Iron Age

A gathering of old-time strongmen is not for the weak of heart

Many of the 200-plus attendees have brought along old, plastic-covered copies of Muscular Development and Strength and Health magazines, some of which feature association members like Grimek, Jules Bacon (Mr. America 1943), Joe Pittman (10-time national weightlifting champion), and Ron Lacy (Mr. America 1957). Others possess yellowed newspaper clippings or worn and aging photographs. Godo pulls out a turn-of-the-century magazine article on British strongman Charles Vansittart— "the Man With the Iron Grip"— who would rip tennis balls apart with a quick flick of his wrists. "He was a hell of a guy," Godo notes.

And there are plenty of living legends in the room. Sitting not far from the dais is 93-year-old strongman Joe Rolino, a pupil in the 1920s of the Coney Island­based Warren Lincoln Travis, who once raised a carousel with 14 people on it and billed himself as the Strongest Man in the World.

"The new steroid freaks don't know anything about the old-timers," says the plain-spoken Godo, a sharp-nosed man who proudly opens his suit coat to display his famous abs and offers a wordless smile when he is complimented on their toughness. "You mention the Mighty Atom and they think it is an atomic bomb or something. They don't even know who John Grimek is. They don't know who Steve Reeves [the former Mr. America who played Hercules in the movies] is. It's an era gone by."

After speeches and award presentations, the strongmen and a few strongwomen (including powerlifting champion Ellen Stein) adjust their seats to get a good view of performances by up-and-coming strength stars. One of them, Dennis Rogers, is a nondenominational Christian minister with shaved head and wispy goatee, who runs the Muscles With a Message charity. A relative youngster at age 41, Rogers mixes his strongman act with gospel preaching. While MC Steven "the Mighty Stefan" Sadicario encourages the crowd to "think positive thoughts," Rogers breaks a six-inch-long, three-eighths-of-an-inch-wide bolt, rips in half (using only the thumb and forefinger of each hand) a copy of the Manhattan white pages, bends a 17-and-a-half-inch-long, half-inch-thick piece of steel into a U, and, for his finale, performs a complex feat involving two assistants, two beds of nails, and three hot-water bottles.

Everyone, including two-time Olympian and current WWF wrestler Mark Henry ("Compared to that, I'm a weakling"), is impressed. But, in the back of the room, Mike Greenstein, the 78-year-old son of the Mighty Atom— the celebrated performer who spent a lifetime breaking horseshoes and bending steel bars— shakes his head with a slight smile. "With all due respect, my dad would've run rings around 'em."

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