Gary has overcome an almost impossible handicap to become a great lifter. Even yet his right side is smaller and weaker than his left, and he is forced to wrap his right hand around the bar with his left in order to grasp it for pulling.
by Peary Rader
When Gary Deal came into the world in 1940, no one realized that here was a new star in the weightlifting world, or that this young fellow would overcome handicaps, considered impossible, to reach the top in his chosen field.
Gary Deal was a normal boy until he was struck down with polio at 10 years of age. This left him with a shriveled and weak right arm, shoulder and right leg. His whole right side was helpless and the only way he could move his right arm was with the aid of his left. Gary showed dogged determination and began to exercise his helpless members with the help of his left side, gradually developing some use of them, but it was a long. slow and often discouraging and painful process.
At the age of 16 Gary saw another kid who, to him, had a big arm, and inquired how he had obtained it, and found that he trained with weights. Gary was six feet tall and weighed but 150, and could get around only with considerable difficulty. When he started training with his first barbell set he could, after some time and hard training, press 85, snatch 70 and jerk 100 pounds. Most of the effort was provided by his good left side. Gradually, with persistent training with a friend, Jim Schwertley, now a priest, he made progress and his weak side began to slowly develop. Jim was a weightlifting and physique champion, and Gary gives much credit to him for his early progress.
Can you imagine a man like this wanting to be a world champion lifter? He is lucky just to be walking around, to say nothing of being even an athlete of any kind. Here was a kid who suddenly acquired a burning desire to succeed and no one could talk him out of it. He paid no attention whatsoever to people, well meaning as they might have been, trying to talk him out of his dream.
Gary was 17 years of age when I first met him at a weightlifting meet in Omaha. I had never heard of him, but noticed he had some sort of handicap. That day he made a total of 470 pounds on the three lifts in the 181 lb. category. In the coming years I got to know Gary quite well and was often in his home where we enjoyed a fine meal cooked by his wife who was so patient and understanding of Gary and his ambitions.
Frankly, I was amazed at what he had already accomplished, and altho I was his good friend, I really could not see him becoming a great lifter. Honestly, I didn’t have the heart to tell him this, and I always tried to encourage him. Amazingly, Gary continued to improve. Oh, I don’t mean he progressed continuously; no, he had bad times when it seemed he had reached his potential’s end, but he never gave up, and eventually made further gains.
Gary began winning the heavyweight title in the Midwestern district, and finally in 1958 he won the National Teenage title in this class while weighing 201, with lifts of 220, 235 and 330. In 1960 he took second place in the Junior Nationals with an 800 total. This was in the 198 lb. class. He later clean & jerked 345 in an Omaha meet. It was about this time that he married and his training was interrupted for a time.
For about two years his progress was almost nil, then he read about and began implementing isometric training. Soon, he made an 875 total with lifts of 265, 260 and 350.
Another period of slow or nonexistent gains followed. He was working very hard and usually trained three or four nights each week. He had always been a splitter, but now decided to learn the squat style. Gary says that he worked hard for two full years on squat technique before he felt that it was a safe and sure style for him. Take note, you fellows who think you should be able to learn this overnight, or believe you are working long and hard to reach your goals.
Gary had been working on various programs. Whenever he would read or hear about the program of some lifter he would try it and as a result he wasted a lot of time, till he eventually found out that every man must work out a program that is best for him and him alone. He began keeping a record of every exercise he performed, every poundage, every set and every rep so he could look back for years and tell exactly what he did at any certain time.
It was about this time that Gary learned of the power rack and went into his basement, cut out the floor, dug down about two feet and then built his own power rack. It was through the use of heavy poundages on the rack that he again made a big spurt ahead in his numbers.
In his power rack work he would do 1 set of 3 reps in each position. He would do about 3 positions on most power rack exercises, placing the pins about a foot apart and then pulling the weight against the top pin and holding the bar against this top pin for about 6 seconds on the 3rd rep.
Gary has always felt that power work was most important for an advanced lifter and that to much practice of the actual Olympic lifts is a waste of time and energy once you have perfected the technique of a lift, and he still follows this practice today.
At that time Gary would do rapid dead lifts to a clean position for 6 sets of 3 on Monday. Then he would go to the press for 3 positions in the rack. On Wednesday he would start with snatch grip high pulls, doing 6 sets of 3 in the rack, then he would do squat snatches by pulling the bar from a position on two chairs as shown in the photo. He also did cleans in this manner. This takes, as well as develops, precise balance, control, and explosive power. He did singles and went up in 10-lb. jumps. He then goes to presses on the rack, then back squats. He may sometimes do some incline pressing with the bench almost vertical. On Friday, lots of pressing in the rack, then the clean in the power rack. On Sunday he did very fast speed presses. The bar shot up like a flash of light and he feels this explosive speed is very important to increasing strength. Gary used to have someone time him and he would try to increase his pressing speed all the time. He is a perfectionist in he fast style of pressing and probably does it as well if not better than any man alive. He then went to squat cleans from the chairs, then to the power rack where he just works on fast pulls, not trying to hold against the pins. Next he goes to back squats and bench presses with a close grip.
This program brought Gary’s poundages up relatively rapidly and we in this area were absolutely thrilled to see the great battle between Gary and another great lifter, Wilbur Miller from Kansas. Unfortunately for Gary, Wilbur always beat him by just a few pounds, usually on the last clean & jerk. It was always Gary’s cherished ambition to beat Wilbur just once, but this was not to be, for Wilbur finally had to give up because of an old back injury suffered when thrown from a horse. Gary reached a 1,000 lb. total at this time.
At this point in his life Gary moved to Washington state and worked on the railroad. His training was interrupted for a time and for about a year nothing much was heard from Gary. Then he got back into training and it was not long until he was making better than a 1,000 total.
Now, you may think that Gary must have always had an easy job. Nothing could be further from the truth. He worked at a feed mill where he had to take 100 pound bags of feed off a conveyor belt and stack them as high as he could reach. This was enormous daily work, yet he still trained and trained hard. He eventually worked his way up to a foreman’s job, which was physically easier but demanded more time. He then went to railroading, and it was hard labor again.
About this time a great change came to Gary. He had accomplished the impossible. He had started with a severe handicap that his friends and numerous doctors had said would make him a weak invalid the rest of his life. By sheer determination and enormous work he had forced his body to grow into a figure of size and power weighing 260 pounds. Gary Deal had worked a miracle on his body with the strength of his mind and the power of his soul.
Some time back Gary called to tell me of his new job as an investment counselor. Using the same drive and determination he applied to his lifting he studied the investment field for some time and embarked on a new career. Within a year he was making several times as much money as he had with the railroad (and that was very good pay itself), and was working only a few hours a day.
Now he had more time to train, and the energy to train harder, and train he did. Gary was doing lots of power work, training a minimum four to five times each and every week. He would do lots of power cleans and power snatches. He was trying for new personal records in the power snatch and power clean every workout. He would squat twice a week and do his limit each workout with 550 to 650 for 5 reps. He would do 5 or more reps in the front squat with 500. He was doing a lot of rack work, especially on the presses, and still putting energy into his speed work. He also runs about a mile per day in about 6 minutes, which he drops before a contest. He does the regular Olympic lifts two weeks before a contest, believing that too much Olympic lift training takes the spark and fire out of his contest lifting. Gary made some changes in his snatch and clean & jerk style. He used to lean far back in the jerk but finally learned to hold a more erect position of the body and thus became able to sustain the jerk better.
Even now, we cannot believe that Gary Deal can lift such tremendous poundages, for here is a man who is still a cripple, outlifting the greatest strong men even though he has to take his crippled right hand and wrap the fingers around the bar with his left hand. At the Senior Nationals this year Gary created a sensation when he beat out Bill March, who was at his lifetime best having pressed 390 in strict military style. Gary came through with a fabulous 445 lb. clean & jerk to take second place in the 242 lb. class and assure himself a coveted place on the world championship team.
We had the opportunity of a long talk with Gary on the phone and he made some suggestions that might be of help to other lifters in their efforts.
He emphasizes the importance of the mental aspect in lifting. Gary says that this is of MAJOR importance. He does not wish to depreciate the physical training that must be done but he says that without the proper mental attitude a lifter will never reach his best.
He points out that he had and still has tremendous handicaps. In addition to having had polio, Gary mentions that he is not exceptionally strong as far as brute force is concerned. Many men in the lower ranks are much stronger. Actually, he has very strong legs, however, as he pointed out, his deadlift is only a little over 600 and he has never been able to bench press 300. How can he lift such huge poundages? By mental concentration and sheer faith in himself to do anything he sets his mind to strongly enough.
In training, Gary recently performed a clean & jerk of 460 lbs. This would classify him with the best in the world in his bodyweight classification. I believe Talts has done 475 in training.
Gary claims that Norbert Schemansky was a mental lifter. He lifted beyond his strength ability and not only that but he maintained his lifting far beyond what anyone else has done – up to well over 40 years of age, and he is still a top performer when he wants to be. Norbert maintained his top performances in spite of two back operations, severe injuries to shoulders and legs, yet still he stayed at the top.
Gary cited numerous lifters who were physical lifters; men with tremendous physical strength, but because they failed to recognize the importance of the mental aspect they never quite reached the top and they usually did not remain top lifters for long if they did. They faded out quickly. Obviously I cannot mention names, but I agree.
He say that one must always work for the present. Never look back or be discouraged by past performances. Only the present is important. He mentioned his trip to York for a meet in which he failed with a 390 clean & jerk but didn’t let that discourage him, and in a short time he made a 445 clean & jerk at the Senior Nationals. Had he looked back and considered that because he had failed with 390 he was through, then he would never have made the 445. Gary says that the future is not important to consider because the future may never come. You may not be here tomorrow, and besides, if you take care of today, tomorrow will take care of itself.
Gary does not consider that being a natural athlete is too important. It is your attitude that is very important – confidence in your ability and a belief that anything you dream you can accomplish. He says that confidence comes with having a stable spiritual life, and feels there is no other way to attain it, and cites two other examples of Christian athletes – Knipp and Karchut. Russ Knipp, says Gary, has attained greatness under great physical handicaps. He has atrocious arm lock. He can’t lock his arms at all. His shoulders are not as flexible as they should be and he has atrocious style in the snatch, yet in spite of these and other handicaps Russ has never given up. He has instead become one of the world’s greatest lifters. He has learned the value of complete mental control and a faith the he can do anything he sets his mind to.
As for training routines, Gary says it is a mistake to use someone else’s routine just because it worked for them. Each man is an individual and Must Work Out His Own Training Routines that give him the best results. You cannot become great simply be copying someone else. Of course, you can use another man’s experiences as a guide in preparing your own way, but if you wish to reach your best the you must be a thinking man. You must reason and experiment and work and try. You will fail some, but you will also have successes and you will learn to know yourself.