From the Gripper to the Dungeon

Dave Draper

Time appears to be a cool character: unchanging, forever on the go, showing no favoritism. Yet time, upon which I never impose gender, is healing. Time forgives. My life inches along, and, may I presume, yours does as well. Two steps forward and one step back. The dance of men, women and children doing the best they can.

I can think few acts more profitable to growing up and becoming more complete than the honest, hard work of lifting weights and eating right.

I have two objectives as I set out to write this book: to underscore the things you need to know and to encourage you to do them. Get rid of the notion that you need to know more and more.

The learning is in the doing.

Muscle and power building are not and need never become brain surgery or astrophysics. Information beyond the ABCs and simple math only leads to confusion, doubt, controversy and frustration. These conditions distract from the wonderful work at hand and confound the basic instincts and investigative courage to discover. Thus limited, one imitates instead of seeks, copies rather than improvises, becomes dull in place of shining. One stops growing in leaf and grows only in knurly root.

There comes a time, sooner or later, when you must listen to yourself and not those around you. You must become the student and teacher at once. Look directly to yourself and your training as the masters. If you enjoy the magazines and science and research, sip on them as one does afternoon tea. Enjoy the aroma, swirl the flavorful liquid about the palate, note the heady summaries but don’t expect sustenance. This comes from you, the gym and hard work over and over again. Insight and revelation fall like sweet rain from above on the sunniest days.

I think I can safely say that I am writing to a diverse audience. And though I may not be penning a bestseller, my ramblings might wind up in the hands of beginners of all ages, resolute former enthusiasts, struggling mid-level bodybuilders and even a nip of award-collecting pros curious about what I have to say. With that in mind, and firmly believing the basics cannot be overstated nor simplicity replaced, I’ll begin.

I walked into the picture about the middle of the Twentieth Century when I wrapped a skinny, child’s hand around a Hercules hand gripper. It lay there with its bright red handles and gleaming chrome coils amidst a heap of crushed display cartons, well-sampled wiry chest expanders and “how to” pamphlets exhibiting sketches of a handsome and rugged he-man with muscles bursting through his T-shirt. WOW. Wide-eyed and transfixed. WOW.

I was seven and in the sports department of Macy’s in New York City Christmas shopping with my mother. Mom got off easy. The hand gripper was harmless enough, fit in my back pocket just right and was only a couple of bucks compared to twenty for the rather cumbersome basketball I’d been fondling earlier. Thanks, Ma, for that lovingly cruel steel device and the cable chest expanders to follow, that pinched my nose and tore hair from my head in clumps.

Queeze.Queeze … Queeze.Queeze. That repetitious grating sound–music to my ears–became like dripping water to the senses of my family, not unlike an ancient Far Eastern torture. We all endured: I, the burn in the forearms and the anxious need to grow, and they, their loving patience and frazzled nerves.

By the time I was ten I had acquired the three-spring chest expander, the five-spring super expander and a wall-mounted bungee-pulley contraption that hung conspicuously on the kitchen wall. Dear Mom and Dad and older brothers barely noticed. Privately and uninterrupted, I pressed on when they were elsewhere watching the black and white as TV had just arrived on the American scene. Kitchen chairs back-to-back served as a dipping apparatus and fingertips over the doorway entry-ledge provided a tough chinning structure for a future big back. My home gym non-compare, the only one I imagined.

Vividly I remember one day staring down at a small, immovable pile of metal neatly fixed to a sixteen-inch steel bar. On the barren concrete sidewalk in front of my house in Secaucus, N.J., lay my first set of weights, somewhat rusty and full of gravity. My very own purchase from a neighbor up the street: for five dollars he was released and I was hooked. My brothers each had their own thing, my mom smiled and Dad did a shoulder shrug as he walked off. No one said “no” or “hmph.” I was encouraged. Self-inspiration was anonymously planted, took root and grew, freely and unencumbered.

I was just a kid and virtually nobody was pushing iron. Weightlifting and muscle building didn’t have wide public appeal or approval and ninety-nine out of a hundred athletic coaches gave it the thumbs down. There wasn’t a whole bunch of encouragement or inspiration from a society that considered you either stupid or egotistical, and probably a sissy. The two guys who inspired me to lift in those days were Anthony Petrowski and Tony Napierski, local dockworkers with powerful arms from hard work, meat and potatoes and some knarly badboy weightlifting. Though I never saw his movies, a poster promoting Steve Reeves in “Hercules” deeply branded me, setting me aside for a labor of love to last, evidently, a lifetime.

What I did with this pig iron, the tens and fives and three pounders, collars and bar, is vague and unfocused. There were no courses or instructions or peer supervision. No mags in my library. I invented and improvised and wrestled and played–hard. I arranged and rearranged the makeshift set of weights and within a month I was fully hooked, cookin,’ bombing and pumping.

This was an excerpt from Dave Draper’s A Glimpse in the Rear View