Rychlak presses onward
Dec 30, 2006 — Lift 1,010 pounds and what do you get?
And that doesn't even account for the total-body freakout that hits days later. After that first night when the adrenaline stops pumping through your body, the pain arrives. And you start looking for the truck that hit you.
"But it wasn't that bad," Rychlak said. "To tell you the truth, I felt pretty damn good."
The King of the Bench Press is back.
After losing his world record to California's Scott Mendelson in February of 2006, Rychlak got the best Christmas present of all. He pressed 1,010 pounds on Dec. 16 in Lake George, N.Y., to regain his world record.
And he earned the right to tell all his critics - in vintage Mean Gene fashion - to shut up.
It's about time.
Rychlak, 38, had thought about givng up on the sport. The Royersford resident burst onto the power-lifting scene three years ago, becoming the first man to press 900 pounds. He became a star, destroying his own records with eerie regularity.
During a 12-month stretch Rychlak pressed 925 pounds then 936 then 965 then 975.
Then he pressed 1,005 pounds in November of 2004.
He became Superman.
To give you an idea what 1,000 pounds looks like, imagine lifting six full kegs of beer - at the same time.
Can you say, double hernia?
In the world of power lifting, the feat earned him all kinds of recognition. Rychlak was pictured on magazine covers. He was interviewed by television reporters. He was invited to bench press at the Mr. Olympia contest in Las Vegas. And the rest of the bench press world couldn't catch him.
All the while, he still worked out in a dingy, red-brick gym in Reading that looked more like a condemned factory than the home of the world's greatest bench-press specialist.
And he didn't care.
The weight is what mattered. He wanted to go higher than anyone else.
He'd walk into meets looking like a zombie. He wore a controversial power-lifting shirt. It was mocked as being illegal by Mendelson, his biggest rival.
The shirt didn't allow Rychlak to move his arms freely, so his walk transformed into something of a waddle. Wearing sunglasses and a beanie, he'd strut up to the bench with heavy metal music blaring.
At 6-foot-1 and 375 pounds, critics said his big belly made benching 1,000 pounds easier. It cut down on the amount of space he had to lower the bar. Critics derided his appearance, touting Mendelson as the only man to bench 1,000 pounds and have a six pack.
But Rychlak kept pressing the weight.
He brought the show to York, and the world caved in.
Inducted into the York Barbell Hall of Fame in July of 2005, he was expected to break his own world record later that weekend at the IPA World Championships. But for the first time in more than a year, he bombed out at a major meet. He couldn't record a legal lift.
Months later, it happened again.
His record remained at 1,005 pounds. Even mighty Rychlak couldn't budge it.
At the Mr. Olympia, the bar fell on him, shocking the crowd and the master of ceremonies - pro wrestler Triple-H.
Rychlak escaped with a hairline fracture of his T7 vertebrae.
Then came big news: Mendelson broke Rychlak's bench record, pressing 1,008 pounds.
Rychlak's friends started leaving him. The lifting partners he depended on to save him from being crushed by the ridiculous weight he was lifting stopped going to the gym.
One day he walked into the gym and it was just him and one other guy, new handoff man Andy Shaffer.
"It sucked," Rychlak said. "I've been on a two-year odyssey of ups and downs. Some of the ride was self-inflicted.
"Looking back on the last two years now ... right after the grand I let myself be talked into trying new things. I shouldn't have let that happen."
Rychlak admits he thought about giving up the sport. But thanks in part to his new handoff man, Rychlak corrected the problems.
Shaffer wasn't like other spotters. He spoke his mind. Just the type of guy you'd expect Rychlak to respect. No double-talk, just hard cold truths.
"To constantly go where no man has gone before," Rychlak said, "you need maximum effort."
If Shaffer thought Rychlak had one more repetition in him, he chastised Mean Gene for giving up. And at 6-4, 415 pounds, Rychlak couldn't just wave off his new lifting partner as some little weakling who didn't know what he was talking about.
"I rarely try to stand next to him," Rychlak joked, "because if one guy could make me feel small, it's him."
After nearly two years of struggling to find his way, his life and career appears on track. Later this year he expects to get married to his fiancé Ame Lutz, a former York Haven resident.
"Here I am at 38, and yeah, I've missed out on some tremendous things in life," Rychlak said. "But through power lifting, I met my fiancé.
"I was down for two years, and now it's over. I see my record going to 1,200 pounds before it's all over."
He expects to try for another record in April in Lake George. And then return to York for the IPA World Championships this summer.
For years, Rychlak joked with friends, telling them he'd retire at 40 or 1,200 pounds - whatever came first.
Now he's not sure he wants to be held to his prediction. He might stay in the amazing business.
Said Rychlak: "It all depends how much fun I'm having."
Jim Seip is a sports writer for the Daily Record/Sunday News. Reach him at 771-2025 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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