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HARD CORE GYM #36
(from PowerliftingUSA Magazine © Nov/2004 edition Vol. 28, No. 2, article and photographs used by permission)

THORBECKE'S ... That Magical Place Where A Brick is Human ... HardCore in Tempe, AZ ... as told to PowerLiftingUSA by Rick Brewer

Thorbecke's Gym.
 
Pure ambience at Thorbeckes. (Photographs courtesy of Marty Vogt)

    We skipped around over the last few months; measuring the neck of Ken Snell, the neck of Joe Ladnier, the head of Vincent Dizenzo, and then we even had a little outdoor bloodshed. Bleeding is generally good, but always more fun outside - where 'wimmen-folk' don't complain about the carpet and stuff.
    Reminds me of a story that we were talking about last night. It was a fun day we had in the country a couple of years back. The main thing you need to know is that NO MOMS WERE PRESENT. My brother-in-law (Scott C.) and I had taken all of our varmints to the country. He had his 4 boys and I had taken my three kids (2 girls and 1 boy). We were shooting guns and fireworks, riding 4-wheelers, driving the truck fast with kids in the back, and looking for snakes and wild hogs. All at the same time. As I said, NO MOMS WERE INVOLVED.
    Anyway, there we were, enjoying our relaxing day in the woods, when my youngest nephew Nicky (age 4 at the time) got slammed into the back of a pick-up cab, hard enough that his teeth came. through his cheek. No big - you can't die from that - but we did have to rush him to the ER for a 10-hour ordeal of stitches (inside and outside his mouth). He lived, and it probably built character. Or pain tolerance. (Something good.) When the wives heard about this they cried out "Who was driving the truck and why were they going so fast?!" I explained that it wasn't Pip's fault, because she couldn't see over the dash, and couldn't reach the pedals. (My daughter Callie - AKA Pip - was 8 years old at the time.) My wife looked at me like I was speaking a foreign language. "Why was Pip driving if she couldn .t
see or work the pedals?!" Well, naturally we had put a small child in the floorboard to work the pedals with their hands. At this reasonable explanation, my wife turned white as a sheet. I think she gets too much calcium, or caffeine, or something. She spoke very slowly; 'WHEN YOU SAW that this crazy idea was going to end in a crash, WHY DIDN'T YOU TAKE CONTROL OF THE WHEEL?' Sensing that the mental anguish was affecting her, I explained slowly; BECAUSE I WASN'T IN THE TRUCK AT THE TIME.
    At this point the strain of her day became too much, and she lost control of her arms. For that matter both moms (my wife and Scott's wife) became totally unreasonable, and probably said things that we cannot repeat here. You know how crazy wimmen-folk can get for no apparent reason. But the point is, Bloodshed is not always bad, and Bricks are not always for masonry construction.
Arizona lifter Martin Vogt told me that he got stronger by training with a Brick. His exact words: "It's  really enhanced my competitive lifts. "Since he speaks properly, and trains with Brick-I'll let him tell the story:

Is that place still open? This is the question I am often asked whenever I wear my Thorbecke's T-shirt to various meets throughout the country. A gym of legendary proportions, it is indeed, very much still open, and perhaps by certain standards might even be considered flourishing. Perhaps an integral factor in the confusion that surrounds its existence can be attributed to its unique location. Some lifters claim Scottsdale as its residence; others feel they're lifting Tempe. Regardless, today's Thorbecke's is located off of Curry Road between McClintock (Hayden) and Rural (Scottsdale) Roads, just north of the 202. You can't miss it - just look for the sandwich board sign by the auto body shop that says GYM, and turn in. (Unfortunately, if the wind is blowing especially hard that day, the sign may have blown down, and unless persistence is one of your strengths, you may miss a golden lifting opportunity.) Nevertheless, if you're successfully negotiated this first obstacle, then simply follow this road (Stadem Road), and just before it ends, turn right into an alleyway that fronts a number of industrial workplaces housed in garages. Now, simply follow this alley to the end, and it's the last garage on the left. Once again, you can't miss it, because the letters GYM are prominently displayed above the door; besides which, if you go too far, you'll drive your vehicle into what's affectionately known as the Thor Creek. Upon entering Thorbecke's, be prepared to take a step back in time as this is that gym your dad lifted in; and, if a further comparison is necessary, you'll soon sense the overtones of the gym Apollo Creed took Rocky Balboa to in the film "Rocky III." The owner describes it as a trip through a time warp in the 70 's where "if you stay in here you won't grow old." Eclectic would probably best describe its internal atmosphere. To begin with, the weights themselves represent over forty years of accumulation and represent a lifter's dream- they're functional.

There are two power platforms (each prominently placed before an American flag), two benches, two squat stations; and to keep it from beginning to exclusively approximate Noah'sArk, incline and decline benches, supine benches, numerous dumbbells, pulley stations, and all the other necessities one would expect to find a gym in this class. In addition, there is the special equipment: a hack squat/leg press machine reputed to have once used by American forces for the invasion of Normandy, and Inverted leg press (a true antiquity), and one of the most unique push up devices known to mankind. The locker room area is also unique and yet once again befits the term functional. It actually comes disguised as the bathroom. And, then there are the lifters themselves, who represent a socio- economic cross-section of America, which includes: policemen, firemen, engineers, teachers, musicians, executives, laborers, students, businessmen, et al. Nevertheless, regardless of your occupation, overall it is like CHEERS - "a place where everybody knows your name, and they're always glad you came."

Locker room and Juice Bar at Thorbecke's Gym.
The locker room/juice bar area at Thorbecke's.

    At the same time, this is not merely EVERYMAN'S gym; this has been and stilI is a cathedral for many of America's premier powerlifters - Dave Pasanella, Dave Keaggy, Fred Millan, Bob Calvan, Mike Morris, Marty Einstein, Brick Darrow, Dave Draper, Jack Barnes, Wayne Coleman (aka Superstar Billy Graham), Bruce Wilhelm, Mike Wonyetye, Harold Escobedo, and the legendary Jon Cole-who have all trained at Thorbecke 's at one time or another. Similarly, the team itself - albeit presently a more mature group - continues to win powerliftlng championships at the state and nationallevels, having recently earned Its 30th team championship in Arizona. But, to return to the concept of EVERYMAN once again, there's yet another special quality to Thorbecke's that's especially evident every Saturday - a BARBERSHOP quality - good dialogue and enthusiastic conversation. For if you ever have the opportunity to come in on a Saturday morning for a workout, In addition to your lifting opportunity (as well as the opportunity for some first-rate Instructjon), you'll enjoy the passionate discourse, sometimes bordering on pontification, as this particular group revels in not only dissection America's social, political, and economic concerns and issues, but willingly offering solutions to these maladies as well. It's truly enlightening, and always entertaining, to take a break from your workout, get a container of Ralph's special blend of 'Thorbecke's "coffee and watch the "competition". Then, there's always the requisite ambiance, yet another unique component of the Thorbecke's lifting experience, as it soon becomes apparent that this is, indeed, not a contemporary ".. .Fitness" center.
   
    Immediately upon entering, the first thing you notice is a comfortable and familiar sound, that of Classic Rock & Roll, the only music Thorbecke's offers. Then, as you enter the garage (oops, facility), listening to hits like "Knights in White Satin" or "Stairway to Heaven", you are immediately next overwhelmed by the walls. On the walls {as well as on the garage door) are, instead of the steri Ie pastels and motivational signs all too prominent in the contemporary "Spandex" gyms. A memorial to the "Who's Who" of powerlifting- plaques commemorating the setting and breaking of records, and of award-winning teams, autographed pictures, posters of meets dating back to the 70 's and, a visual record of the Power Bowl meets of previous years. Above, and below, and amongst this pictorial array of lifting prowess are trophies-lots and lots of trophies - recording the numerous competitive successes of the gym. And, if you look very carefully, when taking a break between sets, you '11 even see a life-size poster of the present-day governor of Califomia in his earlier lifting days, as well as some treasured photos from Muscle Beach in California. By now, you're probably asking yourself how the members manage to keep this lifting emporium fiscally solvent. Well, there are actually two sources of revenue. First of all, there is the CO-OP perspective, whereby each member contributes a specified amount monthly, which entitles him to a key, thereby making this truly a 24x7, 365 day- a-year facility. But, for those who are only "occasional" lifters, for the modest sum of $2 (yes, Virginia, much like there is, indeed, a Santa Claus, there is also still a place you can train for $2 a day) you can work out any day you want when the doors are open, which is usually from Odark 30 in the morning until midnight and beyond six days a week.

    So, what is it then that holds this lifting Xanadu together? Ironically, it's not glue, it's a brick. Much like any other grandmother, Lucy May Thorbecke looked on her grandchildren as a treasure sent from above. This was especially significant in her feelings towards her grandson Brick (Darrow). In the early 60 's, when Brick and his friends were lifting in his bedroom at Grandma's, they began to render the building structurally unsafe as they increased their poundages. She them moved them to a 12' x 20' cement carport slab outside the house. This, subsequently, remained their headquarters for many years with Grandma functioning as the caretaker for what would serve as the original Thorbecke's. However, as the gym membership grew (from 40 to 250), a larger more permanent faculty was needed; and so, Brick and his cohorts moved to Scottsdale, until rising rent cost next forced them to move to this present location (actually, it's Tempe). Through it all, the one constant has been Brick, an East Val/ey treasure, who still runs and trains at Thorbecke's, and what's even more ironic is that the journey has now come full circle as he presently mentors his own grandson, Connor, who also trains there. So, if you're ever traveling in Phoenix, more specifically its East Valley, and you're looking for a good place to train amidst many of the legends of power lifting, stop by Thorbecke's, invest $2, and take a trip back in time. And, remember, in this gym, everybody's "always glad you came."

Brick Darrow spotting lifter at Thorbecke's Gym.

His Highness (as the members affectionately refer to him)
Owner/Manager/Lifter sometimes spotter, Brick Darrow, (email Brick)
who once did a 450 lb. incline press at 220 Ibs. in an Odd-Lift Contest at Muscle Beach, CA.


I don't know about you, but Thorbecke's sounds way cool to me! Next time that I'm in Tempe, AZ - I'm gonna train there (heck, it's only $2). Next time you're in East Texas come play with us - cause we will have some fun, and we don't quit until someone gets stitches. Next month, we'll meet "The Keeper of Hell's Gate." Stay tuned.

Comments or questions? Rick@HouseofPain.com; mail, or $$,or photos:
HOUSE OF PAIN, P.O. Box 333 Fate, TX 75132.
© PowerliftingUSA Magazine Nov/2004 edition Vol. 28, No. 2
(article and photographs used by permission) lightly edited by WebMaster@ThorbeckesGym.com)


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