Bob Peoples the Hometown Hero: Part 10

Published 3:00 pm Thursday, October 6, 2022

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By Alex Campbell 
The hometown hero, Bob Peoples, stood with his adoring fans still buzzing with excitement after lifting his monumental 725-pound deadlift. Standing in the City Auditorium of Johnson City, TN, he waited as the officiants reweighed the bar to make sure of the exact weight before the weight could be declared an official world record and the celebration could begin in earnest. Just a couple of years before, he was heartbroken to learn when he was the first man to officially lift 700 pounds that the actual weight was 1 pound less. He was not about to start a premature celebration at the 1949 Red Shield Boys Club Variety Show.
As Peoples stood there with his lifting belt loosened and dangling around his waist, he drank in deep breaths allowing his body to recover from the tremendous strain. His hands were burning as the callouses were ripped from his palms and left piled up at the base of his fingers. The loaders brought over the scales and began to arrange the weights.
A closer inspection of the weather chapped face of Peoples would reveal another curiosity. A man never known for having freckles was covered with them. When enough pressure builds up in the body, an interesting phenomenon, called petechiae, takes place. Capillaries near the surface of the skin give way to immense pressure and rupture. The strain of over four times his body weight combined with the necessary breath holding to keep the torso upright had caused just such conditions. Tiny pools of blood formed under the skin, causing a freckled appearance on the face and especially around the eyes. If one did not know better, they would have thought the Tennessee strongman had been freckled since birth.
The clangs of weight and grunts of men kept Peoples and the crowd focused on the work of the officials reweighing the bar. Interesting that it took an entire coordinated team of men to move the weights that the strapping lifter had just hoisted by himself. And it was no happenstance that the weight called for on his final attempt had been 725 pounds. Not 720 or 730, but exactly 725 pounds. Although there had been other impressive dead lifters, no one had ever achieved the four times bodyweight lift. It changes from various accounts, but as best we can tell, Peoples tipped the scales for this competition at exactly 181.25 pounds which means it would require exactly 725 pounds to give him not only the heaviest deadlift of all time by total weight, but the magical four times bodyweight lift. So, Peoples, and the crowd, looked on, knowing that even a pound too light would deny Peoples this monumental achievement.
In sports, the next year, or even competition, is never a given. Injuries, uncontrollable circumstances, and Father Time all have a way of disrupting even the most well laid plans. Peoples now stood at the precipice of 40. Every element came together perfectly for this night: his training, the proximity of the event, the time of the year, and his health. There would probably never be another moment when all factors would work together so perfectly to provide him with this chance again. The team continued working like ants moving the weights into position, and they now prepared to adjust the scale for the final verdict. The crowd, and Peoples, strained their eyes nearly out of their sockets.
Everything in his life had led up to this one moment. He walked the ladder rungs of deadlifting success to even be in this situation: the Southern record, the official national and world records, the first official 700-pound deadlift, and even went head-to-head the other great dead lifter of the time, Bill Boone. This could be the final icing on the cake of his lifting legacy…if only the weights would work with him this one final time.
Now, the loaders, officials, and judges were huddled on stage around the weight and scales so that no matter how hard the prying eyes looked, they could not tease out even the slightest hint of the final outcome, but everyone could tell by the body language that the deed was done. A lone man stood erect, smoothed the wrinkles from his pants and jacket, and made his way to the microphone. The gentleman tried his best to hide any expression that would give away the result, prolonging the anticipation of the night just a few more seconds. Everyone held their breath and stood motionless in anticipation so not even the slightest sound could obscure the final announcement.
The man’s shoes made a hollow clopping noise against the wooden planks of the stage as he finally grasped the mic and prepared to give Peoples and the crowd what they had been waiting for. The man finally spat the words “seven hundred and twenty-five…”. The crowd didn’t wait to hear the word anything else, but instead tore down the auditorium with their cheers and antics. They went wild, cheering, hooping, and hollering. The praises rained down on Peoples unlike anything he had ever experienced.
For years, neighboring farmers just shook their heads as Peoples labored under the hot sun for 12 hours, then after dark crawled under his house to lift poundage that would break other mortals. His wife and family saw him push himself to tremendous extremes to even be able to attempt a record like this. Other lifters marveled at the way he turned himself from red, to purple, to blue, and then black during these excruciating lifts. Peoples nursed torn callouses, stiff joints, sore muscles, strains, tears, and pain for over a decade all alone in his hand-dug basement. There were times when he considered if it was all worth it. Nights, when in fits of despair, he threw all his weights into the old sinkhole on the property and declared himself finished. But tonight, in front of his hometown crowd, all those painful memories receded and all that was left was the crowning achievement.
As the cheers faded, and the crowd slipped away, Peoples made his way to the car and began the jostling ride back up the holler into neighboring Sinking Creek. All was quiet in the car after an exhausting day, but there was a look in his eye; he was thinking. Peoples, not a man to ever rest on his laurels, couldn’t prevent his mind from dreaming about a new goal. An accomplishment that would make the achievement of this day seem like merely an afterthought. But if he was to even start down this dark path, he would have to tempt death like never before.

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