Bob Peoples the Hometown Hero: Part 7

Published 8:37 am Friday, August 26, 2022

By Alex Campbell
By the time Bob Peoples awoke on March 4, 1949, his body had been completely transformed. Always a lanky and athletic man, the past few months of specialized and uninterrupted training had done something spectacular. He layered thick muscles over his already impressive back. From the front view, some would have considered him average, svelte, or even skinny. But when he turned around, it was like looking at another lifeform.
Records show he added about 6 pounds to his physique in the previous two years, but from the surviving pictures, all of that new bulk was added to his monstrous back. The muscles of his shoulders (called the trapezius) looked like two bags of concrete piled on each side of his neck. His rhomboids (the smaller muscles behind the armpits near the shoulder blade, hung like cannon balls. His lats were thick and wide and so heavy with muscle that they attached almost at his waist. And the muscles in the small of his back (the spinal erectors) were like no other on the planet. These muscles, when well developed and lean, have a triangular shaped appearance just above the belt line. Peoples’ looked like a Christmas tree of muscle. With his low shoulder attachment, long arms, short torso, and huge hands, he was the finest example of a deadlifting machine ever created by God almighty.
Peoples was in a physical condition unlike any before. He was excited for the events of the evening that would have him lifting in front of his hometown crowd in the neighboring Johnson City at the Red Shield Boys Club Variety Show in the old City Hall. However, it was not as simple as him just showing up and lifting.
In those days, weightlifting equipment was a rarity. Even more remarkable was over 700 pounds of weights that could fit on a single bar. Peoples just couldn’t expect the promoters to assemble all this specialized equipment, so Peoples often traveled with his own bars and weights. This was an extra chore that would require Peoples to gather his equipment from his basement gym, transport and load the weights to an automobile, transport them to the venue, unload them from the vehicle to a staging area, then assemble them on the competition platform.  This was the only part of the event that kept it from being the optimal place for him to compete. In today’s competition, meet promoters have an army of people that transport, assemble and even load and unload the weights for the lifters so all they need to concentrate on is the competitive lift itself.
This may not seem like such a big advantage for modern lifters, but one must consider the enormity of the challenge. Peoples would not only have to take a bar and enough weight for the stage, but he would also need a place to warm up backstage. Since he would most likely open with a mid-600-pound lift, he would need to likely have close to 600 pounds of weights for his warmup attempts. That is over 1,300 pounds of weight that must be hoisted a plate at a time and carried out of the basement and walked to a car that was hopefully parked close by. Then once at the venue, the weight would have to be unloaded and transported inside of the building. This is where it often gets tricky. Usually this is a long carry. If Peoples was fortunate, there would be some sort of cart to help move the weights, but in any case, he would have to unload them from the car and then unload them from the cart even if he did not have to carry them the entire way.
This was easily enough weight to pre-exhaust Peoples before his monumental exertion that evening. We can feel better knowing that he most likely had help. Peoples’ good friend, Bob Hise, drove up from Chattanooga to witness what he hoped would be the new all-time deadlift record. We can feel pretty confident that Hise, and probably others, helped shoulder the load. Peoples could only hope that the extra effort did not sap any of his strength for later.
The hours crept on and as the afternoon turned to evening, and the doors to the City Hall Auditorium finally opened. A flood of mountaineers poured through the doors and into the front rows as they wanted to get a good view of their local hero. There was, as the name implies, a variety of acts that night, but there was no doubt who the headlining act was.
So as the singers, magicians, and baton twirlers prepared for their moment in the limelight, the crowd began to hum with excitement. People traveled from all over Northeast Tennessee and even some like Hise came from several hundred miles away in an attempt to catch a glimpse of history. And as the events of the night unfolded, the crowd would be kept in constant suspense due to the performance schedule.
Lifting heavy weights is not something that can be done in quick succession. So, the promoters decided to create a schedule where Peoples could attempt a lift then have several other acts perform while he caught his breath and prepared for his next lift. There was most likely to be 3 attempts as was customary in weightlifting competitions. This would create three lifts, punctuated by various other performances, with each lift increasing in weight and therefore excitement.
In this way, every few moments the crowd would be roused on 3 separate occasions keeping the excitement going throughout the entire show until the very end when Peoples would pull his final lift as the curtain call for the evening. If everything worked out as planned, what a showstopper it would be. As the MC welcomed the crowd, and the lights came up little did the audience and fellow participants know they would become supporting actors in one of the most epic sports dramas of all time.
To be continued…

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