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NIH Record

'With Heart and Commitment'
McShane Uses 'Natural' Strength to Outmuscle Competition

By Carla Garnett

On the Front Page...

At first, Justin McShane's idea of a fun Sunday -- whiling away a few hours in the yard with logs and rocks -- may seem like a completely relaxing, nontaxing amusement. But to get a better handle on his pastime, you have to think way beyond twigs and pebbles: the logs -- some made of metal -- and the rocks -- known as McGlashen stones -- are tools of the strongman world, a world where such implements can weigh upwards of 300 pounds. For weekend kicks, McShane, encouraged by his training partners, tries to raise these heavy burdens off the ground and to shoulder height or overhead. In addition, during the week he spends 12 hours -- 3 hours a day for 4 days -- practicing with free weights in a gym. Sounds like fun, right?


On July 4, the former high school and Division I college wrestler-turned-amateur powerlifter reaped the rewards of his rigorous training. He became the grand national powerlifting champion of the Natural Athlete Strength Association (NASA) by winning first place in his weight category in three of the competition's divisions. He successfully completed 8 of 9 lifts for a total of 1,140.7 pounds on the day. He met some of the big-name heroes of his sport, and even spotted for Montario Woodson, who set an American record at the meet. He also burst a blood vessel in his eye. In essence, he had the time of his life.

Justin McShane

"I have never met nicer people," McShane said. "There is a real sense of community among powerlifters. Everybody was willing to help me out."

This summer, his strongman reputation inadvertently came in handy at NIH. He was hired as a computer specialist in NIDDK's Laboratory of Genetics and Physiology. A self-taught WWW-page wizard, he helped design and maintain the lab's Web site for the Mammary Genome Anatomy Project and the Biology of the Mammary Gland Web site. Several weeks into his job, however, the lab moved lock, stock and barrel from the Clinical Center to Bldg. 8. Guess who was called upon for most of the heavy lifting?

In one of his favorite photos, McShane competes at the NASA meet,bursts a blood vessel in his eye and gets encouragement from a hero of his sport, Montario Woodson (l).

"Justin really helped us out," said Dr. Lothar Hennighausen, lab chief, laughing, "but don't tell anybody. Summer students aren't supposed to lift anything heavier than 25 pounds." At 5'5" and 182 pounds at competition and 193 pounds now, the 21-year-old McShane is a far cry from the 118-pound Franklin and Marshall College sophomore he was in 1996, when a dislocated knee ended his wrestling career and forced him into a weight training rehabilitation program at the F and M Strength Training Center. Following encouragement and instruction by his first training partner, John Piotrowski, McShane's interest in lifting for sport developed. He began serious lifting in spring 1997. While studying abroad, he had signed on to work out at the National Coaching and Training Center at the University of Limerick in Ireland, where powerlifting (see sidebar for weight/power lifting distinctions) folks there took him under their wing.

Last November in the Amateur Athletic Union Maryland State Bench Press and Iron Man Open, he competed for the first time as a lifter and came in third. He followed that meet with the 1st Annual Beauty and the Beast Strongman Competition (which he said involved flipping over tractor tires weighing more than 400 pounds, pulling trucks on wet pavement, hurling tires for distance and "all that other crazy stuff you see on ESPN") in Quarryville, Pa., where he won fourth place in the under 200 pound class. By far his biggest win -- and the one that has the most meaning for him -- was the NASA grand national powerlifting title, where he won in the Pure (athlete who has never taken growth-enhancing drugs), Pure Novice (athlete who has never won a national competition), and Junior (athlete under age 23) categories.

McShane leans on some of the heavy equipment he helped move this summer.

"I consider NASA a very serious steroid-free, drug-free, drug-tested organization," he said, explaining the "natural athlete" concept. "Some people believe you have to take performance enhancers to be successful in lifting. I don't believe that. I believe it has to do with heart and commitment. You don't need drugs, and I will only compete in competitions that are substance free. I feel very strongly about this."

A modest guy who nearly declined to be interviewed for this story, he had composed a list of people he said contributed to his success.

"I really would like to thank my parents and my brother, and my training partners: professional strongman Gary Mitchell; Mark Keshishian, IPF Pan American champion; Bubba; and my long distance mentor and friend Bill Kazmaier (World's Strongest Man in 1980, 1981, 1982, first man ever to lift all five McGlashen stones in competition and two-time powerlifting world champion)," he said.

For now, McShane, who majored in government at Franklin and Marshall and left NIH Aug. 7 to attend Dickinson Law School in Carlisle, Pa., is semi-retired from competition. A 1994 graduate of Georgetown Preparatory School, he said he never took a science course in college and used his personal Web page as a resumé to apply for the NIDDK summer job because he was "tired of doing the summer camp counselor thing." After his freshman year of law school, he'll begin training again in hopes of qualifying for the International Powerlifting Federation's junior world competition.

"I think it's important for drug-free lifters to be seen as successful," he concluded, with a shrug. "I also think of it as a learning process."

Powerlifting vs. Weightlifting: The Notion's in the Motion

Although the difference may seem subtle to the uninitiated, important body mechanics distinguish powerlifting from weightlifting. The difference is in the motion of the lifts.

In powerlifting, competitors are ranked on overall physical strength. Strength is determined by three separate lifts: the squat, which primarily tests the legs and lower back; the bench press, which measures upper body strength; and the deadlift, a barometer of back, leg and grip strength. Each competitor has three attempts at each lift, and must get at least one of each passed by the referees. Competitors are ranked on total, which is the sum of the heaviest weight successfully attempted in each of the three lifts. A good powerlifter needs to be strong in all areas.

After a year-long break for school, McShane hopes his powerlifting success will continue.

In Olympic-style weightlifting, on the other hand, there are two events: the snatch and the clean and jerk. The snatch is an overhead lift where the weight is snatched up off the ground over the head of the competitor in a single motion. The clean and jerk is also an overhead lift where the competitor lifts the bar to shoulder height (the clean) and then jerks the weight overhead. "Powerlifting does not require the years of technique-perfecting training that Olympic weightlifting does," notes Justin McShane, a computer specialist who worked at NIDDK for the summer, and competes in both sports, as well as Strongman meets, which involve pulling, throwing and hauling heavy implements similar to events seen on ESPN's World's Strongest Man competitions. "However a good solid technique will enable the lifter to be more controlled and push harder. A bad technique is weaker, and also more prone to injury while training or competing." Although semi-retired for a year while he begins law school, McShane hopes to qualify for International Powerlifting Federation world competition in summer 1999.

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