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you’ll see, this story began more than 50 years ago. It’s especially
meaningful to guys like me who started lifting in the 1950s; but it will resonate with anyone who has drawn inspiration from the bodybuilding stars of
their early years of training. It’s about the lasting impact a photo of 1952 Mr.
America Jim Park had on the author. Park was likely the first man to win the top
title using what has come to be known as the Atkins diet; in addition to 2000
protein pills a day, he ate mostly meat with a few vegetables from time to time.
Years later, in an interview published in the May 1999 issue of The Iron Master,
he admitted that the high-protein, low-carb diet left him feeling so low that
“I would sneak out once in a while and get a milk shake to keep my energy
up.” Asked in the same interview if supplements played a big part in his
victories, Park answered, “No, not really. I feel that training was more
important.” You’ll appreciate the irony, after reading the author's heartfelt recollection. Enjoy.]
By Lou Lisko
(Plus, Readers Remember)
Last November when I was about to turn 57, I looked at my reflection in the mirror and felt pretty good about my build. As a former “at home” bodybuilder from the 1960s through the mid 1980s, I had the finest trainers you could want.
Each of you who were active during the “Golden Age of Bodybuilding” knows what I mean. We had Bob Hoffman, himself, coaching each of us in our individual needs through his Strength & Health magazine and hard cover publications (Big Arms”, etc.). My own training methods came mostly from the writings of John C. Grimek, Ray Routledge, Joe Abbenda, Reg Park, Boyer Coe and Bill Pearl.
What a glorious time it was for a young boy just beginning to learn about bodybuilding! We had the opportunity to adopt solid, sensible, and lifelong training habits.
Yet here I was at 57, having so many positive things going for me, yet feeling something was missing.
Have you ever experiences a sound, smell, or image that transported you to a special time or place? I believe that the older we get, our entire life experience provides us with things that trigger nostalgic memories. In my case, the image (which I have dubbed THAT PHOTO) came from a canister of Hoffman’s Hi-Proteen. It was a tiny, twisting torso pose of Jim Park. THAT PHOTO had a description that read, “Mr. America 1952, Mr. Universe 1954” (dates nearly eight years before I lifted my first barbell!) Alas, THAT PHOTO was a mere memory for me, since it has been decades since I last used Hoffman’s Hi-Proteen.
Each day THAT PHOTO greeted me. I took my Hi-Proteen 2-3 times every day, and I always marveled at Jim Park’s pose. I now realize just how special that photo was – NO trick photography, NO steroids, and NO drugs. This photo of “unquestionably one of the greatest physiques of all times” (The Iron Master, May 1999) showed a man who had the greatest attitude and most intense work ethic.
Well, like many others, I looked forward to my monthly S & H (and later Muscular Development). The new contributing authors kept coming, while others disappeared. But, for me, THAT PHOTO was a constant in my life – a quiet inspiration for a boy in his teens, then twenties, even thirties.
THAT PHOTO which had occasionally entered my mind started to take “front and center” continually as I approached 57 years of age. I finally realized that I just had to contact Jim Park and tell him how much he had influenced me through his photo. But how? My research had provided a half dozen, or so, magazine cover photos of Mr. Park during the 1950s, but nothing more.
That’s where Clarence Bass stepped in. After I emailed him about my search, he put me in contact with a newspaper journalist in West Virginia, Therese Smith Cox, who had written a recent health related article about Jim Park.
WOW! My pulse raced and my face flushed as I took my first step towards my goal.
I wrote and telephoned Ms. Cox. She replied about one week later and told me that Jim Park had suffered a stroke several months earlier. She went on to describe his phenomenal recovery, and his being an “aggressive athlete.” (Truly, Jim Park serves as an inspiration to each of us.) Well, Ms. Cox obtained Mr. and Mrs. Park’s permission for me to contact them. (Not surprising, Jim’s lovely wife of 54 years, Ethel, played a large role in his recovery – just as she had been his partner during the days prior to his prestigious titles.)
Another step closer to my goal!!!
I crafted a personal letter to Jim Park in which I thanked him for his inspiration. About three weeks later I followed up with a telephone call. Ethel Park spoke with me at length; Jim was still recovering. In fact, Ethel and I spoke twice more over the next month or so. She shared the most delightful memories about Jim’s days with Bob Hoffman, as a champion bodybuilder and a designer of weight training equipment, and their life together.
How much better could it get for me!!
Well, last month I moved another step closer to my goal. (Better still, I was about to fulfill a dream.) In the mail came three incredible autographed photos of Jim Park.
And YES! One of them was THAT PHOTO.
THAT PHOTO, taken by Irvin Johnson, later known as Rheo H. Blair,
who provided the protein pills taken by Jim Park.
(Photo provided to the author by Park himself)
I telephoned the Parks immediately. Ethel answered, recognized my voice and, to my delight, said, “Hold on, Jim’s right here.” Forty years after his image captured my imagination and held it for all these years, I got to speak to Mr. Universe of 1954!
My wife, Rita, who was listening in the next room, told me I sounded like a child on the phone. It’s true. For a magic moment, I was a “57-year-old little boy” speaking admiringly to his idol.
I feel truly blessed to have had that image, THAT PHOTO to inspire me for all these years.
* Hi-Proteen is the spelling used on the canister.
Readers Remember Jim Park
Dear Mr. Lisko:
I did an Internet search on Jim Park and ran across your article [see above] describing the inspiration Mr. Park’s image had on you and the joy you experienced after finally contacting him. I certainly understand your feelings because I had the privilege of growing up in Ripley, West Virginia, and was close friends with Jim and Ethel’s son, Gary.
Through Gary, I started weight training in the Parks’ basement. Mr. Park was always willing to help us with training and had some very straight forward philosophies about weight training. Two I remember are, “If my training partner did 10 reps, I did 11.” And “Once a week I started at the heavy end of the dumbbell rack and did curls until I could only lift the 2 ½ lb dumbbells once.” He also revealed a prank he pulled on body builder rivals at the York gym: He wet a cloth tape measure, heating one end to shrink it and suspending a weight from the other wet end to stretch it. He would then measure his biceps with the shrunken end and hand the stretched end to one of his rivals, who would be puzzled at the results and start doing more curls.
Jim Park as he appeared in the
ground-breaking book Weight Training in Athletics by Jim Murray and
Peter V. Karpovich, MD, published by Prentice-Hall in 1956 (Photo by Bob
Hartshorn). The caption
noted "the full low position with erect trunk and straight back."
Just about perfect, we'd say.
Mr. Park has always been a pillar of the community. Besides helping us lift, he was a Scout Master and started a power lifting team at the local health club. When I was in college our football team was in bad need of weight training equipment. I suggested Mr. Park, and he ended up selling the school two squat racks and two incline benches. When he delivered the equipment, he gave me a regular bench-press bench and a curl bar. I still have them.
And yes, I have a copy of “THAT PHOTO” that I've had since the 5th grade. Anyway, you provided a very fitting tribute to a man that eclipsed his hero status as a top athlete by being an even greater citizen. It is evident you sensed this in your meeting with the Park family. Thank you for a job well done.
Another Reader Remembers
[Editor: Jim Park died in 2007; he was born December 8, 1927, so he was 79 when he passed. Thanks to the memories of Lou Lisko, Harry Harpold, Ted Spiewak and many others he helped and inspired in so many ways over the course of his life, he will live on in hearts and minds.]
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