Back in the 1940s, my grandad could lift 100kg in the clean and jerk.
Three nights a week, and on Saturday afternoons, he would jump on the tram at St George's Rd in Preston and make his way down to Frank Findlay's gym on Little Collins St in the city to lift weights.
"I never had the best kind of body for weightlifting"
The gym was ultra-modern and filled with squash courts, weights rooms and elite athletes. The walls were covered in mirrors.
Big, stocky body builders, muscles rippling and glistening with sweat, used to preen themselves in front of these walls of glass, showing off for the female squash players.
"I never had the best kind of body for weightlifting," grandad told me as he held his walking stick high above his head, re-enacting his glory days. "But I was always good with timing and technique."
He never fancied himself as the winning type. His coaches had faith though.
He trained with Vern Barberis, a bronze medal winner at the 1952 Helsinki Olympics, and after a just few years working on his craft, the guy with no "real muscles" won the Australian Junior and Victorian Senior championships in the bantamweight division.
If he played his cards right, he could have had a shot at the Olympics.
"The problem was there was this one time where I had a bit of a lapse in judgment," grandad said, grinning.
The night before a major competition, he was in Healesville for "a bit of country air" with his new girlfriend, my grandmother.
He'd spent a long three months on a strict diet, with no booze, and no shenanigans.
When the people in the hotel room next door invited them over for a drink, he didn't want to be impolite, so they popped in for a bit of fun.
Unfortunately, grandad had a few too many.
At the competition the next day, he walked on stage in front of a packed town hall, the bulbs of photographers flashing, sweat running down his forehead, and realised he'd made a big mistake.
"I couldn't even lift my training weights in the championship," he said. "So I lost the competition. And that was it."
Matthew 'Mick' Golgerth in training. Photo: Matthew Golgerth.
He didn't go back to the gym for more than 50 years. When my mum and dad asked me to look after grandad for a few weeks, I had no idea he was back into lifting weights.
"I knew I had to do something to get moving again. Lifting weights gives me something to look forward to. I feel like I'm part of a whole community, like I'm wanted."
He lives with my parents after having a stroke eight years ago.
As it turns out, grandad is one of the key members of Pryme Movers, a bunch of older gym members who work out together.
I'll never be able to lift weights like grandad. I'm a runner.
Of course, I'm in no danger of being picked up by the Olympic squad.
But as I dropped grandad off to the gym one morning, and watched him amble up the path into the sports centre, I hoped that I too would be hitting the pavement for my runs when I'm 84 years old.
And knocking back a few pints of the bubbly amber.
Above: Grandad & I
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This story was published in the Herald Sun on 25 August, 2008. My grandad now lives in a retirement village not far from mum and dad. He still exercises most mornings, and has cultivated an impressive vegetable garden.
Copyright 2016-2020 Ben O'Mara
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