Star Sports introduces a new weekly series – Brains and Brawn

Published 9:32 pm Thursday, December 31, 2020

Star Sports is excited to start off 2021 with a new weekly series for those who have an interest in weight lifting and getting their bodies and minds stronger.

The series is being written by Elizabethton High School educators Alex Campbell and Chad Salyers who have had many years of weight lifting experience and have also coached several EHS students to titles in weight lifting at the national level.

As with any endeavor into beginning or expanding one’s weight lifting, it is highly recommended that one does so only after consulting a personal physician to make sure there are no underlying conditions that might be adversely affected by participating in the sport of weight lifting.

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With that being said, here is the first installment of Brains and Brawn.

Greatness Is Part of Your Heritage


Although many have forgotten this history, the valley communities of the southern Appalachians are home to some of the strongest people in the world, but this is not a recent phenomenon.

In Scotland, it was required of all men each year to prove themselves fit enough to participate in the protection of the homeland if ever such a need arose (and it often did with the perpetual state of warfare existing between the English and the Scots).

It brought terrible shame when a man grew too old and weak to demonstrate his ability to continue to protect his hearth and home.

For many years, the English prohibited the Scots from owning weapons of any kind. The Scottish clans still gathered annually to prove their fitness, but they had to be both deceptive and creative.

They began to use everyday tasks to demonstrate their abilities like throwing rocks, tossing sheaves with a pitchfork, throwing a hammer, and one that many are still familiar with, the tossing of the caber (a telephone pole sized log).

When the Scots moved to the Appalachian Mountains by the hundreds of thousands beginning in the 1700s, they brought many of these traditions with them. The mountains and farming that came with their move to this area continued the tradition of hard work to eke out a living.

By the early 1900s, the tradition of strong folk built from hard labor continued in this area.

Bob Peoples, from Sinking Creek, worked hard on his farm and at the local rayon plant. He also got the itch for strength sports which were still in their infancy. He participated in the state championships for Olympic weightlifting but also took a special liking to the deadlift.

It is one of the most basic movements and tests of strength exhibited every day in basic labor and farming jobs. The deadlift is when the bar lays in front of the person and is simply lifted by the person bending down and standing erect.

Peoples loved the simplicity of the lift as the ultimate test for simple brute strength. He eventually broke the world record and took the limit to 725 pounds.

Another powerful back came to the hills of East Tennessee after Peoples’ prime. Unlike Peoples, who was a strong but wiry 180 pounds, this man was a mountain.

When a man of 250 pounds was unheard of, this behemoth spent most of his adult days closer to 400 than 300. Paul Anderson’s family moved to Carter County from Georgia and brought their prodigious son with them.

When Anderson attended a local carnival, he entertained the crowds by hitting the High Striker strongman challenge where he took the hammer and hit the puck and rung the bell at the top over and over.

When one of these awestruck onlookers reported this to Peoples, he thought it an exaggeration and demanded if such a man did exist, he should be brought to Peoples basement dungeon to test his strength.

When Anderson showed up, he nearly squatted the world record on his first attempt.

People took the young man under his iron wing and soon the “Dixie Derrick” was born. Anderson went on to break world records in Olympic lifting, is the last American to win the superheavyweight gold medal at the Olympics (almost 70 years ago), among many other accolades.

Many still consider him to be the strongest man to ever live. He retired young and went into professional strongman in Reno and Las Vegas where he plowed his earnings into his passion, a youth home for troubled boys.

The genes of these and many nameless other powerful characters still run through the DNA of this region.

We see glimpses of this trait lying just under the surface explode through to greatness from time to time. Rich Froning, Jr. of Cookeville is the only man to win the CrossFit Games World Championship 4 times.

The current 231 lbs. weight class bench press record holder in the International Powerlifting Federation is Charlie Conner of Washington County who lifted over 713 lbs.

Jason Witten has become one of the greatest tight ends to ever play the bruising position in the NFL. The list could go on and on.

If you are wondering if you have it inside you to push world record limits (or maybe just get stronger, improve your strength, maintain your health, or drop some weight), you absolutely do.

Remember that many who walked these hills and valleys before you reached the pinnacle of strength. Their legacy lies in you, just waiting to be awakened.

So, lift those heavy weights, run on the treadmill a little longer, or push those times on the Tweetsie Trail a little lower.

Athletic greatness is part of your heritage.