Kettlebells can save lives

Jerry Gray, at 73 years old, is an inspiration to those of us that aspire to stay strong and fit throughout our entire life. In addition to a daily routine of walking his dog, bodyweight exercise, and weightlifting, Jerry competes in Kettlebell Sport. At his last competition, the IKFF Chicago Classic, Jerry completed 162 reps in 10 min 16kg Snatch and 69 reps in 5 min 20kg Snatch. What is your athletic background? I was fairly active in high school and my first year of college with playing hockey, but I married young, so sports were put on the back burner. During my second divorce I had my first heart attack at age 39, which was likely a result of stress and heavy smoking. This totally changed my life - I quit smoking, and started getting active.

Racquetball became my main form of exercise over the next 25+ years. I went to camps, played tournaments, played in masters competitions on a national level, coached a club sport collegiate team for 10 years, ran national collegiate events and attended two elite training camps at the Olympic Training Center. During that time, I took up running and ran marathons in Chicago and New York. Just in case I didn't have enough to do, I joined a local ski club and skied all over the USA - and still do. Not to leave my kids behind, we started backpacking in  Montana, Wyoming and Colorado.

When my wife Liberty and I were dating, much of our time was spent running, rollerblading , biking and skiing - and then we started weightlifting. I dedicated a room in my house to workout equipment: treadmill, bench, weights, squat rack, dip, pullup bar, dumb bells, and bike trainer. Liberty talked me into doing some bodybuilding with her, which I did and entered a few contests in my early 60's.

How did you start Kettlebell Sport? How old were you when you started? Ken Blackburn introduced me and Liberty to Girevoy Sport in 2006, the same year that I did an RKC certification with Pavel. We went to our first Kettlebell Sport meet in 2007, and I was hooked.

 What do you do for a living?  I'm a graduate Civil Engineer and Land Surveyor and own my own business that I started in 1971. I still own the business, but only work part time.

How has Kettlebell Sport training improved your health? I have had multiple heart attacks and numerous stents placed. I am convinced my training and lifestyle has kept me alive.

In the fall of 1994, I had intermittent chest pains. A stress test indicated I had blockage in an artery.  I had a balloon angioplasty in January 1995 to open the artery. After running a 25k race in May of 1995, the artery closed up in the area of the blockage. This time I spent six days in critical care after receiving three stents. March 1999, three months before my wedding, I suffered another heart attack at work. They put in two more stents to clear the blockage. All was going good until three months after the RKC in 2006, when I got more chest pains. I went back to the hospital and got two more stents. The next incident was at the Arnold Classic in 2010, when I suffered yet another heart attack after competing in 16kg Biathlon.

While in Texas for the IKSFA certification with Sergey Rudnev in July 2011, I completed a double bell jerk relay - 34 reps in two minutes with 2x16kg. At lunch, boom another heart attack. Luckily they got me to a medical center nearby. Through all of this Liberty has been my rock, many times staying in the hospital with me.

Every time I go through a procedure, I make lifestyle changes hoping to outrun the grim reaper. One thing that is constant, is that I always stay active and I am not about to give in to the ravages of the disease. It has been almost four years since the last incident, and I'm feeling the best I ever have. But every time I get on the platform, the threat of another heart attack is always in my mind.

How many times per week do you train and what does a typical training day look like for you? My consistency over the past 30+ years has really kept me in the game. I don't quit. I do something everyday. My typical day starts with walking the dog two miles; I do this two times per day. I feel it is more important for me than for the dog!

After walking the dog and a quick warmup, I will do the workout prescribed for me by Ken Blackburn. We are working on snatches right now, probably about 300 reps. My time working with the bells never over 40 minutes.

On a non-training day, I will walk the dog again, and do a routine of five sets of five different exercises 5-10 reps each. I just purchased a Concept 2 Rower and I do intervals or a long, steady row for 20 minutes.

Do you coach Kettlebell Sport? I work for my wife Liberty. I coach four competition training classes a week. I have students in my class that have trained with me for six years. Most of my class does not compete; they just like the intensity.

What is your coaching philosophy? Here are my four rules for coaching:

Rule #1 Choose your kettlebells wisely. Only good reps. When training starts getting sloppy, I encourage lighter weights.

Rule#2 No torn hands. If a lifter feels they are going to tear, they have to tell me immediately. We'll work on technique or give them an alternate lift.

Rule#3 Train for success, not for failure. Work hard, challenge yourself, but don't go overboard.

Rule#4 Own your training session. You are at a different place in your life than everyone else; you are unique. Therefore your sets, reps and weights will be different from others.

Single versus double kettlebell events: do you prefer one over the other? Since my heart attack in Texas, I have stopped competing with two bells in Jerk or Long Cycle, although I still do some 1 - 2 minute sets with two bells on my off snatch days.

How does your age affect how you train and recover? The most important part of training in the 7th decade is recovery. In my prior three decades I was not too smart about my training and went too heavy too often. Now I know I have to meter my energy levels carefully. It is sad that older people do not want anything to do with the type of training I do. In fact, most don't train at all and it shows in their declining health. I really feel that my training is the reason I have survived the all of the heart attacks brought by my previous lifestyle.

What is the best part of Kettlebell Sport?  I didn't get into the sport for rankings. For me it is a vehicle to enhance my health, and the competitions are a way of measuring my improvement. I love the sport and all the people I have met on Facebook or at comps. Their support has been amazing. I love Kettlebell Sport because I get to hang with all the kids, but I really wish there were more Veterans competing.

What are your aspirations for Kettlebell Sport? I do not have any goals as far as rank or Master of Sport goes. It is impossible. For me a competition gives me a chance to challenge myself and keep me in the training mood. So if I can do that 2-3 times a year, see my friends, I'm a happy guy.

Any advice to other Veteran lifters out there? Start with light weights, get a good kettlebell instructor, and master the technique of all the lifts. Do other types of training: bodyweight and cardio such as biking. Get adequate sleep and solicit a good diet consultant. Most of all, be patient with your body because changes come very slowly. Enjoy what you are doing for yourself on the journey to better health.

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