Brains and Brawn… Bob Peoples and the Louisiana Leviathan: Part 3

Published 4:28 pm Friday, October 22, 2021

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So, there it was. As simple as that. Bob Peoples had called for the magical 700 pounds to be added to the deadlift bar. A weight that men had only been dreaming of for decades.
Now, all Peoples had to do, with the very anxious Bill Boone looking on, was step to the bar and lift it. There was nothing between Peoples and that heavy bar but air and opportunity.
If there is anything that people who live in the southern Appalachian Mountains know, it is how loyal folk can be to those who earn respect from their community.
The mountain people are not impressed with conferred titles, fancy clothes, or shiny badges. They respect people who have earned it. That is why they loved their local hero, Bob Peoples so much.
Peoples and his family were well-respected members of their little community of Sinking Creek and throughout Carter County because they had earned it.
Peoples was a hard-working farmer who raised his family by the sweat of his labor. When neighbors around him needed help getting in their crops, putting up their hay, or borrowing some food staple until their next check came in or the next run to the store, the Peoples were there.
When World War II broke out, Peoples told his wife that he HAD to go. “How could I look my neighbors in the eye,” he asked his wife. When the country needed strong men, and a community sees a man as the strongest, how could he just sit on the sidelines?
Peoples went and signed up like all of the other able-bodied men in his community. Unfortunately, they discovered he had an unknown kidney ailment which disqualified him from service.
He was ordered to return home, get corrective surgery, and work his jobs which were necessary to the war effort, farming and making rayon, and serve his country by paying his taxes, buying war bonds, and producing the necessities of war.
Peoples went on to become a member of the Carter County school board serving on committees to build new schools for the children of his county. His wife worked with special needs students as a teacher and loved her pupils.
The people who packed the auditorium in Chattanooga that night to see Peoples break the world record didn’t cheer for him because he was muscular, strong, saw his picture in newspapers, or graced the covers of magazines. They loved him, because he was one of their own and had earned their respect.
Now, as the plates were clanging into place on the crowded bar, the excitement began to build. The weight went all the way to the end of the bar, and with each additional plate the hum of the crowd grew more energetic.
By the time the bar was fully loaded, the chatter began to sound like a swarm of angry bees. And then the lanky 175-pound forklift of a man in stocking feet approached the bar.
Peoples settled down over the massive weight that was exactly four times the weight of his body. No other man in America would even attempt a load like that without a machine.
But undeterred, Peoples did as always to prepare for his lift, although most lifters, coaches, and experts would advise against it. Peoples used a double overhand grip.
This means that both palms faced back toward him when he gripped the bar. He also inserted his thumb between his first and second fingers instead of over the top of his fingers when he made his fist.
The tradition is to do what is called a mixed grip. One palm faces toward the lifter while the other palm faces away. This allows for more control of the bar as no matter which way the bar wants to roll, it will always be rolling into one of the hands.
With Peoples double overhand grip, the bar can roll out of the grip more easily, that is unless you were Bob Peoples.
You see, Mr. Deadlift wasn’t born like most men. Some might say he had a birth defect in a way.  His hands were not normal sized, but monstrous. His fingers were long and had tendons like steel cables.
When he gripped that bar not only did he have enough thumb and finger length to secure his thumb in the overhand style. Most people of averages sized hands can’t do that.
He also had a short torso and long arms. This allowed him to stand fully erect and still be able to scratch his knees with his fingers. He also had a massively muscled back from genetics and hard labor since the days of his youth.
Peoples was quite simply the quintessential deadlifting machine that God ever designed.
As Peoples bent down over the bar and secured his double overhand grip, he did one more thing that most experts advised against, he took a big breath and then let out half of his air allowing his upper back to round.
Normally a lifter takes a large breath and holds it. This creates a pressure in his thoracic cavity that makes the midsection hard and helps keep the spine flat.
Peoples, however, found that letting out half of his air allowed his upper back to round over and save him from lifting the bar as far as others, possibly an inch or so. Unorthodox, but for Peoples, highly effective.
Peoples was ready to lift and as he pushed his feet through the floor the weight did not budge for a what seemed like an eternity. In reality, it was more like a couple of seconds.
Men held their breath, and women clutched their handkerchiefs over their mouths in anticipation. Finally, the bar sprang from its moorings and began its long and painfully slow ascent up the shins.
This was the lifting style of Peoples, but this time it was different. This was more weight than he, or any person, had ever done in competition, and the load was extremely heavy. It took much longer than any lift he had ever done.
This is where the danger of Peoples allowing half of his breath to escape before the lift became a huge detriment. With only half as much oxygen, the longer he held his breath and strained, the less oxygen he would have to complete the lift.
There is a very real danger of passing out under such exertion. Bill Boone, standing just off to the side and observing every detail, would later say that when Peoples started pulling, he turned red, when he got to his mid shin, he turned purple.
But as the lift miraculously kept creeping up toward the knees something happened that Boone had never witnessed. He said that the skin tone of Peoples turned such a deep shade of purply blue that he turned black.
Peoples was most assuredly out of air, he would pass out at any moment and fall backwards with 700 pounds on top of him. Although not under water, his body was quite literally drowning in a lack of oxygen and a smothering layer of poisonous carbon dioxide that filled his lungs.
The only solution was to exhale and take a deep breath, but if he did that, the bracing of his spine would be lost, and the lift would most assuredly fail.
As the crowd had exploded with encouragement, men screamed and stomped the floor, women yelled until they were shrill, urging on their hero. The onlookers knew that Peoples’ body, no matter how much he willed his body to finish the lift, would soon have to obey the rules of physics and chemistry.
But that is when it happened. The bar past his kneecaps, and for a man built like Peoples, that meant the end of the lift.
As the veins in Peoples’ neck nearly popped, and his eyes bulged from their receptacles, the crowd roared their approval. The cacophony was deafening as the spectators cheered on their hero.
The monstrous man behind the curtain, Bill Boone, felt the blood drain from his face as he realized Bob Peoples had just thrown down the most epic gauntlet in the history of strength.
Boone still had one more attempt to go, and with him being the heavier man (by over 100 pounds) he would have to exceed the lift by Peoples or destroy his body trying.
To be continued…

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