Brains and Brawn… Bob Peoples and his trip to Motor City: Part 1
Published 9:46 pm Thursday, February 24, 2022
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BY ALEX CAMPBELL
Fresh off his historic lift at the Nashville YMCA Variety Show, where he out-dueled the amazing team of Pudgy Stockton and associates, Peoples returned to his Sinking Creek home to prepare for his next assault on the record books.
It was 1937 and despite now being in his late 30s, Peoples was convinced that he had a few more epic pulls in his weathered body after his recent success with 710 pounds. He had entered uncharted territory, now it was time to see how far he could take the lift in the few good years he had remaining.
The training that Peoples pioneered was obviously paying dividends. The new equipment he created increased his leg drive significantly. He was ready to go back to his hand-dug basement dungeon and continue to push his body with new techniques and inventions to drive the record even further.
So, Peoples climbed down into his basement and did what he did best, he went to work. There were brutal backbreaking days where he worked 8, 10, and 12-hour shifts at the Rayon plant, got up before dawn and worked the farm, and sweated away in the hayfields during the dog days of summer.
And after all of that, he still had to make time to train. He trained in as many places as he worked. There was a place out in the back yard for nice days, an area in the barn when he needed shade and his basement dungeon for even more protection from the elements. No matter how difficult it was, Peoples found time to continue to push his limits as he waited for his next chance to display it.
Today, a lifter can lazily scroll through pages of convenient future meets from various different organizations located all over the country. Lifters can easily select the time of the year and location that works into their schedule. In Peoples’ day, however, meets were few and far between. As the lanky Tennessean planned out his lifting cycle, he began to search for the next opportunity to do battle with the iron.
Eventually, Peoples settled on Detroit as his next place to lift.
The scant records that can be found show that Peoples’ decision to travel to Motor City would be the furthest he ever traveled to compete and the first time he competed above the Mason Dixon Line.
History does not even record the name of the competition, but we know he went there in 1938 at 38 years of age. Now that Mr. Deadlift had selected his battlefield, he redoubled his efforts as he realized he would be taking his phenomenal deadlift prowess to a new audience, but not one that was ignorant of the iron game.
Detroit was the home of a burgeoning lifting scene that was giving rise to the likes of future world and Olympic champion, Norbert Schemansky, who went on to become the greatest heavyweight Olympic lifter up to that time.
The crowd would not be ignorant of the lifting game, but the deadlift was an entirely different event. Olympic lifting is what is often referred to as overhead lifting.
In each Olympic lifting event, the weight must be hoisted until the lifter is standing erect and the bar is at arm’s length. This means that a taller lifter might end up moving the bar over 8 feet. Since the bar moves so far, the weights that can be lifted are less.
The deadlift, however, only moves from the floor to usually around mid to upper thigh, but for a man of Peoples’ proportions, it only had to get to the top of his kneecap with those lanky arms.
That means his bar moved less than 18 inches. Olympic lifters of Peoples size at the time were moving weights closer to 300 pounds, while Mr. Deadlift was lifting more than double that. The crowd would not be ready to see a man of any size lift such tremendous weights, much less the svelte Peoples at only 175 pounds.
The Olympic lifts are also done in quick jerking motions. There is no prolonged time where a lifter holds their breath, pops their blood veins, or bulge their eyes.
There is not enough time under tension for the lifter to grind up a 5 to 10-second lift. The weights move so fast that there is no time for the crowd to see what is happening, feel the struggle, and insert themselves into the lift by cheering and shouting encouragement.
When Peoples unleashed his brand of lifting on the people of the Motor City, it would be unlike anything they had seen.
Peoples had a plan to break his deadlift record, awe the crowd, and inspire people in one of the largest cities in America.
However, before the Motor City was done with Peoples, the police would be called, reputations would be destroyed, and Peoples would experience a heartbreak unlike any he had ever known.
To be continued…