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Still Excelling Past 40
NIH'ers Set World Weightlifting Records at Major Meet

By Rich McManus

On the Front Page...

By the time most people turn 40, thoughts of being a world record holder in anything have usually long since dimmed. But that's not true for two men at NIH. George Prue, 58, and Michael Bradley, 46, both set world records in their age groups at the 2004 Amateur Athletic Union world bench press, dead lift and push/pull championships held Oct. 29-31 in Richmond, Va. They needed most of their strength simply to haul home the hardware — gold medals and tall trophies.


Although he is the younger man, Bradley, an industrial equipment mechanic at NIH for 15 years, is the mentor for Prue, a painter with 15 years in the shops section in Bldg. 13. For a little more than a year, Bradley has tutored Prue in the art of powerlifting at Olympus Gym in Oxon Hill, Md.

Powerlifting is an unsubtle art; it's man against iron. You just get your game face on good and tight and attack the weight with a savage intensity.

George Prue (l) and Michael Bradley show off the hardware they won by lifting world-record weights at a recent meet.

"A lot of it is mental," says Prue. "You've got to focus. You can't be distracted by the crowd or by kids (his son is his official meet photographer, and accompanied the men to Richmond). If you blow your focus, you won't make your lift."

Prue had been an athlete for most of his life. The D.C. native has lifted weights for more than 20 years, but before that was a swimmer, cyclist and long-distance runner. "I used to think nothing of running 30 miles," he says. But he hurt his knee while running in 1984, and began lifting weights four times a week.

"I started at the YMCA, in downtown Washington," he recalls. Once he teamed up with Bradley, he joined Olympus and began competing in the four events that define a powerlifting meet: squat, dead lift, bench press, and push/pull, which is simply a combination of the bench and dead lift.

Prue stands 6 feet tall and weighs 236; he competes in the 242-pound class for men ages 55-59. Bradley is 5'8", 250, and gives away 25 pounds by competing in the 275-pound class for men 45-49.

George Prue set a world record in his age group in the bench press, and credits his friend Michael Bradley with improving his powerlifting skills.

Bradley, also from D.C., and a graduate of H.D. Woodson High School, where he played football, joined the Marines in 1978. He began serious weightlifting there, where it was part of a soldier's training. "They had weights on the obstacle courses," he remembers. He had done a little weight training in high school, but got more involved in the Corps. "I used my free time to work out in the Marine Corps gym."

When he got out of the service, he sought out a fitness center in North Carolina, and settled near Durham, hoping to make himself a premier bench presser. "Benching was always my main bread and butter," he says. Back then, 300 pounds was a "huge goal." His coach at the gym urged him not to neglect his lower body, and had him practice squats and dead lifts (where you bend over and simply hoist a bar of weights) to build up his legs.

"That made my bench even stronger," Bradley asserts. "I started hitting 365, then 405. Before you know it, I'm breaking records."

Bradley left North Carolina in 1989 and came back to Washington, taking a job at NIH. He immediately acquainted himself with the fitness facilities run by the R&W, even earning his own key to the gyms in Bldg. 31 and at Parklawn, where he worked out 4 times a week with the guidance of R&W fitness instructor Bob Caldwell. He also found time to play on the 1991 NIH R&W Football League championship team (he was a guard on that undefeated squad) and even logged time as a semi-pro football player with the Benning Park Bulls, Southwest Dolphins and Ft. Davis Jets.

Bradley joined the Olympus Gym in 1997 and began powerlifting. "I had a trainer who was a Capitol Hill police officer. I went up to my first competition in Baltimore and set a Maryland state record." Since 1997, Bradley has been undefeated in every competition he has entered.

Nowadays, his house is so full of trophies and medals that he won't bother competing in anything other than a major meet, of which there are several each year. "I'm looking for big accomplishments," he says, "at least at the national or state level. I don't waste time at any rinky-dink meets."

His personal best in the bench press is 530 pounds, but he is aiming for 600. "I can pull it, and squat it, but I want to bench it, too."

Prue's biggest bench so far is 390, but he has 405 in his sights.

When preparing for a meet such as Richmond, the men practice 3-4 times a week for what Prue calls "months and months and months." They don't just slap on the maximum weight all at once, but build slowly, with many repetitions at lighter weights, then a slow ascent to the aerie that few men can inhabit.

Seven days before a big meet, they stop training completely. "You still take your vitamins, and your creatine (a nutritional supplement) and your protein shakes," Prue says, but workouts are forbidden. He notes that all AAU-sanctioned meets are drug-free, and that he and Bradley are adamantly opposed to steroid use. They do, however, load up on carbohydrates, and emphasize lots of chicken and pasta.

Come meet day, they eat nothing. They limit themselves to Gatorade, water or tea (for the caffeine) with sugar. They are permitted to inhale an ammonia-like substance before attempting their lifts — they say it gives them a rush. Then it's down to business. Contrary to what you might expect, the week layoff actually builds potential energy in their bodies, both men say.

Michael Bradley has not lost a weightlifting competition since 1997, and was best lifter at the recent world meet in three categories.

"That weight just comes right up off the floor," Bradley declares. Prue agrees that the body is actually getting stronger during the week of rest.

Both men intend to lift for the rest of their lives, and envision buying a gym after they retire from their federal careers, where they can continue to train and coach. "I might also work on the side as a personal trainer," says Bradley. Prue says his doctor has told him, "Keep doing whatever it is you're doing, because it's paying off."

Prue credits Bradley with keeping his workouts safe and sane: "Mike shows me how to work smart and safe. You don't want anyone to push you over your limit."

Bradley says there are lots of swaggering peacocks at the gym, and that taunts and challenges are part of the package. "There are a lot of guys with big egos, and all they want to do is beat you — they want to be king of the gym. But they don't want to be bothered going to meets. They'd get blown away by people in their own age groups."

Prue says that even though it's common for younger men to challenge them, he and Bradley routinely outlift gym blowhards, quickly silencing them.

For all of their athletic success, the men are far from proud. Bradley is quiet, low-key, serious and respectful. Prue is a bit more animated, an evangelist for fitness and the benefits of pushing oneself. He visits area schools to give motivational talks to youngsters.

Though they are reluctant to brag on themselves, here is what they recently earned at the AAU championships in Richmond:

Prue broke the world record in his age group for bench pressing; it had been 336 pounds, and he benched 390.

Bradley earned the three tall trophies for being best-in-meet at dead lift, push/pull and bench, in each of which he shattered world records. The old dead lift record was 600; Bradley did 630, erasing the American record as well. The old bench record was 520; Bradley hoisted 530. And the old push/pull record was 585 for push and 520 for pull (total of 1,105); Bradley did a 630/530, for a total of 1,160.

Both men were living on Motrin during the week after the meet, when they give their bodies a brief rest. But both were already itching to get back to the gym, to prepare for the next summit of their sport — the April 2005 world championships.

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