When I was in college, I could stand flat-footed and dunk a basketball.

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

Mitchell: Actually, technically, I've been a professional strongman ever since the North American Strongman Championships in 1992. I have a job with Ford motor company as a consultant.

ASL: And that keeps you on the road a couple of days out of the week?

Mitchell: Yes, but actually I find that to be less stressful than my previous job. For the past several years I've worked in the tire and auto industry, which is a very stressful business. Since leaving that business, I'm getting a lot more sleep and I'm not on my feet all day long. That's part of the reason I've gained 10 pounds so quickly.

ASL: Were you always as big and strong as you are now?

Mitchell: No. Ha Ha

ASL: When did you start lifting and competing?

Mitchell: I started lifting weights after my senior year of wrestling in high school. I weighed about 170 pounds and man did I get addicted to it-to weight lifting. I remember being stuck at 217 and I remember thinking that if I could only get to 225 or 230 than I'd be a stud. I can remember benching 315 for the first time. I can remember 405. It was so awesome to put four plates on a squat bar. Every leg workout that I had, I had to squat the 405 to make sure that I could still do it and it wasn't a fluke. Boy, when I look back now and think... I remember a lot of plateaus as far as body weight. I remember being stuck at 238. I've always had a hard hard time gaining weight. I was always so active as far as running and other things go.

ASL: Besides football and wrestling, did you play any sports as a kid or in college?

Mitchell: I ran track in Junior High School. Those three are about it as far as organized sports go.

ASL: Who were your heroes/idols when you were growing up both in the powerlifting world and outside of the powerlifting world?

Mitchell: When I was playing football, I always admired Randy White and Howie Long. As far as their work ethics go, I really admired them. I think that's why they were head and shoulders above the rest. As far as lifting is concerned, I think the first book that I ever read pertaining to it was given to me by my cousin at Christmas one year. It was Arnold's An Education of a Bodybuilder. Phenomenal book. It really changed my life. I just took it from there. When I was just getting out of high school, I just got addicted to it. Really. At that time, the Barbarians were big. Then, the whole strength aspect of lifting really took off. I can remember seeing Kaz on the T.V. in the early eighties. It was really becoming popular again. Obviously you can see from the magazines that I have, I have some from 1979. I was really into it from the very beginning. I really love powerlifting and strongman as a sport. It was a huge influence.

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

Mitchell: Nothing really comes to mind. A lot of people really seem to be amazed with some of the things that I do in the gym. Not so much the weight but in my work ethic. I train hard every time I am in there. I concentrate all the time and lift heavy every session. Day after day. Week after week. Month after month. Nothing really as far as specific feats. I would love to be able to tear a phone book in half. Ha Ha Ha. That's pretty crazy.

ASL: Do you plan on continuing to do strongman contests? And if so what is next?

Mitchell: Yes, of course. I'm doing the World Muscle Power Championships in Scotland next weekend the 25th and 26th. I'm doing the Full Strength strongman competition in Las Vegas-the US qualifiers for the Worlds in September. If all goes right, I'll be packing my bag for the World's. It could be that if I win or come in the next two places at the World Muscle Power Championships, I could be invited to the World's that way instead of through the American Championships which would be cool.

ASL: You could always qualify through them both.

Mitchell: Ha Ha Yeah that's true.

ASL: Could you tell us the story about your huge 903 squat at the APF nationals?

Mitchell: The funny thing about that squat is that my training partner, Mark Keshishian, was with me at Chaillet's Gym for my last workout for that training cycle. We were squatting with Captain Kirk Karowski, who I had just met at the USPF Senior Nationals that we both lifted in, and I was supposed to double 830. But I only got it for one rep. I've always had a hard time at the end of training cycles to get up for my gym lifts. But I went to the APF Seniors and opened with 843 and stroked it. Then I took 903 and got three green lights, and then took 941 and just missed it. I probably should have taken a second attempt at 931 or 942 because I felt like there was no weight on my back. So when I went back to Chaillet's, all of the guys said, "What did you do in six days to improve your squat by that much?" They were there for my last squat work out and they were there at the APF's. They were really puzzled. But the bottom line is that I'm definetely a meet lifter. I can really get up for contests and competition. I can get that crazed, rabid dog look or the Bill Kazmaier eyes.

ASL: Speaking of Bill Kazmaier, you really seem to enjoy a special and close relationship with him. What did you do to catch his attention? When did the relationship begin?

Mitchell: I don't know what I had done. I had met him at the Virginia's Strongest Man Contest. He was putting on a seminar. There were probably forty-five or fifty people sitting around waiting for the seminar to begin. Out of all of those people, he came over and introduced himself to me personally which I thought at the time was crazy. It was like Wow! Then, when we went to Las Vegas, he seemed to take a special interest in me again for some reason. I guess he thought there was a lot of potential there, I guess. I don't know. From that point on, we did a lot of talking. He gave me a few pointers and advice as far as competing in that contest. Then, when I went back out for the World Finals to coach Harold Collins. Bill and I basically ran around for the rest of the time we were out there. We trained to together. We've been talking ever since really.

ASL: Could you tell us about your World's Strongest Man (WSM) Competition experience? What did you think of it all? Also if you could comment from the perspective of coaching the Chief? Did the WSM live up to your expectations as far as a competition?

Mitchell: I personally think that Mr. Connolly tried to bring back the flavor of the late seventies and early eighties as far as the competition apparatus were concerned. Think about it. I was over in Europe competing and a lot of the events now a days at the World's and especially in the European contests are more non-traditional, non-powerlift like the squat and events like that. They are more like the McGlashen stones, the Husafelt stone and the flintsone press. I call it more of a European flavor. That's the kind of contest that I prefer as opposed to who can deadlift the most. If you want to find that out there's a better way. It's okay as one event, but to test the same area of the body over and over isn't a strongman contest. I just don't see what place bar bending and the hanging plunge has in a strongman contest. I think the organizers and producers need to look at the events so that the athletes have more longevity in their careers instead of being injured. I mean I'm a perfect example of this. The log we used in Nevada should not have been used. It had been sitting out in the rain for two days and one end was completely soaked through. So it was obviously heavy on one side. And because I tried to compensate for the difference in weight in the log, and because I wasn't feeling 100% the first day of competition, I was off just enough to cause my right bicep to come loose again. I had hurt the same bicep muscle in Scotland just a short time before.

ASL: Now, would you say that that happened because of inadequate warm-up or was it something completely on your end?

Mitchell: Maybe it contributed to it, but I wasn't 110% into the lift and it happened. It was a combination of a lot of things. There were very few warm-up weights available. It's hard for somebody to walk into a place and not be adequately warmed-up and give it their all and be wide open. You need to be properly warmed up. What amazes me is that a lot of the promoters really don't focus on that aspect of the meet for some strange reason. The problem is that they want the best possible event to happen with a lot of weight being used and fast times and in order for the athletes to do their best, the athletes need to be properly warmed up and taken care of. I mean if you go to a powerlifting contest, there are plenty of weights available to warm up on. It's a priority. At strongman contests that I go to there is hardly anything to warm up with. It just makes no sense.

ASL: Do you remember how and when you were invited to compete in the US Strongman Finals in 1997?

Mitchell: I actually wasn't picked to compete originally. It kind of floored me because technically going into the US Strongman Championships, Mark Phillipi and I should have been the number one and the number two Americans. Phillipi got invited and I didn't. They picked a bunch of powerlifters, Olympic lifters, and grip specialists and people like that to compete. Connelly totally just didn't choose me. Maybe I didn't write enough on my resume to sound impressive I guess. I don't know. But Charlotte Brickel apparently made some phone calls and said that she highly recommended me competing and sooner or later.... Well, actually a couple of weeks later, I got a phone call that said that they would like me to come out and compete. That kind of set the whole tone for the contest as far as where my head was concerned. I was a little bit pissed off about being shunned the first time around and I should have been focusing on the lifting at hand and doing the best that I knew I could.

ASL: How much notice did they give you?

Mitchell: I think I had less than two weeks notice.

ASL: That seems to be the standard response across the board pretty much. (pause) Do you prefer the new no-invitation-open-to-all-comers style or do you like the invitation only?

Mitchell: Yeah I do like the new style because Terry Brennan, for instance, had more than a right to be there with us. Not that any body there didn't have the right to be there. Terry had paid his dues by paying his own way to Europe, competing and gaining experience. I'll tell you something. Terry Brennan is a phenomenal athlete. He is just tough. Honestly, it just broke my heart to see him there and not competing. I've known him for years and he just loves the sport. He absolutely adores the sport. It's hard to find someone like him right now whose heart is just 1000% into the sport. He's totally dedicated to it.

ASL: Now it's time to do a little hypothetical exercise. If you had not injured yourself on the first event-the log press. How do you think you would have done?

Mitchell: I don't like to do that, but I think I would have qualified for the finals.

ASL: Now that begs the question. How do you think you would have done in the World finals?

Mitchell: I think I would have done very well. I think I would have definitely finished the truck pull. I think if you take all of the other events... I think I would have done well in the squat. I think I would have done very well in the silver dollar deadlift. I think the Husafelt stone would have been a good event for me. Unfortunately, people misunderstand something. In these contests, it's not necessarily how strong you are. Lots of time it comes down to how strong a person's will is and how much pain they can endure. I can usually keep my head on straight. So, I think I can excel in those areas. I think I would have done well. I don't know if I would have won or not because I don't know how my body would have recuperated in the down time between the Americans and the Worlds.

ASL: Could you give us your view on the growth of professional strongman events and strongman related mania in the US? What do you think the state of strongman is in the United States as a sport?

Mitchell: As far as the US competitors or as far how the sport is doing now?

ASL: Both

Mitchell: There are simply not enough contests. I'm going to Europe in five days to compete in the World Muscle Classic. It's a well-run, high level contest against some of the best in the world. In fact, the world champion is going to be there obviously. It makes no sense to me because the popularity of the sport here is just EXPLODING. It's getting crazy, but no body wants to step forward and invset the money necessary to take it to the next level like they do over in Europe. I just don't understand why. I mean they get behind BMX racers and rock climbers, not that I have a problem with that. The money is there. I just wish that someone would wake up. I understand that a lot of it has to do with the drug issue, but there's just different kinds of issues in just about every sport there is. I mean that there's a big drug issue as far as the Olympics are concerned, for instance, in track. The Goodwill Games open tonight. There's drug issues with that also, but why these issues are just so much more prevalent in strongman, I just don't know.

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

Mitchell: When I came back to coach the Chief in the Worlds. I was in the car with Kazmaier and we were driving from Primm Nevada to Las Vegas Nevada. He drives like a complete maniac. After two blocks of his driving, I went to put my seat belt on and he said, "What are you doing?" And I said, "Trying to be safe, yeah." Ha Ha. I mean he was driving on the side of the road, in the middle of the road and all over the road. Pulling up on someone's back bumper doing 130 miles per hour. Ha Ha. He's just crazy. He was getting torqued up and ready to lift because we were on the way to the Gold's Gym there. Then when we got there at Gold's I walked in and they didn't know me from any one else. I asked if my friend and I could work out there and how much would it cost. They told me $20 a person. So, I went back and told Bill. He and I walked back in and people just freaked. People came up to me all work out and asked, "Hey is that really Kaz?" It was pretty cool. Needless to say, they didn't charge us the daily fee.

ASL: That was at the Worlds, right?

Mitchell: Yeah, the finals. I was really glad that I went back out because I got to see how the Worlds were run because our contest was run by TGI production company and the BBC did the Worlds. It was as bad if not worse than our production company. Not meaning as far as the final product-the TV show which I thought was excellent. I mean purely from a competitor's point of view. The whole TV deal makes it really difficult for a competitor. For example, in the squat event in the Worlds in Las Vegas in front of a casino, that was a bad choice. Obviously, it wasn't their fault that every 20 minutes the light show would go on. So, every twenty minutes the competition had to stop for ten minutes. So, it almost took almost four hours to get the squats done. Crazy.

ASL: Some have called you the unluckiest strongman in history because of all of your injuries. Could you tell us about them and what sort of effect they have had on your career?

Mitchell: They have hampered me extremely to the point that they have stopped me from doing the best that I could ever do. I've had eight knee operations. Three of which were total reconstructions. Three back operations where two discs were removed. A shoulder operation to staple down a bicep tendon. My left bicep has been torn. My right bicep has been torn twice. That's basically it as far as injures are concerned.

ASL: I bet that almost everyone that is reading this has the same question in mind that I am about to ask. Why? Why do it? Why put your body through all of the hardship of brutal competition if it ends up all the time on the operating table and weeks of recovery?

Mitchell: Because I love the sport so much. Because I can. Because there is a strong strong will inside of me. I personally feel that I can be one of the best that there is and until I achieve that or until something very dramatic happens where I can't do any of this any more, I'll keep pushing myself until I achieve what I know I can or nearly die trying.

ASL: How many times a day do you get recognized as "that guy on TV doing all those crazy things?"

Mitchell: Repeatedly. At work. At 7-11. In the street, you name it.

ASL: What was the funniest story relating to that?

Mitchell: I still haven't gotten comfortable with people asking me for autographs. I went to my family reunion last weekend and I had family members ask me for autographs. It floored me. I was like, "What??" So, I took everyone's name who wanted one and I'm sending them an autograph picture. I wasn't ready for that. To me that was weird, because I still think, who would want my autograph?

ASL: You are currently working out with Mark Keshishian who will also be up on the site in the not too distant future. How long have you been working out with him?

Mitchell: We started training together full time in 1992, I believe. It used to be with Lester Maslow too. It was the three of us.

ASL: And Lester's moving back up here to train with you guys, right?

Mitchell: Yeah, he's coming back and Mark is a great training partner, he doesn't take things personally. Sometimes when I get real keyed up for lifting and stuff and I miss a rep, Mark is there and I can take it out on him. He doesn't take it personally. He gives it right back to me where other people would get all pissed off and walk away and say, "Well f-you," and "Well, do it yourself." Not Mark. Mark understands. I'm there for him too as much as he is there for me. It's been a very good relationship. He's also my best friend which I don't have a whole lot of. As far as putting a lot of trust in people, I don't usually because people almost never live up to it.

ASL: Could you tell us about your other training partner besides me?

Mitchell: You mean Bubba? I've known Bubba for ten years. Maybe a little longer than that. I knew him when I was playing football for Maryland. We used to all train at Gold's Gym in Wheaton, MD. Bubba probably got up to 440 pounds at one time. About a year and a half ago, I ran into him at 7-11 since he works near my home. I talked to him there and tried to get him back into lifting and everything. He started coming to the gym. I really encouraged him as far as losing that weight. He's also a Highland Games athlete which is pretty phenomenal for someone in his situation. He says he's down to 332 now. He's got a goal of 280. He's a very very nice guy. He'd do anything for you.

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

Mitchell: Many? Ha Ha My many fans! Ha Ha Just keep on watching and hope that I pull it out here this year and the next. I would love to help people as far as legitimate training questions or advice. I'd be more than happy to give it to you. You're starting a new internet forum called The Diesel Power Forum. I'll be there occasionally. Just like when you and I train together, I try to help you out as much as possible. I have no problem trying to help somebody as long as they really listen to what I say. You don't have to necessarily do it 100%, but at least give a shot. There have been times in the gym where I have spent an hour with someone helping their form. Next workout, that same person comes in and they do the same thing that they were doing before, not even trying it once my way. They totally blow it off. That to me is a little bit irritating. If I do have any fans out there, let me see what I can do as far as taking it to the next level.

ASL: Is there anything else you would like to say?

Mitchell: Just that strongman competitors need to really think about what they are doing to represent the sport. Another unfortunate situation that is going on out there (and I won't name names at this time) is that there are some competitors who are so into themselves that they act like they don't have time for any body else as far as their fans and reporters are concerned. I think that is wrong. I think one of the biggest moving factors in the sport right now is Bill Kazmaier because of his past experience and his big presence in the sport. He promotes it very very well and we the competitors should strive to be like him. He's pretty phenomenal. I mean a guy of his accomplishments, he just can sit around and talk to you like he's not above you. I think that's pretty phenomenal. I think you have experienced that also about him and Justin, I also appreciate you taking the time to train with us.

ASL: Ha Ha don't make it out like it's some sort of honor for you to workout with me. It's the other way around. I am honored that you let me train with you.

Mitchell: You're young and just starting out. It doesn't matter the level of the lifter. Everyone has a brain. Everyone can put forward their own two cents. Everyone matters. You help us a lot too, but more than that, I really appreciate all of the time that you have taken out to do this internet stuff for all of this for us. I appreciate what you are doing by interviewing me and all of us and what you are doing for the sport. What you are doing with the website is phenomenal. It's the best website that I've seen on the internet. I think it really says something about your love of the sport. Not the sport as much as strength in general. I mean you're a walking encyclopedia. You're doing this on your own. No money. No sponsors nothing. It's not that we owe you anything, but we should be grateful that you are trying to make everything in such a positive light. I mean there's a lot of negatives as far as powerlifting and strongman is concerned. It's nice and about time someone tried to accentuate the positives as opposed to the bad issues in the sports. Good luck to you in the future in life and with the website.

ASL: Thank you very much for the interview and do us all a favor next week by bringing back to America the title of the World Muscle Power Champion that Bill Kazmaier so graciously loaned to the Europeans for the last 10 years.