By ERIC A. HOWALD
Of the Keizertimes
Vince Suetos was six inches from setting a new powerlifting squat record when he was fairly certain he’d gotten some unwanted help.
“It was probably was the hardest lift I’ve ever done in my life. I went down and I started back up and I thought I got stuck. There were 300 people going crazy but I couldn’t hear it,” Suetos said. “I had about six inches to go. I made it up, but I thought the spotter behind me was helping me get the weights back on the rack. I turned around and thanked the spotter for helping me and he said he didn’t touch the bar. I got three white lights telling me I’d had a clean lift.”
The 66-year-old McNary High School English and health teacher had just lifted 501 kilos, beating the previous world record in the American Powerlifting Association by 99 kilos. By the end of the tournament, the Elite Performance Spring Classic, he’d lifted a total of 1,178 kilos between the squat, deadlift and bench press.
Suetos is no stranger to breaking records, in his heyday he had several of them in the books. He started lifting in 1970 and was the national champion by 1973.
“I had no expectations in that national meet. I was in the top three going into the deadlift and the Brigham Young University guy was the favorite. He just didn’t want to go the extra 15 or 20 pounds that I did and went for second place instead,” Suetos said.
He kept competing throughout a 20-year stint in the Marines and racked the career in the late 1980s. Powerlifters typically peak between 35 and 45, but there was only one guy Suetos couldn’t beat in traveling the California circuit.
“There was a guy named Jim Lem who was 50 and squatting more than 700 pounds,” Suetos said. “The one time I thought I was going to beat him, he didn’t realize he still had one more lift left. He ended up tying me and, when that happens, the lifter who checks in at the lower weight wins.”
After more than 15 years on the sidelines, Suetos decided to take part in a meet in Medford in 2004. He won the whole thing.
Since then, he’s kept up his regimen and competed several more times.
“Two years ago, there was a meet and I set two American records and all the Oregon state record alongside a world record in the squat for my age group,” he said. That was his first world record.
He rededicated himself to the sport after having a stint placed in his heart last June, which he said “scared me to death.”
After attempting another world record in December he found out he was in the wrong federation with different requirements. That’s when he decided to give it one last go a month ago.
“I would have sworn someone was helping me get those last six inches,” he said.
He’s now contemplating dropping a few pounds and going for a few more records, but he also knows his time in the sport is waning. His knees and back can’t withstand the rigors the way they once did.
As much as the thrill of competition gets him going, Suetos has found that inspiring others to stay in shape, and exceed their self expectations, is just as thrilling.
“I like nothing more than to see somebody learn, get better and feel good about themselves. All you have to do is be consistent. You don’t have to go out and squat 500 pounds. Just walk 30 minutes a day, the circulation will improve energy and mental clarity,” he said.
He said most of his best friends have been made in the gym while coaching and mentoring.
“The couple that motivated me were both 70 years old and competing in Medford in 2004. The oldest guy at the meet was 77,” Suetos said.