Brains and Brawn… Bob Peoples and His Night in Music City: Part 6

Published 10:28 pm Wednesday, February 16, 2022

BY ALEX CAMPBELL
Tennessean, Bob Peoples, was locked in a monumental struggle with gravity fighting to become the first person to officially dead lift over 700 pounds. It was Nashville, TN in 1947 and Peoples had just begun his last attempt.
Because Peoples let out half of his air to allow his shoulders to round, which he felt allowed his hands to hang a little lower and save him another inch on his lift, his body was quickly deprived of oxygen. He immediately turned red as the blood pooled near his skin, then according to witnesses he proceeded to turn various shades of purple, blue, and even black.
The spotters’ brows were soon covered with beads of sweat as they stared, not at the inhuman sight of the muscles rippling under the skin of the strongest man in the world just inches from them, but at the weights which at any moment could fall of the ends of the bar and snap their legs like twigs.
As the spotters studied the weights for any sign of movement, there was plenty. As Peoples pulled, the weights vibrated, rattled, and clanged against one another with each noise threatening to bring all of the plates down from the bar.
Then suddenly, the bar slowed to a mere crawl, and a moment of doubt arose that maybe Peoples had bitten off more than he could chew. His body began to experience tremors as his nervous system sent the maximum amount of electricity down his nerves causing his body to shake as the weights rattled against the neighbors.
The spotters prayed and pushed a little harder against sure disaster. This time, had Peoples pushed to close to his limits endangering the lives of himself and those around him?
Now, sensing peril, the crowd inserted themselves into these historic events. Seeing that Peoples was close to stalling, they immediately leapt to their feet and began encouraging Peoples by screaming at the top of their lungs.
Even Pudgy Stockton and her compatriots were summoned by the excitement. To be honest, all night long there had been a cordial competitiveness between these two acts as each looked to upstage the other, but now, all the tension dissipated as they saw a fellow strength athlete locked in an epic struggle against his own nemesis.
The Stockton’s had conquered their own, now they couldn’t help but yell at the top of their lungs for a fellow competitor looking to do the same. This encouragement was just enough as the weight, agonizingly, continued to inch its way toward history.
As the crowd leapt to its feet to encourage Peoples that last little bit, his back straightened, and due to his long arms and short torso, the lift came to a surprising end. The lift was complete, and now Peoples only had to hold the bar for a moment and demonstrate to the judges that he had control.
Peoples hoped, the spotters prayed, and the crowd held their breath.
Even though the lift had reached its zenith, this was the most dangerous moment as the lifter held the bar motionless at the top waiting for the judges to examine the lift to ascertain if he indeed was fully erect and the weight controlled.
The bar was at its highest and if any weights slid off, they would do the most damage on whatever unfortunate thing happened to be underneath. At the top of the lift, Peoples was also his most tired from the struggle. And most importantly, his grip was at its weakest.
Throughout a dead lift, the sole purpose of the bar is to roll out of the palm of the hand and slide down into the fingers desperately trying to rip the closed fist open.
The key to keeping the bar from rolling out of the hand is to keep the thumb thoroughly smashed between under the first finger, grinding it into the bar.
As long as the finger was wrapped over Peoples’ thumb in the hook grip style, the fist is closed, and the bar cannot force it open. But once the bar has pulled the first finger from over the thumb, it is just a matter of time before the bar will peel those fingers back and come crashing to the floor.
As soon as the bar left the floor, Peoples felt the bar tearing down into his palm, it is a searing and grating pain as the rough callouses are ripped away from the softer tissue underneath.
All of the sweat from nerves and exertions also begins to seep into the hand allowing the bar to slide down ever further. The worst is when the bar gets past the knees. This is where they steel makes contact with the lifter’s legs and the friction of the bar on the thighs begin to roll the bar out of the grip.
Peoples was in his final fight to hang onto the bar. If it slipped from his hands before the referee gave the down signal, the lift would be considered no good.
In reality, the pause between a lifter standing erect and the down signal is usually about a second, however it felt like an eternity in People’s mind. He felt the callouses tearing, the blood and sweat leaking into the palms of his hands, the tendons in his arms stretching, and the joints in his shoulder separating all as he focused all his energy on keeping that bar in his hand.
But if the crowd could have zoomed in on his hand, they could have seen the thumb slipping out from under his first finger.
Just as Peoples realized he could no longer hold the bar in his hands, he finally received the down command. Peoples put the bar down as quickly as possible.
He was now dizzy and lightheaded but was finally able to stand, loosen his belt, and most importantly, breathe. He was quickly mobbed by fans as they poured out of the stands.
Peoples had done what no other man could. The 700-pound barrier had been vanquished, and this time with the extra ten pounds of weight on the bar to spare, there would be no surprises. Peoples had officially set the world record again and been the man to take the dead lift into uncharted territory.
The bronzed faces of Pudgy and her California friends, summoned by the raucous cheers of the audience, witnessed the entire unfathomable event.
The Stockton’s risked life and limb to push their bodies in the performance of their lives, and so had Bob Peoples. But even the media darlings from California had to admit when they had been upstaged by a small-town farm boy who would not be denied top billing in his home state.
The Stockton’s quickly packed their bags and put the lights of Nashville in their rear view mirror.
Of all the places they traveled and all the amazing athletes they met on their nation-wide tour, they would never forget the night they met Bob Peoples in Music City.

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