* Written by Ray Nobile with assistance from Magnus and Ray's beautiful wife Marion.
NOTE by Strength Oldschool: Ray Nobile has a new ebook out which I highly recommend all serious bodybuilding and strongman fans read! As a teaser guests can read Chapter 1 and Chapter 5 below for free to get a taste of what the book entails.
To purchase this eBook, at the cost of only 5 Euros, (price may be subject to change) please contact Ray Nobile directly at the following email address: email@example.com.
- Have you ever wondered what it feels like to be a worldclass powerlifter? Or a European champion bodybuilder?
- How about a world record breaker in strongman competition?
- My name is Ray Nobile and I have been there, done that and got the t-shirt as the saying goes in ALL THREE!!
- Join me on a journey through the 1960s, 70s, 80s and 90s as I lift, hold, carry and flex my way through my iron game career.
- Meet the super-strong highlander who gave it up for love while still in his prime!
- See the eccentric lifter who raised 700 lbs with the help of a foot pump (or did he?)!
- How about the giant lifter who ran away...from an oily salad? And much more!
- Meet legends of lifting that became friends of mine, and experience what it was like to compete against them.
- Stories from my life PLUS chapters featuring Marion my wife and her record breaking success, PLUS various training routines and diets I have used over the years.
- More than 100 pages of drama, laughter, tragedy and entertainment awaits you within this e-book from a former topflight competitor in the iron game…enjoy!
Chapters / Page No.
Foreword by Strength Oldschool – Page 3
1: My first 5 years in the Iron Game: 1965 -1970 – Page 6
2: 1970-1980: From powerful-looking to powerlifting champion – Page 15
3: 1976 – 1980: Power, politics and personalities on my way to the top – Page 25
4: 1977-1980 Worlds to conquer and Battles to the Finnish and Swedish – Page 37
5: 1979-1980 Winning, whingeing and record breaking strong men! – Page 51
6: 1981 to 1985: Big totals, Strongman titles and bowing out of plifting! – Page 65
7: 1986 to 1999: Bodybuilding, gym owner and fire-fighting games! – Page 76
8: Marion tells Magnus about her own career in the iron game – Page 90
9: Some of my training routines – Page 105
10: Dedications and Thanks – Page 112
My First 5 years in the Iron Game: 1965-1970
Hello Iron Game brothers and sisters, I am very glad you decided to read my story and I will do my best to entertain you along the way. If you don’t know anything about the iron game and it’s all new to you welcome anyway, I will try to explain things and make it entertaining for you as well.
I have been living in Bulgaria for about a decade along with my beautiful wife Marion who is a strength athlete and title winner in her own right. Even though I am now over 60 years of age we train hard 6 days a week and eat a disciplined diet, maintaining bodybuilder physiques that are pretty good, even if I do say so myself! We have come a long way from where we started and experienced great triumphs and the odd loss along life’s highway, but here and now I would like to take you back in time and tell you how it was in my early days.
I started life’s journey in April 1951, living in a village in South Lanarkshire in Scotland called Bothwell which is roughly 12 miles south-east of Glasgow. The river Clyde runs through Bothwell and the remains of a castle sit on Bothwell Bank. There is a lot of history tied up in this place but when I started training I never imagined at all that one day it would be me making history myself.
I was lucky to have inherited good genetics for the iron game which became evident when I was very young. In fact when I was 3 years old I was spotted by a man who was in town with the circus as I ran along the seafront in Largs with my parents. This man offered to buy me from my parents, saying that he had never seen such a well-developed child before and I would make a very good circus performer as I grew up. Luckily for me my parents decided not to take the money!
At 13 years of age I started working weekends and school holidays at my father’s hairdressing salon, learning how to deal with ladies hair under the direction of my uncle Adam who managed that side of the business. At 15 years of age I left school and worked full-time hairdressing and attended Stow College of Hairdressing on a day release scheme, picking up my diplomas in tinting, perming and other hairdressing skills.
While I was taking my apprenticeship I became inspired to become a bodybuilder when I was 14 years old as I watched the Hercules movies that starred the legendary Steve Reeves and Reg Park, and Gordon Scott as Tarzan. At 14 I possessed a well-proportioned but wiry physique and I thought these guys had incredible physiques. There was even a muscle control act on the talent-spotting TV programme called Opportunity Knocks. A guy called Tony Hollands performed muscle control routines to music, and I just had to build some muscle for myself after seeing all of these bodybuilders. My father bought a Weider barbell set and with little more than the instruction leaflet that came with it I trained in my bedroom for a year. Then at 15 years of age I joined a gym and finally started learning much more about how to train properly.
The year was 1966 and the Koby Osaka gym was situated above a Judo studio in Glasgow which had a tremendous reputation in the Judo world due to it being owned and run by a guy called Tommy Morris who, if I remember correctly, was the first man in the UK to attain a 10th Dan grade. Training became more advanced now as I followed routines pinned to the walls of the gym and also sought advice from the more experienced guys that trained there. It was also the gym where I met Robin Love who became my training partner for five years and also became a great friend, more than once being my best man.
Thinking of Robin reminds me of one occasion when we went to Blackpool for the weekend and created a bit of chaos in Woolworths while we were there. We went in and told the girl at the counter that we were making a special visit to test the hot water bottles that they were selling there. She said “what do you mean, test them? ” We explained we were checking for leaks and she proved to be a practical jokers dream as she asked if we wanted all of them. She must have been either a new member of staff or a ‘weekend girl’ because she was so gullible she accepted everything we said without question. We settled on one each and after removing the packaging took a count of three then started blowing them up. In next to no time a crowd gathered to watch us and we had the bottles about halfway there when the manager came storming into the room accompanied by a couple of staff members, shouting “what the hell is going on here? ” Robin let his bottle go and it shot up to the ceiling then bounced down onto shelving sending things flying.
I was still determined to burst my bottle but was grabbed by the elbows by members of staff and they were forcing me towards the exit. Before we got there Robin dead-panned “here, unhand that man he is not finished yet, the bottle is about to burst so let him continue.” At this I burst out laughing and the bottle took off like a bat out of hell straight into the baby food shelves. We were then booted out onto the street and while we were walking away an old man who looked about 90 called after us “come back lads, you are not well, you need treatment,” but we just kept walking and laughing.
Back to the gym and training moved up another notch.
I then went on to follow Reg Park’s Bulk and Power routine, which was based on all the basic lifts worked for 5 sets of 5 reps each exercise. Yes young guys, there are 5 x 5 routines by Madcow, Stronglifts, Bill Starr etc. these days, some of them talk as though they invented 5 x 5, but Reg Park was training this way in the early 1950s. And Reg got so strong he set many official British weightlifting records including becoming the second man in history to bench press 500 pounds!
I also followed routines from the magazines, especially those created by John McCallum in his ‘Keys to Progress’ series of articles that were published in Bob Hoffman’s Strength and Health and Muscular Development magazines. Years later Randall Strossen of Ironmind reprinted John’s entire series as a book. If you want good advice and funny entertaining articles you cannot do better than to get a copy and read about John’s quirky characters and his admiration for real guys such as the Canadian Hercules Maurice Jones and of course Reg Park.
Anyway, I am getting a bit ahead of myself. Let’s go to the first contest I ever attended (as a spectator) which was the Mr Hercules organised by Bob Sweeney who was the owner of the Olympic Health Studios chain of chromed and carpeted health studio gyms spread throughout Britain. The winner of this contest was Bernard Bradford who went on to be runner-up in the Mr Britain contest. The junior division of this contest was won by Dave Caldwell. This would not be the last time I came across Dave at a contest! The icing on the cake was the guest poser, none other than Larry Scott, fresh from his Mr Olympia victory! Although he seemed to be somewhat shy off stage, when he posed on stage he just exuded charisma from every pore, no wonder Ricky Wayne raved about him in Joe Weider’s Muscle Builder magazine. And the strange thing was in the pictures we saw of Larry he looked quite smooth, but in the flesh he was not just cut, he was ripped to shreds (cut and ripped means the muscles stand out and are highly visible).
I said I was just a spectator at this contest but I did get up on stage and compete but not as a bodybuilder. The Milk Marketing Board held an audience participation contest during the break and I won it. What did I do? I had to eat a pie, drink a pint of milk and blow up a balloon until it burst. I had to take two buses to get home from Glasgow and I received some funny looks from other travellers as I carried my prize home, as I had won 12 pints of milk, 12 pies, 24 cartons of yoghurt and a packet of balloons!
Not long after I entered my first competition in Glasgow in November 1966. The contest was the junior Mr Caledonia and I placed third. The winner was Dave Caldwell who then went on to become runner-up in the junior Mr Britain that year. Later Dave turned to powerlifting like me, and he went on to become European and World champion. Also at this contest I met Rick Wayne who was both a great bodybuilder and possibly the best writer and contest reporter on the bodybuilding world ever. Ricky said I had great potential and would go far in bodybuilding, and was extremely surprised to hear that I was only 15 years old at the time as he thought I was around 17.
Over the next few years I competed in bodybuilding I won the junior Mr Scotland 3 times, junior Mr Caledonia twice, the junior Mr Edina (Edinburgh) and the junior Mr Fitness and Health. I also competed in the junior Mr Britain in 1970 and was a finalist, competing against teenage phenomenon young Bertil Fox.
When I turned 18 years of age one of the girls at my father’s salon decided to go it alone and set up her own business, and she asked me to work for her. I decided ‘why not’ but unfortunately she had a jealous husband and after seven months I had to leave. I fancied a change from hairdressing so I went to work the summer season at a Butlins holiday camp, but only worked there for three weeks because John and Andy who trained at the same gym as me set up a new gym in the heart of Glasgow and asked me to be an instructor there. They named it the Nordic Health Studios and were hoping to have the same success that Bob Sweeney had with his chain of Olympic Health Studios.
During this period of time in my life I met many great iron game competitors and here I would like to say a few words about some of them:
Frank Richards: Mr Britain winner in 1968 who was a straightforward, down to earth character who, even when he was competing or guest posing, could always be found in the bar or pub both before and after the competition, as he liked his drink! Frank later trained with guys like Arnold Schwarzenegger and Franco Columbu at the original Golds gym and also suffered a very bad accident in his work that almost ended his career but he made a comeback some years later and did very well.
John Citrone: I first met John in 1967 at a competition where he guest posed. As well as posing he performed a strength act, part of which was to lift an anvil in one hand and an anchor in the other and hoist them overhead. The anvil had a handle welded on which made it even more awkward to lift. He challenged anyone in the audience to replicate this feat, but despite many very strong men from this era trying no one ever succeeded. John also included his wife, who was a Miss Britain winner, in this act by lifting her overhead with one arm, but unfortunately for the audience‘s strongmen he never invited anyone to try and match that feat! John’s strength was all the more impressive because he was not a huge man by any means, yet he could out-do men that were quite literally twice or even three times his size!!
Paul Wynter: A multi NABBA Mr Universe winner who also included strength feats in his act. In those days show promoters got more value for their money as most of the physique stars were more versatile and included strength acts with their posing routines. Paul was strong but was best known for his classical shape, possessing a physique similar to Steve Reeves.
Len Sell: Another multi Universe winner, Len was a very small man with a very unusual physique. He also promoted the Bullworker isometric training device, but despite being paid well to do this he would openly tell people that it was rubbish and weights were the one and only truly effective equipment to train with!
Louis Martin: A star in the sport of Olympic weightlifting, between 1959 and 1965 was world champion 4 times and won a silver medal at the Tokyo Olympic games in 1964 when Russian Trofim Lomakin showed up in top form and beat Louis. I met Louis when we toured Scotland together with Precious McKenzie, Dave Prowse and David Webster.
Dave Prowse stood around 6 feet 7 inches and later became the Green Cross Code man on TV then Darth Vader in Star Wars, but at this time he competed as a bodybuilder and Olympic weightlifter and was British heavyweight weightlifting champion twice. He also succeeded in lifting the famous ‘unliftable’ Inch dumbbell that had beaten all other contenders during Thomas Inch’s strongman career!
Drifting off the subject there, let’s get back to Louis Martin. Louis was a genial sort of guy who liked to read poetry and possessed an amazing physique for an Olympic lifter as he had started out as a bodybuilder in Jamaica before settling in England. He told me that after every training session he would drink a pint of Guinness with a couple of raw eggs mixed in it. I asked him if this helped with his strength and muscle development and he replied that he didn’t know for sure but it certainly kept his muscles happy! Magnus tells me that years ago in Portugal they called Guinness stout beer and raw eggs a ‘drink for tired horses,’ but lots of people also drank it as a tonic. Louis was by far the most successful Olympic lifter that represented Britain internationally that we have ever had.
Don Dorans: In 1968 I met Don at a competition and he took me under his wing, organising my training routines and giving me advice about contest prep, diet, posing etc. His routines were very quirky but effective, and he was way ahead of his time with regards to nutrition. We became really great friends when he moved to Scotland, and I used to visit him every couple of weeks and he would introduce me to the latest piece of training equipment that he was designing. Quite a few of the standard pieces of gym equipment that all gyms have these days came from Don’s highly eccentric but also amazingly active and inventive mind.
Don was also a very good cyclist for his age at that time (60 years old). I remember one time when I went to visit him and he had just returned from a 10 miles time trial which had been accomplished in 23 minutes. When he told me he was going out again to repeat the 10 mile trial I had to ask why. He explained that he was conducting a nutritional experiment on himself to see if vitamin E would be effective for his endurance, and had just taken 4,000 IU’s of E before going out again. He told me he would be back in 23 minutes but made it in 22 minutes 30 seconds, so had knocked 30 seconds off his time despite being more fatigued on the second time trial, proving that it was effective.
One of the routines Don came up with for me was very effective at adding size and strength – see the last chapter for some details about it.
Anyway, going back to competitions, things were very different to today’s shows. Now we have contests with lots of classes thrown in such as Miss Figure, Miss Bikini, Mr/Miss Fitness which are nothing to do with bodybuilding and really belong in aerobics shows. Also there are many different bodybuilding federations. Compare that with the 1960s when everything was far simpler and there were only 2 organisations. In the shows there were only the men’s classes, the juniors and the Miss. Everyone was also much more friendly back then, and approachable and pleasant when asked questions. Most of the top guys felt it was their duty to help the novices in the sport. Also there were no prima donnas throwing temper tantrums on stage and smashing trophies if they failed to win.
Magnus asked me if I had an outstanding memory from my first 5 years in the sport that stood out from everything else that had taken place. Well yes I do, it was when I had won the Mr Fitness and Health which was staged by David Webster. I was invited to join a tour of various competitions in the company of Louis Martin, Precious McKenzie etc. (as I had mentioned earlier), and listening to the stories these guys could tell was riveting stuff to a fan like me. There was one thing that partly spoilt it, this was of course when I first found out that Webster was only really involved in it for himself as he always took advantage of us.
I was promised that I would be paid for the tour as Louis, Dave etc. were being paid to be a part of it. When the tour ended and I asked for my money, Webster said the fact that expenses incurred such as food, hotel bills etc. had been paid by him, and that this was my payment and there was no cash forthcoming. This was despite numerous newspaper and TV interviews which Webster was paid for but we weren’t. This was my first experience of many with him over the years that followed where he constantly manipulated situations to suit himself.
Generally though, I was very happy with my achievements and met many interesting and famous people, and really enjoyed the experience of it all. If you told me I could live my life over again, and could change anything in those 5 years, I think I would be happy to do it all again exactly the same, yes even if I had to put up with David Webster’s interfering involvement.
Okay, that brings us to the end of my first 5 years in the iron game, after which life changed. I still trained but only competed occasionally as my new career as a fireman, getting married and starting a family occupied most of my time. Then in 1976 I took up powerlifting which was a new beginning that led to some of the biggest achievements in my life, and eventually took me all over the world…..and I will be telling you all about it in the chapters that are coming up!
1979-1980 Winning, whingeing and record breaking strong men!
Hello again and welcome to chapter five! With apologies to fans of spaghetti westerns you could say in this chapter I remember some guys that were good, at least one bad (although I hear he has mellowed with age! ), and occasionally the ugly happenings and behaviour of people from my career in strength. This time the action overlaps with chapter four as it is squeezed into the end of the 1970s and the start of the 1980s; a time when my powerlifting prowess kept on growing up to some of my best-ever results and other opportunities to compete in strength-based competitions appeared: I am of course talking about strongman contests.
Back in the 1970s strongman contests were rare and the competitors even rarer. Unlike today with their Grand Prix events, prize money and professional competitors that train specifically for strongman contests, there were no professional strongmen (other than circus and vaudeville type performers). A TV programme called ‘World’s Strongest Man’ was created by Transworld Sports in 1977 but it wasn’t very worldwide at all as all the competitors were Americans (except for Franco Columbu who lived in America anyway).
The TV producers looked around for guys known to the public for their strength and invited them to compete. Guys like WWF (now WWE) wrestler Ken Patera who had been America’s strongest Olympic lifter and had lifted in the 1972 Olympic games in Munich; Bruce Wilhelm the current strongest lifter at the time in America; Lou Ferrigno, at that time the world’s biggest bodybuilder and newly famous on Television as green-skinned The Incredible Hulk; George Frenn a hammer thrower and record-breaking powerlifter from the original Westside Barbell club run by Bill ‘Peanuts’ West; bodybuilder and strongman Mike Dayton who was the first to sell a training course that put the focus on mind control. Using his techniques Mike used to break real police handcuffs in his escapology act! American Football player Bob Young was the big brother of world champion powerlifter Doug Young, then came Jon Cole who was well past his best (Jon had been a fantastic powerlifter and Olympic lifter), and of course Franco Columbu 1976 Mr Olympia (and later 1981 Mr Olympia). And that was it – 8 competitors only.
Wilhelm won the contest and won again in 1978 then retired. Going back to the 1977 contest, Franco lost his balance running with a 420 lb (190 kg) refrigerator on his back and wrecked one of his legs. This came back to haunt him when he took the 1981 Mr Olympia title with thighs that looked untrained and (oh no! There goes Magnus on his rant against the 1981 Olympia result again! Better change the subject fast! ) caused a storm of controversy. Anyway, you get the picture – guys were invited to compete simply because they were known to the public and usually when they tackled the strongman events they had never done them before, so records back then were much lower than today but injuries were much more common because they did not know the best techniques to use when performing these events.
My first invitation to compete in strongman came in January 1979, and what I am going to tell you next will probably make you think I was crazy to accept. A powerlifting meet was being organised by Gus Rethwisch who had finished in fifth place in the 1978 Worlds Strongest Man (years later Gus played ‘Buzzsaw’ in Arnold’s movie ‘The Running Man’). The meet was by invitation only and would feature world champions and world record holders from all over the world, and it was going to be held in Hawaii. ‘Fantastic’ I thought, ‘who would not want to go to Hawaii?’ I was all set to go when a completely unexpected letter from Wally Holland who was president of BAWLA dropped through my letterbox. It said that I had been selected to compete in Britain’s Strongest Man which was being organised and would be shown on TV by Transworld Sport. The contest was going to take place in Woking, Surrey at the same time as the Hawaii trip. Now let’s see – Woking or Hawaii? With apologies to Woking, I think most people would have taken the Hawaii trip but I settled on the Woking contest (the Hawaii event went ahead without me and became an annual fixture in the powerlifting calendar) instead!
There was a lot of prestige involved in this strongman contest. I had been selected as a European champion powerlifter along with Andy Drzewiecki (pronounced drev-e-at-ski), British 110 kg class Olympic lifting champion. In earlier days Andy had been a regional discus and shot put champion and won a bronze medal lifting in the 1978 Commonwealth Games. He also finished in tenth place in the 1980 Moscow Olympic Games. Andy was a very strong guy, regularly clean and jerking overhead 185 kg (407 lb) in competitions. I was not sure what to expect in the contest but was ready and eager to go and do my best.
I travelled down to the contest with Bill Anderson and Grant Anderson (not related despite their surnames), but both of them were Highland Games legends, especially Bill. And Bill gave me some advice about how to deal with David Webster (remember him from the first chapter in my life story? ). Bill was also involved with Webster, appearing in contests and shows for him and, as a canny Scot of more mature years than I was at the time, he told me that whenever Webster arranged anything for Bill to do Bill would insist on being paid up front. He also gave me good advice, saying “don’t do anything for nothing! You are the champion in your chosen sport you have put in the time, effort and money to get where you are, so always insist on payment off anyone you deal with.”
As the contest got under way I assessed my competitors, two of them in particular standing out from the rest in size – Geoff Capes the 6 foot 6 inch 22 stone (140 kg) International shot put competitor, and just a fraction shorter but lighter at roughly 19 stone (121 kg) professional wrestler Pat Roach. Similar in size they may have been but as the competition progressed I found they were almost opposites personality-wise.
Pat Roach became famous for his role as Bomber in the much-loved TV series ‘Auf Wiedersehen Pet,’ and much like the character he played was a quiet, genial gentleman who worked hard to stay in shape for wrestling, not only going to the gym but also doing hundreds of bodyweight-only squats throughout the day no matter where he was. Pat also appeared in lots of movies. Ironically he usually played the bad guy heavy roles, but in real life Pat was most definitely a good guy.
To read more of this chapter and the rest of the chapters contact Ray Nobile or send an email to Ray at: firstname.lastname@example.org to purchase this eBook, at the cost of only 5 Euros! (price subject to change).
NOTE by Strength Oldschool: A fairly recent Interview with Strongman Geoff Capes can be viewed below.
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All the best,