A CROWNING MOMENT REMEMBERED - BEFORE AND AFTER

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Non-Fiction  |  House: DOWN-HOME

Recently seeing an old drowning I did in 1965, I recalled an important period in my life: completing basic training, meeting my wife, my crowning victory as a weightlifter and the effect the sport had on my life.

A CROWNING MOMENT REMEMBERED – BEFORE AND AFTER

Short Story and Drawing by Virgil Dube’ - Copyright 2020

FORWARD

Several years ago when scanning an Olympic weightlifter blog website, goheavy.com, I read a retired lifters’ question, ‘Whatever happened to Joe Dube’s brother Virgil? He was doing great lifting in tournaments and then disappeared’.

I responded immediately with a brief but clarifying statement. 

While thumbing through my artist files recently during a project I had undertaken, I happened upon a drawing I completed shortly after I won a significant tournament back in 1965. It was a self-praising certificate of achievement reflecting a moment of pride and display of ego by me, having reached an elite plateau with promise ahead.

The following is a more complete answer to the lifter’s question on goheavy.com. It is a leisure flashback while I studied the drawing, to reminisce a period shortly before and after my biggest win as a competitive weightlifter. Also, I recalled the intense training period I undertook prior to the tournament, my challenge to defeat a former state champion from Tampa, my subsequent big win on the weightlifting platform, and disappointment losing a year later.

BUT FIRST ALMOST A YEAR EARLIER…

CATCHING A TRAIN – RETURNING HOME AFTER ARMY BASIC TRAINING

“What can I do for you young soldier?” the teller at the Columbus, South Carolina train station ticket counter, asked, as I approached him.

“Sir, I’d like a ticket to Jacksonville, Florida,” I responded.

The clerk handed me my ticket, quoted a reduced price for a soldier, and I paid him. I picked my duffle bag up containing military fatigues, field hat, boots, and other essential gear, a few civilian clothes, toiletries, and such. I slung the strap over my shoulder and stepped away from the counter. The sun dimming and day settling at dusk, I checked my watch to verify the time, 6:30. I realized I had at least three and a half hours until 10:00 p.m. when my train would pull onto the bank of tracks alongside the long platform lined with benches for awaiting passengers. I didn’t care the length of waiting time. I was free for a while, would savor every minute until I had to return in a couple weeks to Fort Jackson for A.I.T. - Advanced Infantry Training.

I walked to the gate the teller had instructed me to take a bench, where the train would stop and unload, and then me load for my trip. I sat on the hard bench, my mind blank several minutes, until a woman and young girl took a seat on a nearby bench. We introduced ourselves, chatted a period and then quieted, the girl falling asleep. 

I was tired too; still, I was able to relax. Growing hungry, I ate a candy bar and occasionally strolled to a public water cooler for a drink. The day in early May 1964 had been a busy one for me, and for a multitude of fellow soldiers of many base training companies. Not sleepy, nobody distracting me, I recalled all that had transpired from sunrise that morning, when each of us soldiers dressed in full dress uniform, first tidied our bunks that wouldn’t sag when a quarter was tossed on the blanket center, then ate morning chow, shit-on-the shingles my favorite, and fell-out into platoon formation to march as full company to the parade field to participate in the big ceremony.

Hundreds of Army trainees in companies just completing Basic Training had gathered in orderly fashion on the Fort Jackson Parade Ground. My Company B, Battalion C, was somewhere in the mix, my fourth platoon and me the Squad Leader of squad four. The festivity with flags and Army Band, top brass gathered on a distant podium to congratulate hundreds of soldiers and officially pronounce them graduates, marked a great day for all soldiers that stood with M-14 rifles at either Parade Rest, Attention, or Port Arms when ordered. Weeks earlier I had fired expert with the M-14 rifle, a weapon I loved to fire. I shot a score of 94, a score of 68 qualifying for expert. Had not my helmet rim hit the elevate clicker from recoil when my spotter finally caught the problem after several misses and seeing where my bullets were striking, who knows what my score might have been over the three hundred meter pop-up range, fifty meters between pop-up silhouette targets. The post record was 112 out of a possible 120. I thought beforehand I could challenge the record. I didn’t, however considered 94 a great score and am proud to have accepted the expert pin for the M-14 rifle, which I still keep in my collectables.

Prior to the parade ground ceremony, we were advised not to stand with knees locked, a matter of obstructing blood flow to the lower limbs. But some soldiers disregarded the advice. Out of the corner of my eyes I would on occasion see a soldier near or far keel over, fainting, and then be administered smelling salts by medics. 

The formality continued nevertheless, was quite ceremonial. The post commander stood on a decorated podium before a podium and microphone, spoke of our responsibly as soldiers and guardians of our country, and the pride he had for us, etcetera. Though an honor to graduate Army Basic Training and be an exemplary soldier to my squad, to the platoon I sometimes lead in marches, and to my company I marched one day to noon chow, I could hardly wait for the day to be over.

Finally dismissed by top brass from the ceremony, First Sergeant Rogero marched us back to company quarters, were our captain dismissed us to prepare for leave. After lunch chow I turned into supply my rifle I had grown fond of, bayonet I had learned to use attached to my rifle, helmet and liner, and other miscellaneous equipment: ammo pouches and such. Mid-afternoon, I was to be handed a small envelope of travel money by the company commander for travel expenses – but only after the captain, a former football star for the Oklahoma Sooners, ordered me the company champ, to do 50 pushups. I did them fast and he enjoyed every repetition. He thanked me, complimented me for my services and handed me the envelope. I saluted, said goodbye to him, also to First Sergeant Rogero and my Platoon Sergeant Allen standing nearby. Late afternoon I departed the fort in full dress uniform, walking to the train station, free for two weeks before having to return for A.I.T.

My brother Joe met me at the Jacksonville Train Terminal early Sunday morning. Arriving minutes later at our Southside home, I was surprised to see transmission parts scattered about my bedroom. The following morning I drifted outside, to see a car engine hanging by chain at the entrance door to our garage, our weightlifting platform inside scattered by car parts, as had been my room. Our longtime neighborhood friend and school buddy Cecil, who worked as Assistant Manager at the A&P Grocery store in the Southgate Plaza strip mall a block from our home, was staying at our home during my absence. I didn’t see Cecil during my two-week leave to ask him to remove the car items I had to rearrange for better access around my room. However, Douglas said he would speak to Cecil after I returned to Fort Jackson.

Some months earlier before I enlisted, Cecil had given us many T-bone steaks that were a bit darker than was desired to sell in the grocery store. Perfectly eatable, he cooked Joe and I one steak after another one evening in an iron skillet, the bones stacking fast on our dining room table. Both of us ate like emaciated Neanderthals after a hard winter, consuming at least five steaks apiece, which amounted to a protein power-packed super-duper-supper ... thanks to kind Cecil empathetic to two old buddies living alone. 

DRIVING MY CAR AND RETURNING HOME AFTER ARMY A.I.T. TRAINING

It was early Saturday morning, July 25, 1964. I had been released from A.I.T. training at Fort Jackson. There was no ceremony this time, when leaving my barracks never to return to the warehouse I had occupied daily performing humdrum duty the past four weeks. I had little baggage to tote like when I left for home after basic training in early May. I walked in dress uniform about a half mile from the base gate to my 1959 Oldsmobile 98 parked in a courtesy parking lot for soldiers.

Driving with my car radio on and savoring my liberty, dress hat off, tie loosened, collar open, the breeze whipping my face through the open driver window, I drove U.S. 321 though peaceful Fairfax, South Carolina, just north of the Georgia line. Not a soul in sight, no stores open for a snack or drink for refresher, I proceeded onward, southward. Ten miles outside town I hit a thunderstorm, the wind gusting unexpectedly and rain pelting my windshield so hard it was difficult for me to see the road. Driving 55 mph prior to the storm I touched my brake pedal to slow down – a mistake! The car with balding tires fishtailed, began to spin off the pavement and onto the road shoulder. Helpless with forward momentum, I grabbed hold of the steering wheel with both hands, the outside scenery spinning around like I was on a merry-go-round. For the briefest moments I wondered where this would all end, me possibly crushed in a heap of metal, dead, or possibly maimed the remainder of my life. The car skidded in swirling motion across wet grass and weed, bounced, turned one swift last time and came to an abrupt halt across a water filled ditch, resting level with front end facing perpendicular the road about fifty feet away. My rear bumper had settled on angled gravel just below the railroad track running alongside highway 321. I took a deep breath, realizing I was alive, actually unhurt, and my car not flipping one time, though in instances I’m sure it could have flipped. I opened the door to peer down into the ditch, the water actually quite pretty but deep, its top level just under my door boot, minnows swimming about between jutting stalks of grass. I said hello to them, the creatures probably confused the monster above them, the weirdo speaking. I chuckled, got out and stepped into water up to my knees. I waded with my brogans sloshing onto solid ground, when a car pulled up and stopped at the roadside. A man leaned his head out the window, and asked, “You okay, soldier?” I replied I was fine. He said, “I saw you skid off the road from a ways back; you are certainly a lucky young man.” I told him I had just finished basic training at Fort Jackson, was headed to Jacksonville, and he replied, “I have no means to get that big car out, but I’ll be glad to give you a lift back to Fairfax, where you might get someone to pull you from the ditch.” I got in his car and he carried me to Fairfax. I thanked him as he let me off and wished me good luck. I walked a block or so, nobody visibly about. I spotted an open garage at a home with a wrecker parked alongside. I heard noise, approached a man inside the garage doing a chore. I introduced myself and told him my bleak situation. He said he would be glad to help me get back on the road. He drove me in his wrecker to my car, winched a cable to my front end and easily pulled my heavy car safely onto the highway. I offered him pay, and he said ten dollars was fine, which I paid with no hesitation, shook his hand and thanked him happily, and then drove away. From that accident experience, and rain likely the remainder of my trip home, I traveled no faster than 35 mph, paid no attention to impatient drivers on occasion honking their horns.

MEETING SHARON SHORTLY THEREAFTER

I met my future wife Sharon Elaine Dukes age 19 the Sunday evening of August 2, 1964, at her home before attending a weightlifting tournament held at the Band Shell at Jacksonville Beach. It was a blind date set up by Terry White a friend of mine, and Gloria, the sister of the girl I was to date. Neither Sharon nor I expected much more than a casual date beforehand. However, each of us saw merit in the other, our futures instinctively apparent the first moments we were together in her living room. 

I lifted quite well in the band shell tournament that Sunday evening despite minimal prior training due to Army training. From time to time I would take a peep at Sharon in the audience, my fondness of her growing steadily.

From the get-go, Sharon and I became a couple - phone calls daily, dating frequently, going steady avowed at the Midway Drive-in theatre August 14. After three months, I proposed to her November 14. One year from our go-steady night, she and I were married August 14, 1965 at the Southside Estates Baptist Church. My brother Joe was my Best Man. Gloria, Sharon’s sister, was her Maid of Honor. The Marriage Certificate had been forgotten, was at Sharon’s home. My brother Clifford volunteered to drive the three or so miles to get it, which delayed the ceremony thirty minutes. In the interim, Joe, my grooms, and I, were together in a small room talking, me being teased on occasion, when suddenly Reverend Dan Davis to marry us, leaned forward and jokingly asked, “Are you sure you want to go through with this?” I laughed, said “Definitely, Pastor.” 

The certificate arrived and Pastor Davis married us, a joyful ceremony it was. Many were in attendance, the church practically full. People from Sharon’s acquaintance I hardly knew I befriend in years to come.

During our courtship I allowed adequate time to train at fellow weightlifting partner James Osborne’s garage gym for the upcoming Florida State Weightlifting Championship, to be held in Sarasota April 14, 1965. James was Florida State Light-heavy weight champ. Intuitively, I devised a systematic three-month-three phase training program of select exercises for a power, technique, and final preparatory period, all meticulously adhered to. I worked to heavy intensity phase 1, to medium/heavy intensity phase 2, light to medium intensity phase 3, all to stretch over 12 weeks. I performed individual exercises each workout progressively, light to heavier intensity. During the power phase I managed and recorded in my notebook a 460-pound back squat, also 10 reps with 380 pounds. I stiff-leg deadlifted with my feet on blocks and bar over my instep with 420 lbs. x4 reps. One workout Joe and I loaded 1,130 pounds on the squat bar for shoulder supports to enhance body power holding the barbell on my shoulders before jerking it overhead. During technical phase, I push-pressed 270 pounds 3 reps., did rack lockouts with 290 pounds, jerked 360 pounds a single off racks and power cleaned 295 pounds a single rep. By early April I was clean and jerking 315 pounds easily every technical workout and split-style snatching 235 pounds. The preparatory phase lasted two weeks, modest weights used but I concentrated on faultless form and split fast lifts, a hallmark of the sport. The tournament drawing close I was ready and confident.

April 9, 1965, Sharon accompanied my brother Joe and me by car to Sarasota, Florida for my participation the next day in the middle-heavyweight class, 198-pound bodyweight limit. The night before in our motel, she in a room adjacent mine, Sharon told me the next morning that she heard loud sounds penetrating the walls. That was strange, because normally I sleep soundly. I believed, and explained to her, that my mind and body was probably preparing me for the competition and my nervous system caused me to twitch for which I was wholly unaware. Day of competition I weighed in light, officially at 192 pounds, did my warm-ups conservatively, timely, and was ready for the contest to begin. I Olympic pressed 270 pounds, a personal record. I snatched 240 pounds, another personal record. I cleaned 330 pounds on my second attempt and missed the jerk, a puzzler for me since in training I had jerked 360 pounds off racks. Three minutes later I cleaned the 330-pound barbell for my third and final attempt and jerked it easily. The lift broke my brother Joe’s former Florida State record when in the past he too was a middle-heavyweight. The total (aggregate) of 840 pounds was also a Florida State record. 

Harry Smith, bodybuilder and gym owner from Tampa, presented me my trophy, Sharon standing at my side. Harry had been a Junior Mr. America winner, and was the oldest contestant to win Mr. Florida title at age 38. He was a two-time runner-up in the Mr. America physique contest. As a pro wrestler, Harry traveled the world, was commonly called Golden Hercules, Young Milo, and Georgia Boy, Georgia his home state. 

Four months lapsed after the tournament. Living in an Arlington apartment three months, then buying a home on Congaree Drive West in Arlington, a Jacksonville suburb, Sharon and l settled down after our wedding. She worked as a claims examiner at Prudential Insurance Company home office on the Southbank. I worked as Independent Life graphic artist in the downtown home office on West Duval Street. Our first year Sharon and I lived much as most newlyweds, undertaking domestic things together in and around our home, little traveling but enjoying and adjusting to each other. 

Soon, I had in mind to defend my championship title in the 1966 Florida State Weightlifting Championships to be held in April at Jacksonville Beaches Y.M.C.A. gym. A lifter from the Miami area was upcoming and a threat for me when he moved up from the light-heavyweight class to mine. Since the press was his weakest lift, I focused training the Olympic press to build a big jump on him right off, doing many specialized exercises for that showdown, but nothing like the program I had completed the year before. I push-pressed 280 x 2 reps, close-grip bench pressed 325 pounds, parallel bar dipped 195 pounds, the barbell plates chained around my waist(bodyweight added amounted to 390 pounds). But I had a setback. Squat cleaning 275 pounds 4 reps from the floor; I strained my lower back the last rep. The setback from the injury would later prove my demise. During the competition, I power cleaned and pressed 290 pounds, a Florida State record. However, the lift and my despondency seeing my opponent snatch much more in the warm-up room than I had planned to lift, my pulling power on the platform failed me, a swift acknowledgement of my depleted training preparation. I managed only a 225-pound snatch and 300-pound clean and jerk, falling to second place, a real bummer for me.

During my training cycle prior to the tournament, I had an experience that would change everything. One day as I loaded my gear into our car in Arlington to drive to my friend and training partner James’ house, to train, I kissed Sharon goodbye on our carport. I backed down the drive onto the road. Before pulling away, I turned and glanced at her standing isolated, head down and appearing to me crying. I felt awful leaving her but James was waiting so I commenced to drive onwards. That image has stayed with me to this day.

Due to my decisive loss in the 1966 Florida State weightlifting championships, and my back injury to always leave me susceptible to such injury, I knew straightway that Olympic weightlifting had boundaries for me. Regardless of all the positive thinking I could muster, reality kicked in that my potential for various reasons was limited, and that my family came first. I hung up by competition belt, but continued to workout on my carport because the sport was fundamentally wholesome for my body and mind. To this day I train sensibly two to three times weekly in my complete garage gym, Sharon recently joining me to better her health, especially to increase her bone density to ward off osteoporosis. Sometimes I train in similar fashion to the old days, but mostly instinctively to do a variety of weight-training exercises. I do full range sets and reps, light to keep toned, heavier to maintain tendon, ligament, and bone density as I age, and to benefit my mind. I also invert at the workout conclusion to stretch my spine and increase circulation. Sharon and I bicycle most mornings about twenty minute through our neighborhood. 

I am proud the fact I had won the Florida State Teenage Championships. During my short career as an amateur athlete, I won the East Coast Open in Savannah, the Junior Florida State Championships, the Florida State Championships, and among them set seven Florida state records.

Looking back, my wife and I on a daily basis raised together our two well-adjusted children. We watched over and guided them in our own respective manner, seeing them grow, both leisurely compete in sports - Kimberly an excellent swimmer - Jeff a fantastic baseball player. After they had grown into adulthood as responsible citizens, I realize personally I had made the right decision at the right time to deviate from Olympic weightlifting competition. 

Sometimes, and casually, I recall vividly entering a place of competition. I hear the master of ceremony speaking, introducing the weightlifter about to lift a weighted barbell on the platform, giving specific stats about him, the plates clanging in the warm-up room background, weights loaded and unloaded, the grunt of the lifter pulling the heavy barbell, the timing buzzer, the barbell crashing to the platform as the lifter finishes his attempt. My pulse will raise and that old competitive rush for the briefest instance will consume me.

As per my certificate of accomplishment, I view my momentary prideful glory as a good thing from my past, even my loss, pulling into view my wife’s image standing on our carport that incited in me to face a reality and chose a better direction to be a responsible husband, father, and citizen. For my athletic involvement as an almost elite status Olympic weightlifter, the sport has been a great motivator for me to discipline myself in the many endeavors I participate that has radiated from me to our family, both directly and in subtle ways I can be so thankful.

Sometimes I ask myself, ‘would I do it all over again?’ There are pros and cons – so honestly, I can’t answer that question.

THE END


Submitted: November 22, 2020

© Copyright 2020 Virgil Dube. All rights reserved.

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