By Paul Leonard
Recently, I was playing my recurring role of an unpaid Uber driver to drop my daughter off at a friend’s house. At a stoplight, I noticed her glued to her phone and when I inquired as to what was the object of her attention, she informed me she was looking at someone who was a huge influencer. This got me to thinking of my teen years and who influenced me. I had great parents, grandparents, coaches, teachers and friends who influenced me and my life choices. This article is not about them. As the great Lee Corso says about his College Gameday role, “this is the entertainment business sweetheart.”
Thankfully I frequented black iron gyms during my formative years in the mid 80s and I would not have missed it for the world. As the Road Warriors used to snarl…..”Ahhhhhhhh, What a Rush!!!!!!”
Jimmy Lee was a local legend where I grew up. A starter on a Massachusetts Super Bowl winning High School Football team, Norwood High, who went on to serve in the U.S. Marines, Jimmy was about ten years older than I, when I first met him. Jimmy had the physique of a strength athlete who did lots of bodybuilding, with huge arms, delts, and muscles bulging everywhere from his 20” neck to his diamond calves. From the neck up Jimmy looked like Pro Wrestler Arn Anderson, with his permanent 5 o’clock shadow, shades, and serious look all the time, he had that permanent do not fuck with me demeanor which was well earned. Jimmy had 17” forearms, and was the first person who I knew that had tattoos, well before dentists and soccer moms had them.
Jimmy was not as accomplished as his training partner Ronnie Motta, in official Powerlifting meets, but his aura was greater than 99% of the powerlifters I was around in the eighties. During one local meet, Jimmy had missed his first two squats and was in danger of bombing out. The head judge, a pencil neck bureaucrat, was no fan of Jimmy and had a very negative look on his face as Jimmy was straining up with his final squat. Just as Jimmy pushed through the sticking point, the judge was shaking his head and smirking as he was reaching for his red light button. Filled with rage, Jimmy decided to leave no doubt as to his disgust with the impending bomb out by depositing the 700 pound squat bar into the judge’s lap. No one was seriously hurt, but the judge ended up scrambling for his well being as the squat bar was hurled over Jimmy’s head, through the squat racks, and leaving an indelible image on anyone who saw this alpha display. Imagine such behavior at the Hot Cocoa 5 k atmosphere that are most meets today!
Jimmy was not to be messed with, nor was anyone whom Jimmy had taken under his wing. During the Wild West days that were the hard core gyms of the 80s, steroids were not controlled substances and users were open about there use. If there was one code of honor in those days it was that steroids were not to be sold to kids-period. Al was a well built Boston Police Officer of Cuban descent who stood about 5’10” and weighed in at about 230lbs of gym trained muscle. Word got around the gym that Al had sold some steroids to a teen whom Jimmy had been mentoring. Jimmy stopped his workout as Al sauntered into the gym, meeting him at the water fountain in the front of the gym. The confrontation was over with one punch as Jimmy knocked Al unconscious and went back to continue his dip workout. As for Al, he staggered out of the gym, never to return. Approximately 7 years later he was arrested by internal affairs when his life choices officially caught up with him.
There was nothing like pulling into the lot and seeing Jimmy’s black Olds 442 with T tops and chrome rims parked in the fire lane or on the sidewalk in front of the gym. Jimmy and Ronnie would train in the official uniform of any real gym goer in the 80s, a flannel over a wife beater, with gym shorts and construction boots. At times they would wear bandanas, fedoras, or trucker hats. It was a sad day when Jimmy left Workout Plus to man the desk of Vinnie Grecco’s Powerhouse Gym in Watertown. Jimmy also tended bar at the Rebel in Walpole, Massachusetts but I never frequented that establishment.
One thing I was heavily influenced in from Jimmy was his story telling ability. As any self respecting Powerlifter should, I idolized Bill Kazmaier but would not get the chance to meet him until 1997. “You could show a drive in movie on his forehead”, Jimmy described seeing the Kaz in person while he was in Southern California in the early 80s, when Kaz held the all time total record and was three times World Strongest Man. “When he walks into a crowd, the crowd fucking parts-I saw it!” “Kaz is tall, but he is almost as wide around the shoulders as he is tall.” Myself and Mark Govoni would hang on every word as Jimmy would tell us what it was like to see the greatest strength athlete who ever lived in person.
I never got to train with Jimmy, but his brother Mark helped me train for some meets and was a hard trainer himself along with his training partner John Burke. Ronnie Motta had won the 1984 Junior National Powerlifting Championships in Portland, Maine. Ronnie was a man of few words, and when they came out they were projected by a gravely voice which was measured and precise. I doubt Ronnie knew what idle chit chat was. Ronnie benches over 500 raw at 198lbs and had bookends of almost 700 each. At about 5’6” he was the closest being I will ever meet to Mel Hennessy in the flesh. One day Ronnie was in the gym without Jimmy and I asked him, how can you train without your partner. Ronnie glared at me for a minute and said, “Kid, I will take the gains.” I never forgot that moment and I have trained the best I can despite having had dozens of partners come and go over the years.
I do not have any pictures of Jimmy, but his legend will live with me forever. He was a no nonsense man who I hope is alive and well training, mentoring, and has found a black iron gym so he can continue to be an influence upon anyone who crosses his path.
If anyone knows Jimmy Lee, or trained at Workout Plus or Powerhouse Gym Watertown in the 80s, drop me a line at PLeonard71@comcast.net