|Dr. L. Jay Silvester in record form.|
During my high school years my life revolved around working out to play football, throw the discus, and competing with Allegheny Mountain Weightlifting team. It was a good combination as all of those activities seemed to blend well together and kept me too busy to cause much trouble. Along with that I still worked on some construction jobs with my Father and also worked at a landscaping company on weekends as well.
In western Pennsylvania football was a religion. Boys are raised to play and the rivalries between small towns are intense. A sample of the players that came out of that area include: Johnny Unitas, Jim Kelly, Dan Marino, Joe Namath, and Mike Ditka, to name just a few. My senior year I was named to some of the All-State teams that included a running back named Tony Dorsett, who went on to win the Heisman Trophy and star in the NFL for many years. I started playing early and found that good players were rewarded with respect and with opportunities.
Since the time that I was a youngster my parents stressed that I should go to college. Neither of them had the opportunity, but were determined that we should. When my brother and I were on construction jobs with my Father, men would say, "Your boys are going to be good bricklayers" My Dad would answer, "Naw, they're going to college." I had no perception of what college really was or what I would do there, but I knew it was important to my parents and I knew they had football teams.
As my high school career progressed, I began to receive recruiting letters and even some calls and visits. The first place that actually offered me a visit was the United States Military Academy at West Point, New York, the Army team. I really didn't think that I would be interested in the Army. A lot of my relatives and neighbors were drafted and sent to Viet Nam. Some didn't return. Some returned with missing limbs or other problems. I wasn't too excited about the military if there were other options, but the coach there continued to call. When I told him I was not interested, he asked if I wouldn't mind flying over there and at least looking at what they had to offer. Up to that point in my life I had never flown on an airplane so the offer to fly into New York City where the coach would meet me and take me up to West Point was more than I could pass up. It was a beautiful campus on the Hudson River and we (the other recruits and me) had a great time. We ate in the officer's club, swam, played basketball, and watched films of Army Rangers jumping out of airplanes. We never did actually see the day to day life of a cadet. I came home thinking maybe the military wouldn't be such a bad choice. Also, about that time Pres. Nixon announced the withdrawal of troops and the end of the draft.
I took several other recruiting visits but with encouragement of my parents and teachers, ultimately ended up at the USMA. Usually entrance to a military academy requires a congressional appointment and is very competitive. Most cadets (as students were called) had prepared extensively to be selected. I had not done any of the steps of the application process. the AAA (Army Athletic Association) had requested I be granted an appointment and so it happened. I had one problem though, I was not academically prepared. In high school many of my teachers gave me special privileges because I could play football. I was too naive to recognize that this was not a good thing. I assumed that college football players would really only have to play football. My experience was that being a good football player was enough to get you whatever you needed. I suspect at some universities this maybe the case. However, I soon found out that at West Point, they really did expect you to go to class and pass the courses. While I did fine with the military training and on the football field, I found myself totally unprepared for 7 credit hours of calculus and analytic geometry along with other hard core subjects. At the end of my freshmen year I was given the option of repeating the entire year or moving on. I chose the latter. Also, believe it or not, the USMA didn't even have a real weight room at the time. The had an exercise room with some old fashioned wall pulley units and few makeshift barbells made of pipe and concrete. The philosophy there at the time was that weight training would make one too bulky to go airborne. Pushups and pullups were the answer. Shortly after I left, they bought into the Nautilus craze. It was years later before they ever got a real strength and conditioning program there.
|United States Military Academy. I am the third from the left on the back row.|
|Coach Edwards around the time I showed up at BYU.|
When I arrived on campus in the Fall, as soon as I dumped my stuff off at the dorm, I asked the dorm attendant where the weight room was. I assumed everyone on campus would know. She didn't know but directed me to the physical education building. I finally found it in the fieldhouse. The old BYU weightroom was actually two weight rooms. There was a two level platform with chain link fencing for walls at the end of the fieldhouse. It would be small by today's standards, but was actually pretty good sized for the time. The lower deck was where they had student weight training classes and it was equipped with the standard Universal Machine units and some fixed weight barbells and dumbells. The upper deck was where the athletes trained and it had 6 or so platforms around the outside perimeter along with benches, squat racks, and quite a few Eleiko barbell sets with the early model bumper plates as well as tons of iron weights. By today's standards it would be considered primitive, but to me, it was heaven. To be honest, although not large, it would still function well today, better than a lot of the machine laden weight rooms that are designed more to attract young recruits than train serious athletes.
In high school I had basically taught myself to reasonably throw the discus by looking at sequence photos of Jay Silvester, 4 time world record holder and 4 time Olympian. You can imagine my reaction when I first entered the BYU weight room and there he was lifting and presiding over the training. He was in his early 40's then. Tall and lean, definitely looked strong and fit, but not hugely muscular. Yet he did multiple reps with over 140 kg in the powerclean and bench presses with over 400 lb. and still threw the discus regularly over 60 m. By then he was Dr. L. Jay Silvester and was professor of physical education and presided over the weight room while also working with the throwers. There were some amazing throwers in those days. (and there still is) Back then BYU had a strong european, especially scandinavian connection. Here is a link: http://byuthrowers.blogspot.com/ Some of the guys in that era were Kenth Gardenkrans, Anders Arrhenius, Raimo Pihl, and Richard George. They did some great workouts.
There were also a lot of Polynesian athletes who loved to lift as well. Genetically blessed guys like Willie Moala, Albert Maielo, Moses Foala, Simi Mapu, and others also were regulars there and did some amazing lifting.
It was tough to lift during football season as your body takes a beating, but I persisted and later that Fall there was a powerlifting meet on campus. I entered and that is where I met Greg Shepard for the first time. He was coaching in Idaho at the time and brought a group of boys down to lift in the meet at BYU. He was and is a dynamic coach. I have had many more interactions with him over the years which have shaped my approach to coaching. It was also there that I learned that Dr. Silvester was the faculty advisor of the BYU Powerlifting team which was a club sport on campus. I became a member and enjoyed the camaraderie.
|BYU thowers in the 70's training heavy with L.Jay coaching.|
I continued to lift and compete there until graduation. By then I was married and working three jobs to get by. When we finally left Provo, we had two children, I had a degree, and had gained a lot more knowledge and experience with strength training that would serve me well in the years ahead.