‘Mr. Deadlift’ Peoples set records, invented weightlifting equipment
Published 8:20 am Thursday, June 25, 2015
New Carter County Sports Hall of Fame inductee Bob Peoples was a world-renowned weightlifter, but he wasn’t into working out to look good. He did it for one reason: to be strong.
“Mr.Deadlift,” as he became known, was one of the founding fathers of a sport that has become immensely popular in it’s different forms. But while he helped mold men and women of all ages with a craft that he enjoyed, it wasn’t his everything.
“It certainly wasn’t his life,” Peoples’ daughter Alta Barwick said. “It started out mainly as a hobby, and actually, when he first started out, he used whatever was available. He made a lot of his own equipment.
“He had no patience with just body building, with just looking good. What this was about to him was the development of strength and also being healthy.”
Peoples, who died in 1992 at the age of 82, made barbells out of wood and metal strips, and then he would weigh rocks in order to achieve a weight he wanted.
The University of Texas now houses some of his items, including one of the primitive wooden barbells, which was requested by Dr. Terry Todd, a professor of kinesiology and founder of the Stark Center at the university. They also have the first power rack Peoples is credited with inventing on display.
“He was so inventive,” Todd said in a phone interview. “He would just think of ways to use common machinery ”
In 1972, Todd broke the deadlifting record Peoples set in Johnson City on March 4, 1949. On that day, at the age of 39, Peoples deadlifted 725¾ pounds while weighing just 181 pounds. When Todd broke the record, he did so by 5 pounds and weighed just more than 330 pounds.
Now, though, dead lifters raise around 1,150 pounds.
Todd and Peoples became very good friends and use to joke about how Todd was able to break the record.
“We use to laugh about it, because here I am weighing 130 or 140 pounds more than he weighed, and I outlifted him by 5 pounds 15 years later,” Todd said. “So I guess it was easy to see who the best lifter was.”
Weightlifting remained a love of Peoples, but something he enjoyed just as much was trying to help bring change to a community that he held dear. He was member of the Carter County Commission for more than 25 years and was an active member of the Carter County school board.
“He was all for the development of the community, and he was especially interested in conservation and education,” Barwick said. “He certainly realized the value of education.”
Peoples didn’t have as much of an education as he would have liked, according to Barwick, because like many, life altered his initial goals of going to the University of Tennessee to study agriculture.
That didn’t stop him from getting two years at ETSU behind him and being a self-taught individual. He was also keen on inventing things to make jobs easier, which led to his inventing the power rack, a staple in the weightlifting community.
But his mark wouldn’t be left only on things he created; it would be left on the people, too.
One of those people was 1955 World Champion Paul Anderson, who also won a gold medal in weightlifting in the 1956 Olympics in Melbourne, Australia.
Another person he helped get into weightlifting was Hampton’s Bill Anderson. Anderson was a young adolescent when he first met Peoples, and the two became great friends. Peoples helped him with a routine and even helped him make his own power rack out of wood.
“He was a remarkable individual and a remarkable man,” Bill Anderson said. “I first met him in 1973. I was getting a couple magazines at the time, and there was a two-part article about Bob Peoples by Terry Todd and Paul Anderson, and I looked forward every month to reading their articles.
“I showed it to one of my uncles, and he suggested that I called Bob up and maybe he could put me on a program.”
That is exactly what he did, which began a great relationship between the two men.
Anderson holds a weightlifting competition at Hampton High School that just got finished it’s 35th year. Peoples helped to judge until his passing in 1992.
Weightlifting for Peoples started at the age of 9 when he started lifting his father’s 50-pound dumbbell on the family farm. His first taste of competition came in 1937 at the state weightlifting championship, and the 27-year-old Peoples placed with a 515-pound effort in the deadlift.
Other outstanding lifts that he made included deadlifting 500 pounds 20 times, a deadlift off of high blocks of 900 pounds, a 530-pound full squat, a 300-pound bench press, alternate standing press with a pair of 130-pound dumbbells and cleaning a pair of 110-pound dumbbells for 10 reps.
But these records were achieved by a man that the doctors told would never be able to lift weights.