Senior Strongman

85-year-old Springfield man sets a world record in the bench press
Dick Gibson, 85, of Springfield, warms up before a weight-lifting championship in Portland March 13 while family friend Don Frosland, right, of Eugene, spots for him. Gibson broke the world bench-press record in his age and weight class.AP

PORTLAND — Dick Gibson rocked side to side on his running shoes, gazing over the shoulders of other weightlifting competitors and catching a glimpse of the bench.

Two nursing assistants helped Arthur Whinston, 85, out of his wheelchair and toward the weight bench, situated front and center in the ballroom of the Shilo Inns airport hotel in Portland.

With his arms quivering and a few hundred people shouting encouragement, Whinston lifted the empty bar, pressed and set it down to loud cheers, including Gibson's.

In just a few moments, Gibson, of Springfield, would be taking his seat on that same bench, seeking to set a record for his age and weight class in the event sanctioned by the World Association of Benchers and Deadlifters. But he offered no hint of apprehension, only joy for the accomplishment of a friend who lives in an assisted-living facility.

Gibson, also 85, works out regularly at the Oakway Fitness Center in Eugene. He knows he's a symbol of longevity and vibrancy. He's OK with that. If more older people see that an 85-year-old guy can pump iron and walk a treadmill and move around with the pain-free ease of somebody decades younger, then great.

But it's clear that physical fitness is only a side benefit for Gibson, a former truck body repairman. It's the camaraderie of fellow lifters that motivates him to make those regular trips to the gym and occasional competitions.

On March 13, though, he happened to be gunning for a record.

"When I retired, my wife said, 'You should be doing something,' " Gibson said, " 'Why don't you join a club, a spa?' So I went down and joined Oakway Fitness Center."

That was in 1989. In 1993, he met Don Frosland Sr., now 80, and his son, Don Frosland Jr., now 55 They both were competitive weightlifters and they showed Gibson what they knew. Both Froslands have retired from the sport because of injuries.

"You and your dad talked me into going to that meet in Creswell," Gibson told Frosland Jr., who served as his spotter and coach at Saturday's meet. "Your dad got first, and I got second. That was my first meet. They kept keeping after me and helping me until we started going to all these meets."

Two sisters in Longview, Wash., couldn't make the trip. Nor could Gibson's wife, Olivia, who is in poor health. But two of his sons, Rick of Olympia and Gary of Eugene, were seated in the audience, watching as their dad walked purposefully toward the bench.

The meet organizer, Gus Rethwisch, a onetime competitive lifter who played the role of "Buzzsaw" in the 1987 movie "The Running Man," with Arnold Schwarzenegger, announced into a microphone that Gibson was up.

"He will be going for a world record," Rethwisch said.

The record was 154.3 pounds. Gibson would try 155.3 pounds.

With Frosland leading the way to the bench, Gibson marched behind, expressionless.

Frosland said earlier that he was confident Gibson could press the record weight. He'd lifted 160 pounds earlier in the week.

But Gibson had tended to ignore the weight judge's two commands: "Press," telling the lifter it was OK to proceed with the lift, and "rack it," when it was clear the press had been accomplished.

Gibson sometimes would begin the press before the command or rack the bar once the lift was completed — which would earn him a disqualification.

It was important for Gibson to concentrate on those commands, Frosland said earlier.

With Frosland standing over him, Gibson steadily lowered the bar.

"Press!" the judge said.

Slowly, surely, it went up.

"Rack it!"

He did and the ballroom erupted.

"A world record, ladies and gentlemen," Rethwisch said.

Moments later, standing in a warmup area behind the event room, Gibson was typically understated.

"Well how about that?!"



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