A Trip to Houston: Part 1


I’m not going to lie, the prospect of a return trip to Texas did not thrill me. I once spent the longest eight months of my life living in Dallas, and I left there with no intention of returning to that state.  Ever.

You know how, every once in awhile, some loudmouth in the Texas legislature will threaten secession if the federal government tries to deny their right to arm kindergartners or make the teaching of evolution a capital offense? Every time I read something like that, all I can think is “Don’t let the door hit you on the way out.”

But, this year’s International Weightlifting Federation World Championships were being held in Houston, and I love the sport of Olympic lifting and the Worlds had not been held on American soil since 1978 and Lord knows when they’d be back here again and Schleizer would be there to protect me and…so…a few days before this past Thanksgiving, I headed to Texas.

Scheizer, by the way, is my friend who was an all-American shot putter at the University of Illinois and is now a school district administrator and so is used to beating people’s asses.

The trip began on Sunday, November 22nd,  with a remarkably pleasant flight from Chicago. I had a window seat, and not long after I’d occupied it a friendly, earth-motherish sort of woman plopped down in the aisle seat of my row holding a baby boy maybe ten months old. She apologized in advance for any trouble he might cause, but he and I got along fine. He had big blue eyes and one of those enormous baby heads and all you had to do was wave at him once in awhile and let him squeeze your finger and he was happy as hell. We were best buds in about half a minute.

His seven-year-old sister set up shop in the middle seat, and we hit it off too.  She was wearing one of those funny winter hats that little girls love so much—furry, with bunny ears. I complimented her on it and that broke the ice. Before long she was telling me about her favorite dinosaur and how a cobra could defeat a komodo dragon in a one-on-one battle and what strategy she would use to try to make a good showing in her family’s annual pie-eating contest.

So it was a fun flight, and when was the last time you heard anybody utter those words?


My incredibly patient, supportive wife had booked me a room at the Hilton, which was connected to the convention hall where the competition was being held. Upon landing, I shuttled over there from the airport, dumped my bag in my room and headed to the Eleiko Barbell display just outside the competition arena.


Fifteen years ago, Schleizer coached the throws at New Trier High School just north of Chicago, and one of his athletes was a young lady named Anna Swisher. At eighteen, Anna was probably mature enough to be a senator, but she enrolled at Williams College instead and after graduating went to work on a PhD in exercise science. She recently helped Eleiko develop a coaching education course, and was scheduled to arrive in town Monday to help out at their booth. She had called ahead, though, and asked the Eleiko folks to hook me up with a ticket to Sunday’s competition sessions, which they very cordially did.

I had about an hour to kill before those  competition sessions began, and I knew exactly where I wanted to kill it: the training hall, also known as, “Nirvana for weightlifting dorks.”

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At every big-time lifting competition, the host provides a training area where the lifters get in their final workouts prior to competing. Quite simply, these are large rooms full of dozens of lifting platforms occupied by the best lifters in the world. I’d seen videos of various training halls over the years, but…it’s kinda like with a Sasquatch or a supermodel. What you really want is to see one in person.

So I was highly jacked about the prospect of spending some time in the Houston training area, which was located down a hallway from the competition arena in a room big enough to house giant exhibitions like auto shows or home artillery displays.

I wasn’t sure whether or not my Eleiko pass would get me into the training hall, but I figured the way to find out, this being Texas, was to just  take a shot at it.

When I reached the entrance to the training hall, I put my head down and flashed  my pass (actually a wrist band) at the security guard. I was a couple of steps past him when he called me back and informed me that I did not have the right credentials to enter the hall.

This was, to put it delicately, very disappointing. The training area was blocked off by a set of bleachers and a wall of curtains so I couldn’t see  any of the lifters, but I could hear the slam of lifting shoes on wood and the “bu-bu-bump-bump” of plates hitting platforms. So near, and yet…

Dejected, I headed back towards the competition arena and puttered around for a few minutes looking over the display booths full of lifting equipment and t-shirts. Out of nowhere, a nice-looking young lady came up from behind and attached a tendo unit to my right trapezius muscle. “Where do you hurt?” she asked in a throaty voice tinged with just a hint of sexiness. I started to tell her about my training hall rejection, but right away she flipped on the tendo unit and launched into her sales pitch. As she spoke, she gradually turned up the intensity of the electric shock which, in hindsight, makes me wonder if the implied message was that she was going to keep cranking that thing up until either I handed over my credit card or my trapezius exploded.  I told her I couldn’t possibly spend $250 on a portable tendo unit without first asking my wife, and that seemed to ruin the moment for her. She cut the juice, handed me a business card and went in search of likelier prey.

It was time anyway for me to enter the competition hall to see the women’s 53k lifters battle it out. The competition sessions were held in what appeared to be a mid-size concert venue with about 3,000 seats. My Eleiko pass required me to sit in the upper tier of seats, the lower tier being reserved for coaches, athletes, and VIPs. Here was my view from up there:

comp hall

The venue was intimate enough that I was able to shoot some pretty good vids  to take home and show my athletes. Here are a few lifts from the snatch portion of the competition:

If you’ve ever been to a weightlifting meet, you know that they always project a chart on the wall that gives you the names of the lifters, the weight of their opening attempts, and the weights of their various makes and misses throughout the competition. They had that here, projected onto the wall on either side of the stage but, unfortunately, I was too far away to be able to read it. And not being able to read the chart takes a lot of the drama out of the competition. It would be like watching a baseball game without knowing the number of balls and strikes on a batter or the number of outs in an inning.

Luckily, when I went to the bathroom during the break before the clean and jerk, I got turned around and re-entered the competition hall through a different door. Suddenly and fortuitously, I found myself to one side of the competition stage with a great view of the lifters and the chart. Not only that, but very few of the close-up reserved seats were occupied, so…I occupied one in the third row.

This was my new view:



Here are some vids I took of the clean and jerk competition from that vantage point:

Next up was the men’s 62k class. I stuck with my off-to-the-side seat, and saw a great competition. The highlight was a world record in the clean and jerk by Chen Lijun of China! Here is a vid of that lift:

 That segment of the competition ended around 7:45, and I had seen somewhere that the training hall was open until 8:00, so I decided to take another whack at it. Many years ago, when I was a brand new teacher, I took a look at my actual teaching certificate one day and noticed that  it did not list English as one of the subjects I was authorized to teach. This was a problem, as I was several months into my first job…as an English teacher. Anxious to get this little mix-up straightened out before the folks at the district office took notice, I rang up someone at the state board of education and was told that I did not, in fact, have the coursework required to qualify for a license to teach English. After a sleepless night spent wondering how I was going to inform my department chair of this…uh…complication, I devised a plan. Before enrolling in summer classes the previous June, I had been assured by someone at the state that those classes would secure me an English endorsement. The person who later examined my transcripts apparently disagreed, as did the person I spoke to after examining my certificate. Clearly though, there was someone in that office who thought those classes sufficient. What if I just kept calling until I got that person on the line?

After only a couple of tries, that is exactly what happened. I spoke to the right person, she fixed my certificate and I am, nearly twenty-five years later, still an English teacher.

Might the same approach eventually get me inside the training hall?

That night, it did. There was a different security guard on duty, I flashed her my pass, and she just smiled and waved me in.  

What was it the dude who discovered King Tut’s tomb said when they knocked open the entrance and he stuck his head inside? I don’t remember, either.  But I’ll bet it was something along the lines of “Holy s—!!” which is exactly what I muttered to myself when I walked in that hall. 

There must have been 60 platforms set up in there, maybe more. Rows and rows of them. And though only one or two were occupied at that late hour, it didn’t take much imagination to see that during prime time it would be a fantastic place to watch weightlifting. Here’s what it looked like that night:

training hall

I had a nice dinner at the hotel and went to bed thinking very happy thoughts. Schleizer and Anna would arrive the next day. and I imagined us spending many happy hours together watching great lifters.

It turned out to be a little more complicated than that.

Next up: Rejected again! Seeing another world record. Anna armed with calipers.


A Q&A with Eric Werskey


This fall, Cal State University Northridge appointed the fine American shot putter Eric Werskey as assistant track coach in charge of the throws.

Recently, Eric was kind enough to answer a few questions regarding his coaching mentors and the CSUN program.  We also touched on his inside knowledge of the German throwing community courtesy of his relationship with the outstanding hammer thrower Kathrin Klaas, and a very timely video he appeared in this summer alongside Klaas, Robert Harting, and Julia Fischer.



Congrats on your new job at CSUN! First of all, can you tell me how this came about? Did you have a master plan of transitioning into coaching or did this opportunity sort of pop up?

 Coaching at the collegiate level has been a career goal of mine once I saw myself “retiring” from sport.  When training for the 2012 Olympic Trials in my hometown, I would volunteer coach at local high schools.  With the development I had under Jerry Clayton at Auburn University plus my volunteer experiences, I knew I wanted to develop student-athletes at the collegiate level.  However, after the USA Trials, Art Venegas reached out to me about training at the Olympic Training Center in Chula Vista, California. It was a no-brainer decision to pack my bags and move to Chula Vista.  I spent three years learning Art’s system as well as training among some of the best throwers in the USA and world (Joe Kovacs, Whitney Ashley, Tia Brooks, Jessica Cosby, and many others).  I learned an invaluable amount training among these athletes and wanted to begin to share my experiences and develop athletes myself.  After the 2015 season’s completion, I discussed several options with Jerry and Art and we all decided it was best to pursue my coaching career.

I knew a head coach would be taking a risk on me considering I had no collegiate coaching experience.  With that said, I want to thank California State University Northridge head coach Avery Anderson and his staff for bringing me on board! I am very excited and looking forward to the opportunities here. Cal State Northridge has a tradition of throws dating back to the late 1970’s and our goal is to bring the throws program back into the light again.

Are you going to continue training and competing?

Currently, my focus is on the kids and getting the program heading in the right direction.  I still lift and do some drills with the kids, yet my focus is on the student-athletes.

Can you give me one thing that you learned from Art and one thing from Jerry that you have applied to your coaching so far?

It is very hard to pick one thing specifically that Coach Clayton and Art left me with as they both taught me an invaluable amount. Coach Clayton laid the foundation and helped spark my interest in becoming a coach. He would have a systematic approach to each event and taught us to really take ownership of our training and pay attention to our bodies. Art helped further my interest in coaching. He advocated believing in the system you are in and taught me to seek the finest details that ultimately build the bigger picture.

Can you tell me something about CSUN? What is it about the place that would be attractive to a prospective recruit?

CSUN is definitely a great place to be. The school itself is very modern with solid facilities. Plus, us being in Southern California and suburban Los Angeles, we are able to train year round. For a “smaller school” (though CSUN has over 35 thousand students) we are not shy when it comes to our competitive schedule. In the past the team would travel to the NYC Armory, Texas Relays, and the UCSD Triton Invite to name a few. We believe to contend for championships we have to give our student-athletes the best opportunities to compete among the best in the country on a regular basis.  Also, for throwing training, we actually have our own field designated for throws only. It’s a great set up and allows us to get great training in with minimal distractions.

Have your experiences in Germany and knowledge of the German system influenced your ideas about coaching?

Absolutely! I have been fortunate enough to spend the last two summers in Germany. I have learned a lot from my girlfriend, Kathrin Klaas,..

Leichtathletik-WM 2011 in Daegu

…and how she structures her training and what  cues she feels and looks for her in her throwing. I’ve been able to discuss many ideas with her and adopt some of her drills and cues into my own training plan. I have been lucky enough to watch her prepare for the 2014 European Championships and World Championships at their federal training center in Kienbaum as well. In Kienbaum, I was able to watch the best German throwing athletes train and gather some good ideas. Also, I spent many days discussing training ideas with German Federal hammer and javelin Coach Helge Zöllkau. I was given some incredible insight into his program and how he approaches training with his club athletes and elite level athletes.

 One last topic. You made a vid this summer with Kathrin, German discus champion Julia Fischer, and Robert Harting. That vid seems pretty timely after the release of the recent  WADA report. Can you describe how that vid came about and share your thoughts about the current situation with the IAAF?

The video was created when the first articles were released over the summer stating the IAAF had been sweeping positive tests under the rug and accepting bribes from GOBs to protect certain athletes. Not only is it ethically wrong, but the integrity of our sport to the highest level has come in question. The video is to show that athletes are tired of battling the cheaters of our sport and, now, the governing body.

The video came about actually during a training camp in Kienbaum. The leaked articles were being discussed during breakfast and Robert and Julia asked Kathrin and I if we would be in support of and be part of making this video. We spent the next two days between training times creating the video and reaching out to people who had been affected by doping. We created the hashtag #HITIAAF (honesty, integrity and transparency) to help create awareness about how we as a whole are not only battling cheaters in our events, but also the IAAF. The video went on YouTube on a Sunday afternoon and by Tuesday we had over 80 thousand views, I believe. If you have not seen it yet, here is the link:

In light of the new findings of bribery and doping scandals, this video definitely drives home what we we stand for… Honesty, Integrity and Transparency #HITIAAF.