by Tomás Cuddihy uploaded 17th July 2013
John Patrick West was born in Tallow, Co. Waterford into a farming community where his father taught him all there is to know about ploughing, tending horses, hard work, milking cows and all things rural. His lifelong superior strength might be attributed to this early induction into hard physical work. His positive attitude and excellent work ethic probably also have their genesis in those early Waterford years.
Johns father was typical of the breed that built Ireland. Strong, very quiet, hard working and dedicated to his family. John remembers his father as a physically powerful man, a trait John admired as a youngster. When his father suddenly died at only 41 years of age John was devastated. It was October 1951. John was just 9 years old.
A father figure for John emerged in the guise of a teacher named Ned Power. Those of you who are into Gaelic games will recognise the name. Ned Power (1929-2007) was a Munster and All-Ireland winning hurling great for Waterford. Ned took an interest in John and guided his early sporting life. John was sports mad and was involved in Gaelic football, hurling, running...to name but a few.
In 1953 John moved to Tramore where his mothers family came from. There he played Gaelic football at the Christian Brothers School winning the Waterford street league in 1955. John was recognised as a talented player, he could have played for the Waterford juniors in 1956 but his destiny lay elsewhere and it began with an act of courage that should not be underestimated in one so young. John had 3 sisters a brother and a mother with no one to look out for them. Ireland was not then the welfare state we know and love today. John took action. He saved ten pounds by doing shop deliveries, milking cows and any other odd job he could find. Then, aged 14, he jumped a train to Rosslare, Fishguard and made his way to London on a Sunday in March 1956. By Tuesday he had a factory job that paid eleven pounds ten shillings for a 48 hour week of work. He told the boss he was 18 years old. Think about the courage it took that 14 year old to leave his family and country and to go to a land where his accent would not endear him to the natives. Think about the self sacrifice involved in supporting those back home.
De Valera's Ireland drove a generation from our shores in search of the opportunities, the simply dignity of working for a living that did not exist at home. Many never returned. John was a boxer for 15 years, he was a sprinter, he played Gaelic football, he competed in the tug-of-war at international level, athletics, hammer throwing at inter-county and inter-club level, Olympic lifting to improve his hammer throwing and, of course, powerlifting.
In 1977 John ruptured his Achilles tendon and that put paid to his field athletics career. Powerlifting for John began as a way to improve his hammer, discus and shot putting. It was a supplementary exercise routine in the beginning. He started powerlifting in 1973-74 and joined the Irish Amateur Weightlifting Association in 1978-79. On many occasions John competed for Ireland in IPF competitions and was, by his own admission, a babe amongst wolves. Drug taking was rife in those days and John West was oblivious to the stacked deck. He thought everyone was drinking full fat milk, eating raw eggs, training hard, sleeping well...full stop. He knew nothing about the drug taking and when he learned about it he turned away from such competitions.
Brian Forbes (another IDFPA great) and John West went to compete in the World Powerlifting Championships in Paris in July 1990. Both won bronze. Hugely impressive because there were no masters in those days. Both men were in against lifters who were decades younger. The first Masters World Powerlifting Championships were held in Minneapolis, Minnesota in 1991. John got the airfare together and went on to produce what he now rates as his best performance. John West was up against a man who had been the American Masters champion for four years running. After the squat John was 10kg behind. After the bench John was 25kg behind. Then came the deadlift. John changed his opening lift from 245kg to 267.5kg for a new world record. This forced his opponent to increase his second lift which he failed. John then lifted 276kg increasing his 100kg body weight world record and winning the competition. A great day for one proud Irishman in Minnesota. Job done.
Johns heaviest lifts were all performed when he was in his fifties at one meet. In Derby in the UK he lifted out of his skin at the Worlds Seniors Championship. Squat 272.5kg, Bench 160kg, Deadlift 280kg. John broke 12 World records in one day at that meet. 9 lifts, 9 records plus 3 total records.
Injury has dogged John Wests lifting career. He has had 3 knee operations. He has a false knee and a new Achilles tendon. 2 operations on his right elbow and last year his right bicep tendon tore whilst he was deadlifting. If you look at photographs of John deadlifting you'll note the tendency to keep his arms a little bit bent at the top of the lift. A no-no say those in the know. No regrets. John enjoyed it all and his best lifting was done at a time (his fifties) when many were telling him he was past it and should pack it in. He confounded those critics with huge numbers. Seven decades in sport and still enjoying the challenge. So, to sum it up. John Patrick Wests lifting tally of victories to date:
World Single Lifts, 11 times.
European Senior Championships (at 45 years of age),
2.Single Lifts Masters,
4.European powerlifting masters champion,12.
12 times world powerlifting champion at masters, from M2 to M6 at 100/110kg bodyweight.
Johns most recent effort was a World record bench press (137.5kg) at the WDFPF world championships in Antwerp, June 2013. John is still super strong in his seventies. Thank you John West for your contribution. We look forward to many more great days of lifting from you.