Many times I get asked. “What was it like at Westside”? And as I’m thinking of my answer in my head that I would like to tell them, it’s a place where you wouldn’t last 1 hour. I end up telling them the most hardcore place you could ever lift.
My life at Westside Barbell started back in 2005 and lasted up to 2010.
But The thought of lifting at Westside started all the way back when I was in high School through the late 90s.I remember getting Powerlifting USA and always skipping every other article just to read Louie Simmons Westside articles. When I was in High School, I played Baseball, Football and I Wrestled. I always loved competition and being strong. When I was a sophomore playing football that year, I remember out lifting every senior player we had. I was bench pressing 335lbs without trying that hard. I was squatting 405lbs ass to the floor. So I always knew I had some pretty good strength and a good work ethic which I’d like to give full credit to my dad. He was a very big guy and strong naturally from owning our own construction business. During the summer breaks from school, when other kids were sleeping in and swimming, I was carrying 12inch block, mixing mud, helping dig footers, carrying bricks up and down 50ft ladders, and this started when I was 10. I hated it then, but now I look back and so glad my dad made me do this. It taught me a lot about myself, when I wanted to give up and not be in the scorching heat working when I could be sleeping but I kept working and didn’t complain. My dad is the hardest working man I have ever known. And from saying that, I followed in his footsteps of being a hard worker, strong, disciplined, and didn’t take shit from anyone……So that kinda of gives you an idea where I get a lot of my traits from. Thanks DAD.
Before I started in powerlifting, I began doing bodybuilding and competed in shows from 1997-2003. When I was a bodybuilder I loved going to the gym and lifting weights and always trying to see how much weight I could push. But after I started training with the gym owner, of where I lifted at, Steve Slater, he taught me bodybuilding is about building the body, not always 1 rep maxes. But I loved heavy weight. So I went through the years of doing very well and learning a lot from bodybuilding. But there was always this voice in my head telling me to go heavy, max out, break records and my training partner knew that.
Around 1999 Steve and I started a lot of strongman training and traveled all over the states competing in strongman shows and doing very well in them. I liked them, but didn’t love them. It wasn’t the same as bench pressing, deadlifting or squatting. Walking up to the squat rack listening to Slip Knot with tears flowing out of my eyes and every hair on my body standing up as I wanted to smash the weight and kill everything around me. That’s what I loved. Lifting heavy ass weights only normal lifters dreamed about doing.
So around April of 2005, Steve and I were working out and doing a typical bodybuilding workout and Steve stopped what he was doing and told me to call Louie from Westside and start lifting there. I looked at Steve and couldn’t believe he told me to do that. As I was always dreaming of lifting there and he knew that. So I asked him if he thought I was strong enough to lift there and he told me he’s been into lifting for a very long time and has been to Westside a few times to check it out and he told me I have what It takes to be there.
So this is where the story begins……………
That day after we trained, I drove home as fast as I could and called Westside Barbell. The phone rang and ranged and finally someone picked up and all I could hear was heavy metal music, people yelling and plates being slammed. The guy who answered, who I could hardly hear said hold on and he shut a door. He got back on the phone and said, “Westside, this is Louie”. I couldn’t believe I was actually talking to him. I think he said hello 3-4x before I actually said anything. So we talked for a few minutes and explained to him who I was, where I was from and would like to train there. He asked me what all I could lift and told him it had been awhile since I did a 1 rep max; that I did bodybuilding and he instantly started laughing.
He invited me to come to the gym in 2 days and see if I had what it took to lift there. Those 2 days couldn’t have gone by any slower. I was all I thought about.
So the day finally came and I arrived at Westside. I pulled up to this building which you couldn’t tell was a gym from the outside, had tinted windows on the glass and a big overhead garage door that was wide opened with music blaring, a pit bull walking around the gym, which was Louie’s dog and about 40 big powerlifters all in different groups doing their own thing. Some were doing floor presses, bench presses, board presses and some doing accessory work. When I walked in, it felt like the whole place stopped and was looking at who the new guy was. Louie came up to me and introduced himself to me and asked if I would like to get started. I said “Hell yea”…..
So he put me with a few of the heavyweight guys, 308lbs and over and at the time I was weighing 235lbs. I felt a little small. LOL…They were already warming up and had 315lbs on the bar so I started to take some weight off to warm up, and a few of them yelled, “you start with what’s on the bar when you show up late”.
So I got under the bar on the floor press, no one would hand out to me so I got it myself and banged out 20 reps like it was the bar. I got up and they put more weight onto the bar and every guy went until everyone in the group hit a 1 rep max. There were 5 of us when I started and now there is only me and a very big heavyweight seeing who can get more. At this time Louie and a lot of the other members were watching to see how much the new guy, being me, could do.
I ended up getting 515lbs, which was a new PR for me. I was so happy inside but didn’t want anyone to see that. So I followed the rest of the group as we did 4-5 more exercises and were done. The whole time Louie was watching me to see if I had what it took. When I was all finished Louie walked up to me and asked if I’d like to start training there. I couldn’t say yes fast enough. He told me before you’re a member there; everyone is put on a 10 month trial period then all the members including Louie voted you in or out. At Westside they have 3-4 groups training at all different times of the day depending on your strength and work schedule. I was put with the morning crew. 7am-9 am. I had no clue who was in that crew. So 2 days later I showed up to start my life at Westside and there was Louie, Chuck Vogelpohl, Tony Bologone, George Halbert, J.L Holdsworth, Big Will, and a few others…some of the best in the world. I couldn’t believe I got to lift with this crew. I was so thrilled. That day was a Friday and that was our dynamic day for lower body. Speed squats, speed pulls and a lot of accessory work. I left there with my ass being kicked. I have never trained that hard and heavy. But I loved it. This is what I wanted. To be the best I could be.
About 7 months went by of driving from Lancaster to Westside of Columbus 4 x weeks, every week, every month. You don’t miss days at Westside. When your there, that becomes #1 in your life. Over everything…your life, job, family, friends, etc.……everything.
There was a big powerlifting meet that was coming up in November and every crew was getting ready for the meet. Even though there were a few crews there, it’s all 1 big family. Everyone comes together and helps each other with everything. At meets we went to when we came through people moved for us, watched everything we did, stayed the hell out of our ways. Westside is the best. If you weren’t with US, you were against US. That was every one’s attitude.
SO this was my first meet I ever did, heck it was the first meet I’ve even been to.
I competed in the 242lb class. I was warming up back stage for the squat and was trying to think what weight I was going to open up with when I got on stage. I asked one of my training partners what I should open with and he started laughing and said Louie calls out our numbers. So I had no clue what weight I was going to attempt on my first lift. You see Louie know everything that goes on in the gym. He knows what peoples weights are, there PRs, there openers, what you should take on your last attempt. So I heard my name being called that I was in the hole and next up. I waited there back stage waiting to see what my first attempt was and everyone from Westside was back there pumping me up getting my adrenaline going. So my name was called and 805lbs was called out. That was 100lbs more than I ever had on my back. I didn’t care; I was ready to kill the weight. All the guys were yelling for me, smacking me on my back, in my face pumping me up. I got under the bar, took it out and went as deep as I could and came up like there was no weight on my back. I finished the day with an 860lb squat, 565lb bench and a 675 deadlift. Not bad for my first meet. I won my class and got my elite status. As I was packing my stuff up, Louie came up to me and asked how long I’ve been there now and I said 7 months and I have 3 months to go till I’m Voted in. He told me I was just voted in and you’re a member now. He said your WESTSIDE!!!
That was one of my happiest days of my life besides my daughter Baylee being born in 1999 and meeting Robyn.
So from 2005-2008, I spent many hours at Westside, doing meets and got my pro card in the end of 2008. Some of the people there came and left, trained with new people, met a lot of strong guys. I always stayed with the morning crew but it changed from time and time also with people moving, new people showing up. But we were still family and the strongest gym in the world. After every training session I’d stay after just to talk and bull crap around with Louie. He taught me so much about strength training. It’s not just getting under a bar and lifting. Taught me dynamic training, progressive over load, max effort method, conjugate system, repetition method, different forms of periodization (ie. Linear/non-linear, undulating,ect) the laws of accommodation, figuring out peoples strengths and weaknesses and how to make them a better athlete. To say the least, He taught me a lot that I use today with my clients. Not just powerlifters.
SO now we move forward a bit and go through 2008-2010 where the story gets close to its ending.
I did my first PRO show in Cincinnati, Ohio and competed in the 242lb. class.
Some of the best lifters from all over the world were there competing for their country and big prize money. I did very well my first PRO show. I squatted 930lbs, bench pressed 635 and deadlifted 735lbs. Took 3 in my class which was very good considering who else I was competing against. So after that show was over in the summer of 2008, we were all back into the gym training for our next big PRO meet in Nashville, Tennessee in the early part of 2009. So fast forwarding to the show in Nashville, I was probably the strongest I ever was in my life and I knew I was going to put up some big numbers in this show. I was planning on squatting 1,010lbs, benching 650lbs and deadlifting 750.
After warming up real good I was on my last warm up set on the squat before I was to get ready and go out on the platform and hit something big. On my last warm up I was taking 940 lbs. My adrenaline was rushing; music blaring and I knew there was a big crowd waiting for the Westside guys to squat. Normally on every lift I always check everything to make sure everything is good. Well unfortunately this time I didn’t. I took the weight out like it was 135lbs, started to go down deep and all of a sudden the bar started twisting to one side and my left side of my lower back snapped and thankfully my training partners caught me and the weight and helped me to a chair where I was in a lot of pain. One of my training partners, Phil, who was the 181lb. world record holder ran over to some girl who he knew that was a firefighter/medic and asked for her help. As I was lying in the chair in terrible pain, that you can’t imagine how bad it felt, she came over to me and started asking me questions to help me. This is the same girl I seen hours earlier walking around at the meet and I told some of my buddies I’m going to get that girl. LOL…. I know funny right? A few of them knew her, I only knew her name as she was the world record holder for many years in powerlifting, but she lived in Virginia and I lived in Ohio and they said it would never happen. So when I was in the chair and she was asking questions she put her hand on my back and her face up against mine as she knew I was hurting very badly and as soon as she did, we both looked at each other and knew something had just brought us together. By that time the ambulance was on their way and came and took me to the hospital where I found out I had 4 bulging discs in my lower back and a few in my neck. After being at the hospital for a few hours and going through tests after test and being on so much morphine it would’ve put an elephant down, the Doctor told me I had to stay there and probably have surgery. I said hell no, I had to get back to my team and help them. As stubborn as I was I signed out A.M.A and went back to the meet. As soon as I arrived people couldn’t believe I came back because they knew how bad the injury was. After helping many of my teammates lift, Robyn came up to me and asked how I was feeling and what the Doctors said. We exchanged numbers and email and said good bye. After the meet was over me and some of my training partners drove back home to Columbus and it was the worse drive ever because I was in so much pain.
All the guys at Westside took a few days off after the meet and then it was back at it training and focusing on the next meet. The next meet was in Cincinnati, Ohio 3 months after the one in Nashville. I was doing my own rehab work to my back and neck and also trying to get ready for the meet. At Westside you have to suck things up very quickly and get over the injury. There was no time for breaks. Louie always kept on us because in the 1980s he broke his back 2 times and neck once and got right back into the game. So if he could do it, everyone else has to. Just the way it is. After a few weeks of rehabbing I was feeling better and stronger each day and couldn’t wait for this meet to crush the weight. If I would’ve listen to most Doctors and went through there pathetic rehab work it would’ve taken me years to get back lifting weights and would’ve been told many times never lift weights again. No one was going to tell me I couldn’t do something especially most doctors that have no clue about lifting weights or nutrition. So now I’m a week out from the meet and in Virginia visiting Robyn. The night before I left to head home, we went to a very late movie and I started to feel sick. Then when we were walking to the car after the movie it felt like I got bitten or stung by a bug. I woke up the next morning to head home and the spot where the sore is, and was 5 times the size it was the previous night. So I didn’t think much about it and headed home with no problems. The very next day at Westside we were deloading preparing for the meet this weekend. The whole morning I felt awful and everyone was asking me what was wrong. Louie even took me to the side and talked to me and asked what was wrong and to pull out of the meet. I wasn’t going to back out now and didn’t tell anyone about the sore on my stomach. After the workout was done I headed to the emergency room to find out what the heck was going on. After the doctors came in and looked at it and did several blood tests, I was told I had MRSA and they were preparing me for surgery in a few hours. I couldn’t believe it. How in the hell did I get that, and why me. I was there by myself and wasn’t going to let anyone know because I knew my dad, mom, daughter and Robyn would freak out. So I had surgery and stayed until Thursday. Now the day before, everyone at Westside was deloading again for the meet and I knew I had to be there but I was stuck in the hospital. I had a whole in my stomach the size of my fist and I.Vs in every arm. What was I going to do….? I talked the doctors into letting me walk the hallways of the hospital and stop my I.Vs while I took a walk. As soon as they did I knew I had to drive to the gym, workout and let no one know what has happened to me. I wore a long sleeve shirt to hide the I.Vs and packed my wound with as much gauze as I could. After I lifted my last bench press for the day, I stood up and one of my partners yelled across the room at me and said “ man your fricking bleeding….” I looked down and blood was pouring out of me like a flood of water. I ran into the bathroom and cleaned it up best I could and came out and said I had got bitten by a spider and the wound broke loose. They all fell for it and I got lucky they didn’t want to see it. Soon as the workout was over I knew I had to rush back to the hospital because they were probably looking for me. The hospital was 15 minutes away and I drove as fast as I could to get back. As soon I got onto the floor every nurse and worker came running up to me asking me where I have been. They were freaking. I told them I went outside to relax. So they kept me an extra night and I got out Friday. Now Saturday morning I woke up early to drive to the meet in Cincinnati and I swear I pulled over every 10min to throw up and my blood sugar kept dropping very low. I finally made it to the meet, weighed in at 241lbs, 22lbs lighter than I was 6 days ago…..I was able to finish the meet and played it well enough where no one knew about what has happened. I squatted 930lbs, benched 635lbs and pulled a PR deadlift for 770lbs. I couldn’t believe I did that. But I had the will power and drive to keep going. After the meet was over, I drove as fast as I could back to Columbus, to the hospital I was at few days ago and they instantly admitted me. The doctors came in after the tests were done and said if I didn’t get here when I did I would’ve been dead in a few hours. My whole life just flashed before my eyes and I knew this was serious and I couldn’t keep hiding it and had to take care of it.
So I called Robyn and my family and broke the news to them and my dad was there instantly staying by my side. My mom came there soon as she got off and Robyn was coming to the hospital from Virginia. After 10 weeks of being in the hospital and 9 surgeries later I knew my life was about to change drastically. After the last surgery the doctors came in the room and pretty much threw their hands up and told me there isn’t much more they could do for me and I was probably going to die. It was just me and Robyn alone, and as I was laying there on the bed, it was if GOD punched me in my face and told me I had to change everything I was doing in life. My way of life, my priorities, my choices and my future. This was something that was happening to me that Robyn didn’t have any idea what was going on between me and GOD and I looked at her and said” I have to quit Westside and everything about me had to change this exact moment.” As we laid there together holding each other crying and praying we both fell asleep in a way I have never slept before. The next morning I woke up and the nurse came in to do blood work and change my wound. About 2hrs later a few doctors came in to talk to me and they were all very puzzled what they were about to tell me. They said all my blood work was back to normal and my MRSA was gone. They have never seen this happened. Soon as they told me that I knew exactly GOD wasn’t done with me and had big plans for me and Robyn. And was he right…..I called Louie and few of my training partners and told them I was done with powerlifting and had many things to change in my life. Some were upset but not mad and Louie understood. He told me if I ever wanted to come back, I was always WESTSIDE. Normally if you leave, you don’t ever get to come back. I appreciated that from him. So after months and months traveling back and forth from Virginia, Robyn finally moved here and got a job here at Children’s Hospital. The way that worked out is another story in itself. But the works of Christ can make anything happen. So just a year later, I finally was able to do what I have always dreamed about doing and had to deal with so many people telling me I could never make a living at it. This goal started back in 1997 when I first started to compete. And had people from day one saying I will never make it. Well here I am doing IT, and being able to help people achieve their goals and help them do, what others say they can’t do.
I look back into my life, even years before MRSA and realize I’ve had to go through so much pain and bad luck in life to get to be where I am today and made me the person I am today.
Do I ever regret leaving Westside? Hell NO. I had fun, learned so much, got stronger, traveled all over, but realize what I have now and where I’m at today in my life with my job, family and my faith. I wouldn’t trade it for anything.
Westside will always be the strongest gym in the world with the most dedicated guys you will meet. It is a place where most people wouldn’t last 1 day due to the intensity, dedication and drive you have to have to be there. I’m very proud to look back and say I was there, a member, one of the best, and trained with the best. But it’s over and I only look forward in life and have so much more I want to do. And if anyone out there thinks for 1 second you can hold me down, say I can’t do it, or get into my way, make sure you think real hard what you’re getting yourself into…………
I wanna thank my DAD for always being by my side, believing in me when other people wouldn’t and always there for me when times get tough. I couldn’t have done it without you. My mom for always keeping it real and helping me also with struggles I have overcome. Baylee. My beautiful daughter. My angel. If it wasn’t for her I can honestly say I probably wouldn’t be here. When times got tough for me I always thought to myself that she will not go on in life without a dad, and I picked myself up and fought the battle till I won. She’s everything to me.
Robyn. The girl of my dreams. My wife that I will forever love and can’t ever get enough of. A person who believed in me and knew what I could do. She never doubts me. Together we are a TEAM that can’t be stopped.
I Love you all…………..
And for all my haters and doubters. I have to thank you guys also for giving ME the power, courage, the fire in my heart to overcome people like you every day of my life. Without you people I wouldn’t have learned what I know now and become the person I am today. So please keep making me stronger………
And GOD. For saving me from going down the path of hell and making me realize what I can do in life with trust in him.
“With man it’s impossible, but not with GOD, for with GOD all things are possible” Mark 10:27