NORTH BEND – Not many men can bench press 248 pounds and even fewer 65-year- olds can.
But most men are not like Richard Schuller. The North Bend man recently returned from the U.S National Masters Powerlifting Championship in Palm Springs, Calif., where he won second place in his weight class, 181 pounds, and age class, 65 and over. It was the fourth time Schuller has gone to the competition in the last 15 years, and he said it won’t be his last.
Actually, Schuller has trained for the championship for the past 50 years. He started lifting weights in 1955 when he was a 15-year-old growing up in Michigan who wanted to buff up a little in the summer before he started playing football.
“I was 5 feet, 10 inches and 129 pounds,” Schuller said. “When I came back I was 5 feet, 10 inches and 160 pounds.”
Schuller started to lift with local college athletes who were just then starting to take weight lifting seriously. Schuller said coaches then didn’t think much of weight lifting, and some even said he was doing nothing more than “pumping his muscles full of air.”
After high school, Schuller went to Michigan State University and joined the wrestling and weightlifting teams. When he went on to graduate school, however, Schuller went to the University of Oregon, which was more of a track and field school. He took up running and while he would still train with weights sometimes, Schuller’s energy went into becoming a better runner.
Once he was done with college, Schuller worked as a scientist in Tennessee before coming to Washington to work at the Battelle Seattle Research Center in 1975. He continued to run and competed in several marathons and races, but he started to tire of the sport. After years away from lifting, he dropped by the City Gym in Issaquah and decided to try weights again.
“It felt good to be back on the iron,” Schuller said.
Serious about weightlifting again, Schuller even enlisted the coaching help of 11-time powerlifting world champion Bull Stewart, who has his own gym in Seattle. Schuller started training for competitive weightlifting, which is more strenuous than the laid-back atmosphere most experience in the weight room.
Training for competition is difficult, because the competitions are hard, Schuller said. Athletes in competition are expected to lift a certain way in a certain amount of time or their lift will not count. In a squat lift, for example, the upper thigh must come below the knee. For a bench press lift, the athlete must complete the lift without moving any other part of their body or getting the bar off balance. Once a lift is completed, the athlete has a minute to tell the referee how much he will lift next.
“About 90 percent of what you see in the gym wouldn’t pass at a meet,” Schuller said.
In 1990, Schuller made his first trip to the national championship. He returned in 1993, 2000 (just two years before he retired at age 62) and then again this year when he took second place. In the squat lift, Schuller lifted 355 pounds; in the bench press, he cleared 248 pounds; and in the dead lift, 408 pounds. Since he finished second, Schuller could go to the world championship in South Africa as an alternate, but he is pretty sure the first-place winner is serious about being there.
Those scores came at the price of a lot of hard work and discipline. Schuller trains all year for a competition and he must keep to a diet. He trains hard at Alpine Fitness Club in North Bend and had to qualify at a regional championship in Portland, Ore., before he could go to California. Schuller is an amateur athlete and is proud to say he is also drug free, so his successes have never been cheap or easy.
But the first word Schuller would use to describe weight lifting is “fun.” While it may not seem like it from a description of his training regimen or from looking at a photo of his face during a competition, Schuller is having a great time when he lifts. Whether it’s the competition, the people he meets or the thrill from pushing his body harder than he did before, Schuller said there has always been a thrill to pumping iron.
“It is hard work? Yes. Is it as nice as lying in a field and looking up at the clouds? No,” Schuller said. “But it is fun.”
And he’s itching to return. While Schuller has never gone two years in a row to the national competition, he has an automatic ticket to next year’s competition due to his attendence this year. He is thinking about going next year, and perhaps the year after that. He feels great and there are age brackets in the 80s for the competition.
“The guy who beat me [this year], only beat me by 20 kilos (about 44 pounds),” he said. “I’ll catch him next year.”