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Iron-pumping seniors find new workout space in Chatsworth garage

When the longtime power-lifters lost their gym, group member Bob Evans moved his tools aside to make way for barbells.

May 12, 2011|By Bob Pool, Los Angeles Times
  • Thomas Moormeister, 38, assists his father, Ron, as he bench presses 565 pounds at Bob Evans' Chatsworth garage.
Thomas Moormeister, 38, assists his father, Ron, as he bench presses 565… (Tim French / For the Los Angeles…)

A huge weight was lifted off the shoulders of a group of Chatsworth athletes when Bob Evans opened up his garage to them.

The half a dozen veterans of a lifetime of muscle building found themselves without a place to work out two years ago when their friend Kevin Meskew was forced to close the fitness center where they all congregated twice each week.

The power-lifters — most in their 60s and 70s — discovered that health clubs filled with young people doing aerobics and Pilates and taking spinning classes were wary of senior citizens coming in and hoisting 500-pound barbells over their heads.

That's when Evans shoved his tools and storage boxes to the side of his three-car garage on Shamrock Place and invited the oldsters in to flex their muscles.

"When the gym closed, we decided to do it ourselves," explained Harry Packer, a 76-year-old retired mortgage broker who lives in Porter Ranch and pumps iron despite undergoing triple-bypass surgery last year.

Evans, 64, a retired computer analyst, has lifted weights since he was 15. So he didn't hesitate when someone suggested that his garage might make a perfect workout room.

"Regular big-box gyms don't allow power-lifters," Evans said. "It intimidates their regular members."

John Sanchez, also 64, said bench pressers are different from many of those who join health clubs.

"In those gyms they are doing it to look good. We do it for strength," said the retired firefighter from Chatsworth. "You meet a bunch of guys like these having fun doing this and you're hooked. You find yourself lifting weights for personal satisfaction, not for anyone else."

When it's their turn on the weight bench the veterans are all business. Two spotters stand next to the lifter, ready to grab the barbell if necessary. Lifters smother chalk powder on their hands to ensure a secure grip.

The bench, along with its 1,300 pounds of iron weights, is positioned in the middle of a two-car section of the garage next to where Evans' 2001 Ford Explorer is parked. Two wooden signboards are suspended from the garage's rafters above the bench. "Bob's Gym," one of them reads. "Go heavy or go home" advises the other.

Ron Moormeister, a 64-year-old Porter Ranch resident, pulls on a thick bench press shirt before lying back and slowly hoisting iron disks weighing 405 pounds.

He is wearing the shirt to protect his chest and keep his shoulders from over-rotating, he explains after rising from the bench.

"I hold the world record for shirted and 'raw' power-lifting in the over-60, 275-pound weight class," Moormeister said, adding that in competition he has hoisted 535 pounds while wearing the bench-press shirt and 407 pounds without it.

A retired insurance broker, Moormeister began weightlifting while attending Granada Hills High School. At UCLA, where he played football and baseball, he continued pumping iron.

These days, his son Tom, a 38-year-old Chatsworth lawyer, attends the garage gang's workouts, helping load the weights on the barbell.

"We call him 'Plus 10' because whatever weight you ask for, he throws on another 10 pounds," joked the elder Moormeister.

Larry Negriff is another championship lifter who hones his skills in the garage. The 69-year-old West Los Angeles electrical engineer lifted 501 pounds last year at a competition at Venice's Muscle Beach. He was competing against others who weigh less than 220 pounds.

Not everyone in the group is eligible for Social Security and Medicare, however.

Meskew, 55, of Arleta, is a UPS driver and a holder of four power-lifting titles. His passion for the sport prompted him in 2004 to open the Power Palace, the now-defunct Chatsworth gym where the group previously met and worked out.

"These are guys who truly enjoy the sport. We want to see each other succeed," said Meskew, who contributed some of the equipment from his gym to the garage gym.

Group member Darren Staley, 34, a test preparation center manager from Northridge, said he views the veteran weightlifters as role models.

"Do I hold back because these are older guys? Not even remotely, not at all. These are life mentors for me," Staley said.

Thirty-three-year-old Anthony Fregoso agreed.

"I got hooked up with these people at Kevin's gym. I have to work to keep up with these guys," said the Sherman Oaks systems engineer. "I use the energy they have to push myself."

Evans said he has grown used to the astonishment of people who see men in his age group competing in something other than bingo or bocce ball. "People think guys our age are doddering old people with one foot in the grave," he said.

"People our age run marathons. To me, that's insane," Evans said with a laugh. "Why would anybody run 26 miles when there are perfectly good cars around?"

bob.pool@latimes.com

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