Tuesday, September 20, 2011

A Story Behind the Story, Strongman competitions.

Strongman events mimic real life labors.
Erie, Pennsylvania is not nearly as well known as Pittsburgh to the south and Philadelphia to the southeast. When you think of these towns, you think of toughness. The Steelers, Rocky Balboa, and of course a document we here in the United States call the Declaration of Independence were all born there. Erie is Pennsylvania’s 3rd largest city and it’s only port on the Great Lakes. I was born in Hamot Hospital which overlooks Presque Isle bay where large ships from around the world would dock. In my teens I worked with my father for a construction company that was builtding an addition to that hospital. It was in the winter when the wind blows down from Canada across Lake Erie and threatens to freeze anything isn’t moving. I spent my days on the roof pulling up buckets of cements hand over hand with a rope. That’s how we did it then. Once I asked my dad why we couldn’t get a conveyor and he said, “Why should I? That’s why I have you! Besides, it’s too cold. The conveyor would freeze up.” Such was the life of a construction laborer. In order to inject a little fun into the work we turned things into competitions. Who could load the most bags of cement onto a flatbed wheelbarrow and push it up the ramp? Who could hold 12 inch concrete blocks out at arms length for the longest time? Danny Carr was an iron worker in Erie. One day he fell from several stories up and broke his back. He survived, but with a partially paralyzed leg that withered and caused him to walk with a limp for the remainder of his life. He continued to train at the local YMCA and developed 20+ inch arms. When I knew him he was a business agent for the local ironworkers union. He made sure that union workers were being hired and paid properly and few wanted to contend with him. He started arm wrestling and became a world champion. He got the idea to market the types of competitions that construction workers did and “American Gladiators” was born. Below is an article about Danny today. Following is a clip of Mark Felix and his “home gym”. I love it. It reminds me of the jobs we did back in Erie and how many really strong men there are who maybe never compete in the standard “strength sports” of weightlifting or powerlifting. Modern day "Strongman" gives another outlet.

Danny Carr doesn't want your pity. He says he'll simply continue to live with the bitterness and move on.
Carr knows his home in Orlando, Fla., should be a shrine to "American Gladiators," the television show and pop-culture phenomenon he helped create in Erie in the 1980s.
He's well aware that he should be giddy with excitement over the reinvention of the lucrative spandex-and-glitz competition series, which premieres tonight on NBC in primetime.
But the 60-year-old former Erie resident says he won't watch the new show.
Not one minute of it.
"It's too painful," he says in a telephone interview from Florida. "And I'm still too bitter."

Due to bad business decisions, Carr says he reaped meager financial gains from the multimillion-dollar "American Gladiators" franchise.

The former ironworker and founder of Erie's Lower East Side Sports Center says he was paid about $20,000 during the TV seasons that the "American Gladiators" show ran in syndication from 1989 through 1996.

As for the nationwide tours in arenas throughout America, the dozens of licensed "Gladiators" products, and the Hulk Hogan-hosted show that NBC will truck out this weekend, Carr says he didn't get a dime.

"I wasn't legally protected," he says. "I wasn't smart."

Be it the cult hit status the old episodes now have with teens and college students on ESPN Classic, and the catchy clips rerun on VH1's "I Love the '90s" specials.

Or the plug from former President Bill Clinton, who said his favorite show during his White House days was "American Gladiators," which he and his daughter, Chelsea, always watched.

All of it, Carr says, began in Erie.

The former arm-wrestling champion who served two years in a juvenile detention center says his idea for "American Gladiators" came during the annual picnics he sponsored for Erie's gritty ironworkers from the late 1960s through the mid 1980s.

Tough-man games and challenges, pitting one rowdy blue-collar guy against another, and testing their strength, speed and agility.

The original "gladiators," Carr says, included construction worker Donny Plonski; Frank Fusco, president of United Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers of America Local 506 at GE Transportation; and automobile dealer Brent "The Bull" Doolittle.

And the first organized show came in 1982 in front of a frenzied, sold-out crowd at Tech Memorial High School.

Plonski, now 52, says he was the "original gladiator," a 6-foot-2, 255-pound muscular machine nicknamed "The Sledgehammer."

"I trained hard to be a gladiator," says Plonski, whose 23-inch biceps ripped through his cutoff sweatshirt uniform. "I'd pull a sled piled high with cement blocks with a strap around my waist. I pulled my car. I meant business."

Plonski says his dream was to be on the "Gladiators" TV show and become a star. But that dream was smashed along with Carr's botched business arrangements.

"I was crushed. We both were," Plonski says, adding that he refuses to watch NBC's new version of the show. "It still hurts. To not have the recognition. To not have people watching this show know that it originated from little Erie, Pennsylvania."

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