Ron Fernando Power Vault by nikeborome


									Ron Fernando’s Power Vault
Troubled Pioneer of Power

Born under a bad sign
I been down since I begin to crawl
If it wasn't for bad luck,
I wouldn't have no luck at all

Hard luck and trouble is my only friend
I been on my own ever since I was ten
Born under a bad sign……….

From the Song “BORN UNDER A BAD SIGN” by Albert King

Take a look at the lyrics of the above famous Blues Song . They summarize in
no uncertain terms the subject of this month‟s POWER VAULT- one of the early
Pioneers of Power, the enigmatic Douglas Ivan Hepburn of Canada. Doug
Hepburn made stupendous lifts in both Powerlifting and Classical Lifting nearly
60 years ago, results that still would be considered World Class ,won a World
Weightlifting Championship , and for a time was considered the World‟s
Strongest Man, his contemporary Paul Anderson of America notwithstanding. He
brought a lot of honor and fame to his country of Canada, yet received precious
little support from them, even at the peak of his career. In fact, for a while he was
the subject of scorn and derision form the CAAU ( Canadian Amateur Athletic
Union) who thought his stupendous results were fabricated and even refused him
the privilege of competing in the 1952 Helsinki Olympics. His long time stance
against drugs in athletics is well known, but for a time, he sunk into the misty
depths of alcoholism , depression and LSD use. He grew up with little or no
social skills, and quickly gravitated to the Iron, as many do to improve his own
self esteem. In later years he became a charismatic self promoter who for a time
even made a living as a professional lounge singer and recording artist. His
Christmas song “The Hepburn Carol” was published in the late 50‟s in Canada
and rare copies are still available today . His lifts , done so many years ago laid
the foundation for the sport that we all know today as Powerlifting. Of course it
goes without saying that he did these lifts with no supportive gear, no drugs, and
many times with no spotters. Doug was not, repeat NOT a natural athlete. Far
from it. He was born with a club foot and cross eyes, conditions that would shape
his youth , outlook on the world and social ineptitude from the start. Although his
eye condition was eventually corrected, his club foot was not until much later
and his withered lower right leg was always disguised in some way or another in
practically every photo available. Doug has always been comparatively weak on
the clean, mainly due to his club foot condition. Many operations were made to
correct the condition. In the last of three operations, several bones in his right
ankle were simply fused together. Thus, cleans and other fats that required a
forward lean of the body or an exceptional amount of support from the tibia are
rather restricted due to a lack of flexibility in this area. Surprisingly, his squats
were not affected by this condition.

 It was astounding to say the least that a man with a clubfoot and a shrunken
lower leg would eventually would go on to Full Squat close to 800 lbs, and do so
with no belt, wraps, or supportive equipment, but this has been documented
many times. He did try the standard sports of the day that were popular in
Canada- hockey and football- with little success, but soon found out that he was
better suited for the Iron Game. His bad leg that hindered him in Olympic Lifting
as it severely limited his ability in the Clean and the Snatch, yet was sufficiently
strong enough to win not only Regional , National and British Empire Games
Titles, but a historical win over the great American John Davis at the 1953 World
Weightlifting Championships in Stockholm, Sweden, a win that ultimately cost
the Americans the team title to the Soviets

 His early life was very difficult, as his father abandoned his family when he was
very young, and as is the case in these situations, gave young Doug a
tremendous case of abandonment and low self esteem, which he would later on
correct with his foray into weights. Remember, in those days , to come from a
“broken home” was a huge black mark against a person and tended to „scar‟
children for life, as it did young Doug.

His mother later remarried, and his stepfather cared little for young Doug, nor his
burgeoning weightlifting ambitions. Although he was a bright ,borderline brilliant
individual, he was a lackadaisical student who cared little for school. In fact his
Obsessive- Compulsive personality that he developed drove him to do one thing
and one thing only- be the Biggest and Strongest Man in the World. He soon
wore out his welcome with his stepfather, as his diet, which consisted of literally
eating everything in sight not just broke, but totally flattened the family food
budget. Doug was literally kicked out of his own house, and for a while drifted
around, doing odd jobs, like working in a chicken farm ( which he did because
part of his pay included all the eggs he could eat) , working as a lifeguard on the
beach, and working at a variety of gyms. His quiet introspective nature was
perceived as many as being snobbish and self assured but in reality he was shy
and extremely self conscious, even in later years. He started to, at this point in
time develop a special routine using the basic Power lifts to develop stupendous
body size and strength. Using this routine, he became the first man to bench press
500lbs drug-free. He eventually went on to Bench Press over 560 lbs and was
on track for a raw, drug free 600 when he injured his shoulder. Most of the time
his Bench Pressed, the weight had to be handed to him FROM THE FLOOR, and
the benches he used were small wooden contraptions that didn‟t look capable of
supporting his bodyweight ( between 280-310) let alone the weight of the barbell.
Next time you go to a meet and the meet director has not invested in a $1500
special competition bench, think of guys like Doug Hepburn, doing his record lifts
on what looked like a collection of rickety 2x4‟s His exceptional pressing power
wasn't limited to the Bench Press, as he set records in the One Arm Press with
over 200 lbs. He also push-pressed 500 lbs., military-pressed 450 lbs from the
Stands , Curled 245 lbs, Squatted close to 800 and performed Deadlifts with 800
lbs . What is astonishing about his Presses is that his bad leg greatly hindered
his ability to generate any discernible force - His Presses were unusually Strict
for a man of his size- and his Quick Lifts were done in a shallow Split form, using
more brute power than form. Doug did have a special” secret” exercise that he
developed while working as a lifeguard which he claimed greatly improved his
pressing power both on the Bench and Standing- Handstand Presses on a Log.
This is a rather forgotten exercise, but a very valuable one which can increase
your total body strength by leaps and bounds if done properly. Even in later years
at close to 60 years of age, Hepburn was easily able to do a handstand and
Press his bodyweight up several times. The USA‟s Larry Pacifico , who went on
to win 9 World Titles in Powerlifting used this exact exercise to great effect when
he was at his peak to help him Bench press 573 lbs with no shirt in the very early

The one individual that greatly affected Doug Hepburn‟s life was the then editor
of one of Joe Weider‟s early magazines- Charles Smith. The two of them
corresponded by mail , Smith giving Hepburn training advice , encouragement
and friendship and actually acting as his de facto coach. At that point in his life,
( the very early 1950‟s) Hepburn was competing in local meets in the three
Olympic Lifts plus doing unofficial exhibitions on the Bench Press and the Squat,
but was stymied and extremely frustrated when his reported results were scoffed
at as “fake” and “made –up” by those not in attendance. Remember that Canada
in those days ( and today, to a great extent) gave a lot of attention to their
Hockey players, and a lot less to other Sportsmen. During a public exhibition in
Vancouver on November 19, 1950, Doug cleaned and pressed 341 pounds
(which was weighed out on scales). He also bench pressed 400 pounds and did
a full squat with 550 pounds. Previous to this exhibition, Doug had written a letter
to the Weider Barbell Company. It was received around the latter part of October
1950, in which he listed his strength feats and complained that no one believed
him. Joe Weider gave Smith, an employee, the responsibility of checking this out.
Shortly thereafter an invitation was extended to Doug by Joe Weider to come to
New York for a visit. Doug took the train to New York, and visited the Weider
Offices ( long before they moved to the West Coast) a dn had some stupendous
workouts with the likes of Marvin Eder, Clancy Ross and other early mega stars.
He then headed south a ways and visited the then Mecca of Muscledom- York
PA and the York Barbell Club. After a few unofficial record breaking feats of
strength (most of which were witnessed by Bob Hoffman, Ray Van Cleef, John
Grimek, Steve Stanko, Jules Bacon, and others), such as a press of 345, a push
press with 400, and a right-hand military press with 155,Bob Hoffman even made
Doug the unusual offer of changing his citizenship to become an American so he
could represent the USA in the Olympics ( and receive a lot of financial support
form Hoffman) Doug, ever the humble and proud Canadian patriot, refused, a
decision which would later come back to haunt him. Doug Hepburn was clearly
one of the early “victims” of the ineptitude and paranoia of World Amateur
Athletics, so fraught with petty infighting and jealousies. For some strange reason
they hated him and did everything they could to hinder his progress. He had to
enlist the aid of others to help him raise the funds to fly to Sweden, no mean feat
in those days when most people travelled by ship across the ocean and flying
was considered a horrible extravagance. For a while, it looked like things were
looking up-the mayor of Vancouver gave Doug a “job” as his bodyguard so he
could train for the 1953 World Championships in Sweden. A lot of promises were
made to him if he won- his own gym, a salary as a city employee-and other
perks, none of which materialized, even after he won, and won in grand style with
a World Record Military Press of 381. Thinking that he was going to be rewarded
with tickertape parades, testimonial dinners and the like Doug was bitterly
disappointed upon his return to Canada and for a while thought about giving up
completely . But, he still had to support himself, even though he was single . He
turned to the one avocation that he had at hand that he could showcase his size
and strength- Pro Wrestling. Unfortunately, while his size, strength and
achievements were perfectly suited for the “squared circle”, his personality was
not. Hepburn‟s inherent shy nature was the antithesis for a role as a brash
professional wrestler, and deep down inside he disliked violence with a passion
having refused many times a variety of jobs as a bouncer or similar „heavy „ role.
Equally fond of music, Hepburn tried for a while to actually make his living as a
nightclub singer with moderate success. It seemed no one in Canada, or the
world for that matter cared about The World Weightlifting Champion and holder
of a slew of , the unofficial records in Powerlifting. No one.

He then sunk into a spate of depression that involved alcoholism, experimenting
with LSD, Eastern Mysticism, and near homelessness. Battling back
courageously form this disease, he became an advocate for healthful living and
developed a line of special supplements. He never had a lot of money and would
often live in the back of whatever gym he was working in, but he never gave up .
Doug developed a line of exercise machines and was even awarded a US Patent
but never seemed to break the ceiling when it came to financial success. When
he wa sin his mi-50‟s he attempted to make a comeback as a lifter and managed
to Full Squat ( again with no equipment or drugs) 600 for 8 reps and One Arm
Military Press 170 lbs. He died in relative obscurity in 2000 , and precious few
Canadians were even aware of his demise . The fact is, Doug Hepburn marched
to the tune of his own troubled drummer, and was never one to neatly fit into a
mold for the media. Even his traiing flew in the face of established norms. His
system deserves a look even today, as it involves long, patient cycles with a “big
picture” approach ( i.e. 1-2 years) planning cycles, relatively low reps ( 1-3 for
„Power‟ and 5 reps for “pump”) and a handful of very simple exercises: The
Bench Press, Squat, Deadlift, Two Arm Curl, Military Press, Barbell Row, and
High Pull with variants of these exercises. He was a true radical in the days were
most weight trainees were told that the 3x8-10 routine was the be all and end all
of all training methodologies. Remember, he was an Olympic Lifter Only by
public pressure- but in his heart and soul, he was always a POWERLIFTER- a
true Pioneer …

Doug Hepburn believed in Simplicity- in Training, Life and in Thought. His
simplistic, single minded approach to life probably cost him a lot of unearned
accolades, friends, a family which he never had and a tremendous amount of
money, but he was truly one of kind How many others do we know today, and in
our past who are like Hepburn- societal outcast from early days who used the
embrace of the Barbell for lifelong comfort and self esteem? May his memory
never fade….

To Powerlifting History, Past Present and Future

Ron Fernando

Chicago, Il

To top