Saturday, April 2, 2022

I Was Given Three Months to Live -- Roger Eells (1935)


have received so many requests that I write a continuation of my training and recovery from a far advanced case of tuberculosis that I felt that it was truly wanted. And, if I may judge from the contents of the mail that I received following the first article covering my battle back to health I know that many experienced new faith in exercising and that a great number were given courage to begin exercising who felth they were too weak to follow a bar bell routine.

For the benefit of those who did not read the first article let it be understood that I had been classified by several physicians as a far advanced case of Tuberculosis. I was given just three months to live! 

That sentence was passed upon me more than four years ago. I weighed 121 pounds at 5' 7-3/4" and today I weigh 168 pounds, am an inch taller and a far stronger, more healthy individual than ever before in my life.  

Like most men Roger Eells did not care to have his picture taken at the very beginning when he weighed but 121 pounds. In this picture showing "Rog" at a bodyweight of 135 pounds he has already started to obtain results from his bar bell training. 

Roger Eells showing the powerful back he possesses today. You will obtain some idea of his power if you happen to be present when he pulls over 200 pounds to his shoulder with one hand. Bob Hoffman promised Roger a gold watch the day he cleans (pulls to his shoulders in one motion) 300 pounds and Bob expects to have the pleasure and honor of donating the watch most any day. 

It was not an easy road in the beginning. I was in quite bad shape physically (mentally too for that matter) and a death sentence is not exactly encouraging. 

Most everyone is acquainted with the fact that tuberculosis is a wasting disease. That those suffering with the malady are, in nearly every instance, very thin. The tubercular germs destroy tissue of the lungs and in my case had caused a number of large cavities in my left lung and a number of smaller ones. The right lung too was seriously involved. 

The one thread of hope to which I clung tenaciously was that artificial pneumothorax 
would permit me to live longer than three months. This was done and after a period of rest I resolved to either become strong and healthy or die in an honest attempt to become a normal man again.

The means at arriving at this condition I decided would be bar bells. I let myself in for a lot of trouble when I made this decision as my doctors insisted I would kill myself and naturally my family agreed with them. However, all of their arguments were unavailing and I began my program of progressive exercise. 

I started with far lighter weights than the average normal man or boy would find necessary but it is to be remembered that I was not normal in any sense of the word so far as concerns my physical condition.

The results that I have obtained have been called a MIRACLE. And in truth, it is little short of that; to think that I had been given but three months to live and through progressive bar bell exercise emerged a man nearly 50 pounds heavier, much stronger and with a body health to the nth degree.

There were a number of things that led up to my contracting of tuberculosis. I had a better than average start I suppose, my father weighed over 200 pounds at a height of 5' 7" and carried very little fat. He was considered one of the strongest men in the community. My mother too was what would be called a strong woman, about 5' 6" and weighing in the neighborhood of 165 pounds. There were three children born to my parents, I being the youngest; my oldest brother stands 5' 11" and weighs 190, and the brother next to me weighs 240 and looks down on others from a height of 6' 3". 

From the beginning I would hazard a guess that I had a better chance than the average of being above normal so far as concerns strength and size. The drawback was that I was destined to be the youngest and the youngest is always pampered and spoiled. I was! Thoroughly! 

I was brought up on the things I liked . . . candy, cakes, pie and more cake if I would drink my milk like a little man. I did like milk and drank lots of it and it is probably a good thing that I did. It was certainly one of the few things that I did do that could not harm me. My parents simply loved their child too much. They knew that these things were not good for me but then, I cried so pitifully. You and I both know what I should have had and didn't get.

All of the above did not help to make me a strong boy but it did make me a weak, undernourished and underweight one. I had lots of fights when I was a kid. I seldom got whipped, not because I was strong or tough but because I was afraid to lose. I lacked to guts to take a good sound trimming, and fought wildly with always the fear that I would lose. I nearly always won even with larger boys than I simply because I was afraid to lose. When I entered high school I still carried the same thought. I weighed less than a hundred pounds and had several ribs broken my first week out for football. I had a high leather belt made and managed to get in two or three games that year. The next year I made the regular squad and had three more ribs broken, in the second game I believe it was. I played the entire year with the belt and broken ribs with yards of tape around my chest. I finished the rest of high school football and played with broken ribs every season. The breaks totaled nine ribs, some of them broken twice. Sounds heroic, doesn't it? Well, it wasn't! My brothers had been football heroes in high school and college . . . I had to play . . . I was afraid of what people would say if I didn't. 

I always did things that were spectacular, things that would attract attention to me. I was a show off of the first water. While in high school I had built the fastest dirt track racer in the state and managed to break state records with it that may still stand. I haven't investigated the matter for several years. 

Flying next attracted me and off I dashed to become a famous flyer. I piled up nearly 2000 hours in the air with only two minor cracks. The misunderstanding between a student and myself as to whether the switch was off or on while i was cranking the ship caused me to get mixed up with the propeller when it proved that the switch was ON instead of OFF as I had understood. I lost a lot of blood and in the next three weeks I lost 21 pounds and as my resistance was low I slipped into tuberculosis to the extent that I was classed in the advanced stage by MDs and given just three months to live.

I hadn't lived with death for the past several years without becoming somewhat used to the thought so that sentence did not upset me a great deal. This was not the case with my wife and family. They believed it while I didn't. The outcome of the matter was that I found myself in the Mr. Vernon Sanitorium. I spent six months there and gained about 25 pounds of fat. It was while at the San that they collapsed my lung and upon returning home I made arrangements to keep up the treatments. 

After a period of rest at home I began to gradually break off my rest cure by taking more exercise and spending less time in bed. At the expiration of eighteen months from the time I entered the San I decided that I would either have to make a greater effort to become strong and normal or reconcile myself to the fate of an invalid. I had planned during those months of the time when I could rebuild myself to a stronger man than I had ever been and at the same time fool the doctors and disappoint the devil.

On December 12th, 1932 I began exercising with bar bells. I feel that I have been well repaid for my efforts and expect to continue to improve indefinitely. 

Innumerable times I have been asked, "How did you gain 50 pounds in a year, especially when it is considered that you were a victim of tuberculosis, a wasting disease" There is just one answer to that query . . . I have trained consistently, painstakingly with the thought in mind of becoming the man that I had dreamed of being. The exercises that deserve the greatest credit are the Deep Knee Bends with heavy weights, the Dead Lifts, and the Straddle lift which I practiced with a harness. I worked up to 650 pounds without a great deal of trouble in the last mentioned exercise. Of course, I executed other movements for the arms and shoulders but the aforementioned exercises were the ones that increase bodyweight the most rapidly due to exercising the larger muscle groups which are responsible to the greater part of our bodyweight. 


I worked up to 240 pounds in the [20 rep] deep knee bend while I had but one lung my first year. At that time I would, once a week, use 30 to 40 more pounds and repeat the squats 5 times, have 20 pounds removed from the bar and squat an additional 5 times. I would then lower the weight to 200-220 and repeat another 10 repetitions completing a full 20. It was my experience that I strengthened my legs and back more rapidly for heavier poundage in this way. 

Note: This was in the 1930's, once again showing there's not too much new under today's sun. 

I have learned from my correspondents that there are three classes of exercise enthusiasts. They really could be divided into just two classes . . . the Extremists, the Those Who Get Results. The first division would be made up of those individuals who simply will not exercise strenuously enough to encourage added muscularity or reduction as the case may be. Then, we have the other extreme, the overambitious person who just can not wait a minute to become a muscular marvel. He exercises every day, sometimes twice a day with 20 or 30 different exercises and runs his repetitions into the hundreds. How they survive such a program I don't know! They burn every bit of energy that they have, don't allow for sufficient rest periods for recuperation and complain because they make no improvement. 

However, we have the class in between these two extremes. They are the ones who exercise strenuously at prescribed intervals with rest periods of sufficient duration to allow complete recuperation and rebuilding. It is these persons who make the steady improvement called remarkable. 

From observations that I have made I have found that not all will improve under the same regime. I mean by that, that all cannot expect to improve on a schedule of four exercises and using high repetitions nor can all be expected to show improvement when a large number of exercises are used and only moderate or the minimum number of repetitions. 

The number of men who use my bar bell gymnasium range from 20 to 35 the year 'round and in arranging programs for them I have learned that while one will improve on a schedule of 20 exercises working from 5-10 repetitions in all exercises, another fellow will not improve unless he uses the same program and repeats all arm and shoulder exercises 10 times (reps) and back ones 15 repetitions. Another will have to use half the number of exercises as the previous men mentioned and possibly his best bet will be at repetitions half way between. 

One schedule will not fit all men. 

It is necessary for me to use a wide variety of exercises and vary my repetitions occasionally if I desire continuous growth. Four or five exercises are not enough for me no matter how strenuous they are. 

I do 1001 exercises but not all in one program. I do 12 to 16 exercises of a bar bell and dumbbell nature, doing a few lifts each workout. If I feel that I have pep to burn that day I will possibly fool a bit with a cable exerciser or other accessory, or do handstands and pushups. I have pulleys that work you vigorously. 

I don't stick to any set schedule of poundage. In the two arm curl I use anywhere from 85 to 120 depending upon the energy I have that particular day. In the two arm press I usually press 130 ten times, 150 five times and 160 three of four once a week. 

While I have found that I must do more work than the average to continuously improve, the above pressing program would prove too strenuous for every workout.

In the deep knee bend, or squat, as some prefer to call it, I vary the procedure too. I will for weeks at a time use 15 repetitions and at other intervals do no more than 10, often only 5, repeated twice during the program. I am of the opinion that 5 is too few for other than strength development. Use higher repetitions for muscular development.

If my experience of building a far weaker, a far more abused and very diseased body is with anything then I have one suggestion to make to all of you who are planning upon building a better body than you now own and to those who have not yet reached the goal . . . 

Continuously strive to use more weight, particularly in the leg and back exercises. I have found that the student adds weight too rapidly to the arm and shoulder exercises and not to the leg and back; often using more in the arms and shoulder ones than in the squats. But above all else, concede the thought that your instructor knows best and follow his advice. His experience is far greater than yours.           

Enjoy Your Lifting! 


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