From Russia with Love

Dave, Henrik (The House), Mike Katz
In background, Corey Pavitt from Alaska, and Barney and Jack, old friends of Dr. Ken

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It was 100 degrees in our neck of the woods and everything stood still. The birds stopped chirping and hid in the trees. Not one chattering squirrel dashed across the limbs chasing another, and the family of deer panted in a shady grove. There were no familiar buzz of a chainsaw or growl of a wood chipper attending the forest. It was as if time slowed, leaving us to gaze.

No way was I going to the gym. I’ll just lay here on the floor near the open doors and ... um... gaze. Not. I’m sticky, hot, grouchy and guilty and my belly is swelling. “I’m off to the gym, Laree. See ya.”

I heard someone yell, “Chicken,” from the bowels of our house.

The gym was both cool and cool, like in temperature and style. Only the tough survive. There I was with the same half-dozen bodies chained to the iron like willing prisoners. It is ours to suffer. You can’t take that away from us.

I was back in two hours after dodging and honking on the highways and bi-ways. “Honey, I’m home.”

“Where’s the newsletter, Darling; it’s Wednesday?” asked Laree, minus the darling part.

I forgot, too hot. She’s mad, I’m bad. Solutions? Got one right here: The Iron World, Russia interview.

Interview with Dave Draper for Iron World, Russia, February of ’09, Sergey Tyshchenko, Part 1 of 2:

Q) You said in one of your interviews that as a boy you had no heroes. From where came your desire to be different from the crowd? What moved you in those early days, and how did your motivation change during the years?

A) You hit it on the head, Sergey. I wanted to be different as a kid; large, distinct and shapely muscles 55 years ago were as rare as air on Mars. I had my heroes, but they were not of the muscle magazine variety. I no more looked at magazines as a kid than I looked at a rock. My heroes worked in the neighborhood loading trucks or digging ditches, some broad-shouldered guys who augmented their hard work with lifting weights in their garages. Tough guys. Big arms and a big back with a small waist caught my eye. Some kids wanted a pony; I wanted muscles.

I don’t think my motives changed a bit. I got swept up in bodybuilding and contests not because I wanted to be a champion, but because I was pretty good and was persuaded by friends to compete. The domino tipped and the toppling sequence commenced -- sheer physics. Within a total of seven competitions over a few years I won Mr. New Jersey, Mr. America, Mr. World and Mr. Universe.

Today there’s a bodybuilder on every corner, in every tree, under every stone, along the riverside, outside Starbucks, around the corner, near the daisies, amid the meadows, behind the wheel, at the helm and over here and over there and by the way. I’m thinking of becoming a St. Bernard.

Q) I was born in a different time in a very different country so there is no nostalgia for me, but when I look at the photos from the Golden Era or watch videos or read articles I have a very strong feeling there was some sort of magic going on. Have you felt at the moment that you were creating something very special?

A) There was something special going on, that’s for sure, but I was a tree straining to grow amid a rugged forest. I seldom straightened up, stood back and strained to see where I was going. Where I was, was all I could handle. It was enough.

Q) Have you ever tried to answer the questions: why there, why then and why me?

A) No, though the answer is clear. It was God’s will by God’s Grace. Praise the Lord.

Q) This atmosphere of camaraderie between you, Arnold, Zane, Katz and Columbu captured on so many great photos from the era: was it something real or a publicity trick? Were your training partners more ready to grudge or to encourage? What do you like to remember about your friendship? Is there anything you’d rather forget?

A) The photos you reference I suspect are of a series taken by Artie Zeller in the original Gold’s gym in the summer of 1970. We were all training for major contests scheduled in the fall, from Ohio, to New York to Europe. Competition was looming, but we managed to sequester competitive thoughts in the shadows of our subconscious minds. We encouraged and inspired each other, as we intensely and attentively hoisted the iron.

That was a very good year, all of us winning something along the way. The training sessions were real as steel and we all praise Artie for his stealth and artistry and purpose in achieving those most memorable photos. Those were, indeed, the good times... the golden days.

Our friendships continue today, bound tightly in part by those black and whites indelibly imprinted in the bodybuilding world. They’re forever.

Q) You had what seemed like a promising acting and TV career in the ‘60s, then it suddenly stopped. Why? Don’t you think that it was affected by the fact that on the screen you looked too human while new times asked for something more aggressive, even cruel (what Arnold and Stallone were able to offer)?

Has this acting period brought some important experiences to you?

A) I think of the movie and TV experiences as one of my accidental good fortunes. I could have made more money had I gotten a steady job at GM in Detroit than MGM in Hollywood, but the experiences were priceless. Behind the scenes is where it’s at: large, exciting, elite, expectant, thrilling and smart and tough.

I didn’t have what it took and it would’ve taken what I had. I think I was meant for natural light and not spotlight. Oh, well... I am always a day late, or one too early.

Q) Have things usually associated with success ever interfered with your training?

A) I’ve tripped over the usual obstacles in life and none of it had to do with anything in particular. Here’s something your readers might understand: I drank far too much vodka in my life, and it wasn’t a pretty sight by the time I was done. I paid my dues for drinking the booze. That was 25 years ago almost to the day.

Somehow, through the thick and thin and ups and downs, the weights, the iron and the workouts have kept me from sinking to the bottom or drifting too far away.

Q) Articles about training after 40 are usually as encouraging as epitaphs. Slow metabolism, not enough testosterone, no possibilities to gain -- only to keep, and so on. You kept an astounding form well into your 60s: have you had any psychological problems with getting over this fatal 40-year-old mark and with all the consecutive ones? How radically each decade changed your approach to your training (diet- supplements- training programs)?

A) Forty was tough, as I was at the wobbly peak of too much vodka and tuna, and not enough water. I was sober by 43, and 40 had already come and gone. I may have missed a few years of my life, but I never missed a workout. I was in commendable shape at 45 and managed to train with vigor, mass and muscularity through my 50s. While I pressed on faithfully, 60 sneaked by me like a thief in the night, and it wasn’t till age 63 that I felt the clouds of... ummm, maturity gathering overhead.

I’m 66 now and am making my way through the maze of passing time with a compass and a big stick. The compass is for some sense of direction and the stick is for whacking rivals that get in my way, and for leaning on at the end of the day.

Q) Is it possible to be careful enough to get serious results in weightlifting without being injured on the way? How bad were the injuries you got and how do you deal with them?

A) I’m sure a lifter could avoid injury by training sensibly, pushing it to the limits without excess, never overtraining, always resting sufficiently and eating right. It would be like getting a hole-in-one with a putter or running a hundred-yard touchdown in high heels. It’d be tough. Injury is a great humbler and instructor; just think what you’d be missing.

Those who lift weights successfully tend to be driven. They push beyond the red-zone and pull till they pop their tops. You can’t stop them, they can only stop themselves... torn rotator, strained hamstring, tendonitis of the elbow.

Great instructors, lousy companions.

Two open surgeries, one on the right elbow and the other on my right rotator and biceps, were the only surgeries due to training overload. Minor injuries are mean and ongoing and you moan and groan and work around them... like using a soup spoon to dig your way out of the rubble of a small earthquake. You see light and hear sounds and guess, and you dig... carefully... slowly... persistently.

In fact, that’s the way my training has evolved as I’ve gotten older: look, listen, guess and dig-in with care and patience.

Bypass and quadruple laminectomy since age 65 has me less frisky than usual.

Got Spoon, Will Travel.

Stay cool, fly high, Godspeed... The Bomber

Click here to read part two.


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