Now that our Christmas present is safely stored in the Stark Center and I’ve caught what’s left of my breath, I thought I should send along a note to explain the present and also shed some light on a recent widely-seen video that’s been causing some comment. I’m referring to the video showing California’s Latvian-born Martins Licis doing a Steinborn Rockover Squat with approximately 500 pounds and then doing another full squat before lowering his body sideways so that the lowered end of the bar “caught” some traction on the platform enabling him to brace himself and straighten up, at which point he yelled out “Steinborn!” (https://barbend.com/martins-licis-steinborn-squat/)
That video had its inception in a conversation I had a couple of months ago with Odd Haugen, the seemingly ageless Strongman at whose gym Martins usually trains. I’d called Odd to suggest that I’d been looking at videos and strolling through my halls of memory to select a man or several men I thought had the size, strength, flexibility, athleticism, and courage to realistically challenge Heinrich “Milo” Steinborn’s record in the Rockover Squat, and that the man at the top of the list was Martins, a wonderfully strong and athletic young man. Odd agreed and said he’d explain the lift to Martins and work with him between then and the Arnold Sports Festival, at which I wanted Martins to take part in our annual Rogue Record Breakers Show and thereby have a chance to make history in addition to $5000. (This is the prize given to those who break any of the records being challenged in any given year.)
Milo’s record has lasted since the 1920s, when young Heinrich left Germany, stowed away on a ship, reached the U.S., made it to the East Coast, found his way to Philadelphia, showed the Strongman-savvy members of Herman’s Gym what a skilled, powerful lifter could do, and introduced them to the Heavy Back Squat–and especially the Rockover Squat, which allowed a lifter to get a heavier bar across his shoulders than he could clean. (This was critical as “squat racks” were essentially unknown.) As the years passed, the heavy squat became the mainstay of most successful training routines, Heinrich became a sort of rep for Alan Calvert’s Milo Barbell Company, adopted the nickname “Milo,” began a decades-long and successful career as a pro wrestler and wrestling promoter, and continued to give occasional demonstrations of the Rockover, sometimes to U.S. troops.
Since the 1920s, many stout men have spent time training to the break Milo’s record, but although a few reached approximately 400 pounds no one to my knowledge got very close to 500. And then along came Martins, who according to Odd did that remarkable Rockover performance the very first time he ever tried the lift. For that reason, I’ll be very surprised if Martins fails to establish a new record, well north of 500, at the next “Arnold” and I hope a lot of fans of strength and history can either be there on that first Sunday in early March or watch Rogue’s Livestreaming of the Record Breakers show on their website. One of the reasons I decided some months ago to use the Steinborn Rockover in this year’s Arnold Sports Festival is that I’d been hoping for what seems like forever to acquire Milo’s substantial collection of iron game “papers”—books, magazines, photos, correspondence, posters, scrapbooks, and artifacts.
Milo died in 1989 at the age of 95, but before he passed I, and then Jan and I, had visited him at his home in Orlando at least 15 different times. Milo knew that we had Ottley Coulter’s physical culture collection and knew how interested we were in building it up, and over the years he showed us most of his own excellent collection, of which he was understandably proud.
Back in the late 80s, during one of my solo visits to Milo’s home, he actually told me that I should just take his collection of magazines, books, and photos with me that day, saying that he’d decided they’d be better off in Austin with some of the items we had from various late friends of his like Sig Klein, David P. Willoughby, and Ottley Coulter. I was speechless—gobsmacked as the Brits would say—and I almost took them, too, but I’d often seen Milo during our long visits reach unerringly to one shelf or the other, pull out a magazine in either English or German, and show me a photo or a bit of information he wanted me to see. After a little thought that day I finally told Milo that although I was humbled by his offer I just couldn’t take them since I knew how much pleasure he got from reading them and reliving aspects of his long and influential life in the Game. I always hoped Milo had either changed his will or told his oldest son Henry, who lived with him then, to call us so that they’d wind up in Austin, but either Milo never got around to it or something intervened.
Following Milo’s death, Jan and I visited Henry a number of times as her mother lived near Tampa, but although we sometimes discussed the collection with Henry it was clear that he wasn’t inclined to part with it as he also read German and took both pride and pleasure from the paper collection (books, magazines, and photos as well as the wonderful old weights). Not only that, but because Henry lived alone in his father’s house the collection seemed to maintain his connection to Milo, which was very close.
But time moved on, as it will, and Henry got far less work as a piano man at local restaurants, and it was sad to see both Henry and the house decline—a house Milo had always maintained in such a neat, orderly way. In more recent years, when we either called or visited Henry, he seemed to prefer to rail against one politician or another or talk about a current bit of news than to talk about the iron game. For this reason Jan and I came to feel that it was unlikely we’d ever become the stewards of Milo’s things. But then one day–almost a year ago–I received a call from Dick Steinborn, Henry’s younger brother, who told me that Henry could no longer care for himself and was in a nursing home. Dick also asked us if we had an interest in his father’s collection, and two days later we were in Orlando with renewed hope. Unfortunately, however, for reasons too complicated and sad to explain at this time, our hope remained unfulfilled and we returned to Texas, convinced again that the Steinborn Collection was one we were simply not destined to acquire.
Even so, the world turned again after we wrote to Dick’s son Bradley explaining the situation and wishing him good luck with his father. Finally, finally, Bradley contacted us and after several straightforward, openhearted conversations we made arrangements to come to Orlando, pack Milo’s “Papers,” and bring them to the Stark Center where they could be cleaned, de-bugged, sorted, archived, and available to academics as well as fans. (As for the weights, thanks to the critical support of Bill and Caity Henniger of Rogue Fitness, they were taken to Columbus, Ohio so they could be repaired, photographed and, in some cases, used in the Arnold Sports Festival or displayed.) In the fullness of time, of course, we hope to digitize the paper parts of the collection so that interested people from around the world can view many of the books, magazines, and photos on their computers and save themselves a trip to Austin. What Milo brought together is an amazing and “rich” archival collection containing information on not only lifting and strongmen but on the history of wrestling as well.
To say we’re grateful that we’re finally the stewards—for at least a while—of our old pal Milo’s “Papers” and to have been instrumental in having his weights either stored, used, or displayed where they can be enjoyed by others is too slender a word to express how we really feel. We’re lucky enough to have at the Stark Center either the complete collections or substantial archival materials from Peary and Mabel Rader; Professor Attila; George Hackenschmidt; Sig Klein; Hal Weiss; Ottley Coulter; David P. Willoughby; George Jowett; Joe, Betty, and Ben Weider; Doris Barrilleaux; Steve Wennerstrom; Les and Pudgy Stockton, Jack and Elaine LaLanne; Bob Hoffman; David Webster; John Rieger; Chris Dickerson; and Tommy Kono, as well as many other collections, but the Steinborn Collection stands out because it’s the one we’d come to believe we’d never get and never be able to share.
But it’s all safe now—the Papers as well as the weights–and it will be cared for, protected and used, and a significant part of it will be celebrated in 2018 when Martins Licis pays his deep respects to Milo Steinborn, the rugged old German who assembled the collection over a period of 60 years, by breaking a “world record” Milo set over 90 years ago. I’ll close now with the phrase Milo and his great friend and fellow legend Sig Klein always used when they addressed each other in their correspondence:
Kraft Heil! (Hail to Strength!)