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Wizard of Weights: USAWA’s Art Montini

    by John McKean

Low rumbles in the dawn sky no longer worry me about an impending storm; they merely remind me that Art Montini is continuing his early morning daily lifting workouts up above, and always gently replacing the barbell to the platform in his disciplined, controlled manner!

Yes, a key feature of Art’s longtime success with heavy weights can be attributed to his never-miss-a-daily-workout habit, along with his constant start at 4 AM. Well, actually just after 4, as he ALWAYS opened his day with a stop at famed Mac’s Donut Shop in his hometown of Aliquippa, probably the best home-owned bakery in Pennsylvania! Art was well known for his love of the sweet pastries, even though he only tried to imbibe when he thought no one was looking!  So, I took it upon myself to call owner & manager of the sweet shop, JW, to get the real low down on Art’s daily breakfast. EVERYBODY at Mac’s knew Art because he was their first customer each morning for years; they loved the ever cheerful ole rascal and considered him as part of their family (I guess like we ALL did!). Yet what always impressed JW and the waitresses were that Art desired to discipline himself for weightlifting, and only ever ordered COFFEE!! The tempting aromas at that opening time must have been unbelievable, but Mac’s staff insist that Art remained steadfast in his commitment to the iron game. However, their coffee must be as potent as it is tasty because Montini never had a bad workout!!

Art always insisted that his early start ensured that he’d train hard & heavy because there was nothing else to do at that time anyway! (The 90-year-old had more & better quotes than Yogi Berra ever did!) But he was sincere in stating that, after training, he was energized to handle whatever the rest of the day would throw at him! Over the years many lifters asked Art about taking a workout with him, yet upon learning that it was NOT 4 PM for scheduled training, virtually no one of these sleepyheads ever mustered the initiative to visit and lift during the wee hours (they probably never knew about Mac’s coffee!).

The Ambridge VFW Barbell Club’s “senior citizen” maintained rather solid views on exactly what was needed to build strength. He was everything that embodies heavy weightlifting, and “old time” training tactics. He never jogged, did aerobics, or had a single cross-“FIT”! In fact, he didn’t warm up at all! He’d start right in with his particular lifts of the day, and single up in a manner best described as heavy, heavier, and heaviest! Not that he’d go to limits every session, just up the scale enough that he knew he’d thoroughly worked the event (I almost said”exercise,” but he didn’t do exercises – this Wizard of Weights powered his way through LIFTS!).

One time at a power meet, Art and I met a very talented, experienced powerlifter; the interested young man wondered aloud how we could start with big poundages using no warmups at all. Of course, a well knowing, and always helpful Art was quick to point out that one could get all the warmup needed during the FIRST ATTEMPT on the platform, and tried (in vain) to get the guy NOT to do a really FULL workout (many, many sets & reps, from light to heavy) before hitting the official platform. Sure enough, that well-meaning, yet overly dedicated trainee was to worn out to succeed with 2nd and 3rd attempts, and finished far behind us for the overall best lifter award! He did promise, though, to begin experimenting with very limited warmups in the future!

As to lifts themselves, Art had a simple plan; he’d select about 24 All-Round events that were likely to show up at contests, and do 4 of them each day (he’d take Sunday off – even JW at Mac’s donuts noted that Art always arrived “late” for coffee & newspaper on Sundays – at 6:30 AM !!). Yep, that would be about 12 singles per workout, then he was outta there! Now, if a meet was imminent, he’d concentrate more on the particular events involved, but he really did enjoy and prefer the larger variety of all-around events in his general weekly sessions. Every Monday morning he’d start his list all over again. This way, the ole Wiz believed, he was always ready for anything that popped up for competition.

One time the gang over at the Jumpstretch gym in Ohio decided to conduct a “wildcard” contest; that is, they planned to draw by random the names of 4 lifts, from a selection of 18, that would then be performed by all lifters. Someone at our VFW Barbell Club asked Art how you could possibly train for such a contest? “Easy,” laughed Montini, “just do ’em ALL over the next couple of weeks!” Yep, Art won that contest!

Even back in the “old days” Art had the handle on variety in training and using heavy stuff exclusively. One of his fellow competitors back then was longtime pro wrestling world champ Bruno Sammartino (he also passed away a few weeks ago), who would get a huge smile from fond memories whenever I’d mention Art. During the 50s, even before official powerlifting, they’d have “odd lift contests” (varied, but often bench presses, squats, curls, press behind the neck, etc.), which both Bruno and Art would compete in (way different weight classes,  of course). I’d often run into Bruno, as he only lived about a mile away and I’d taught his sons in the Junior High school near their home, and took delight in reminding this warm, always friendly, humble behemoth how little ole Art once took him to task in the curl at one of those events. Bruno would laugh and spout out, “That little pipsqueak never beat me in ANYTHING!” Then, reconsidering, meekly said, “Hmm, well maybe he did, ONCE!”

Yet it was always common sense methods, careful observation, overwhelming confidence, and 70 years of competitive experience that carried Montini to consistent achievement. He knew, for instance, and often proclaimed when performing any record level deadlift type “Anything I can even barely get off the floor, I’ll finish for a successful attempt!” And he’d prove that time and again – may be attributed to one period where he worked to nearly 600 pounds with deadlifts off low blocks (or maybe as Bill Clark always quipped, “He has the longest arms with the shortest legs of any human I’ve ever seen!!”). There’s only one time I can remember that Art was upset about a lift he was well prepared for. During his early 20s, he completed a perfectly executed military press with, I believe, 230 pounds (a personal record at the time -a source of great excitement for the youngster), only to have it turned down by officials. Back then, a lifter had to slowly press in coordination with the head official’s barely moving rising finger & the head honcho claimed Art pressed a hair too fast! (Head judge was Bob Hoffman(!!) so our hero couldn’t argue – though from that time on, never a fan of the “Father of Weightlifting”!).

Even in his daily habits, Art was the model of consistency, he never found the need to OVER-do anything; slept well (except for those awful awakening hours!), saw no need to “live” in the gym, attacked the weights rather than stress over poundages, and used common sense in eating habits. I’ll always remember being amazed at his belief for obtaining morning protein – just a single egg would do him well! And very little or nothing ever in the way of expensive supplements. He was completely healthy with fresh vegetables grown in his own garden, the mentioned egg, coffee (of course!), and some simply cooked chicken, fish, or beef. Oh yeah, he absolutely LOVED ice cream at times and the occasional donut (which he claimed he only ate during his annual Birthday Bash! But I suspect even that was only when we caught him redhanded with a ringed goodie in hand or telltale white powder coating completely surrounding his lips!!).

Some of us always stress over travel to meets. Not Art, he’d just mention that all ya had to do was merely SIT there, no matter how many hours were involved, and just relax! (Though just before he left us, he tried hard in a telephone conversation to pitch to me that the trip to this year’s Nationals could be very easy ’cause it was only a 6 hours drive away, being in NORTHERN Florida; he refused to believe  the computer which mentioned 1100 miles on the road from Western PA!!). And I always laugh when recalling him going to a sport’s store recently to buy a new singlet for meets – all they had that was close to our lifting outfits was wrestling singlets, so Art had the salesman get him one in his size. Puzzled, the salesman asked if the suit was for a grandson or great-grandson; “Nope,” Art replied without further explanation,” It’s for ME, I’ll be using it this weekend!” That poor employee is probably still wondering how the 90-year-old “wrestler” made out!

Not to mention his few hospital stays (replaced hips, etc); On one discharge, the Doc told him to go right home and get some needed pure rest. Of course, Art drove directly to the gym for what he deemed was an even more needed WORKOUT! Other docs also told him, knowing it would be futile to advise this iron man otherwise, that he could train LIGHT to ensure recuperation; on a follow-up consultation they about “blew a gasket” to learn Art was hip lifting with 800 pounds!! (“We told you to go LIGHT”, they howled. “It WAS light!” smirked ART !)

Well, I could probably write an entire book on this absolute legend of the game! We can all discuss many more stories, though, at this year’s slightly renamed “Art’s Memorial Birthday Bash” (USAWA) in October. Please try to attend, we want this one to be BIG! After all, it’s really not like Art has ever left – he will always be there lifting alongside us!

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