The Elder Statesman: Local Lifter Weighs In
By BY JACOB VAUGHAN, Sports Editor
Feb 28, 2013, 18:08
HOPEWELL – A powerlifting victory over Prince George resident Curtis Walker in his heyday was so hard to come by that the accomplishment is listed in at least one athlete’s obituary.
Widely regarded as the grandfather of the sport in Virginia, Walker has lost track of the number of state and national championships to his name, though the 80-year-old great-grandfather remembers his four world titles with fondness.
“I liked it and I was good at it,” Walker said of the sport he dominated until well after his 60th birthday. “I didn’t have to worry about what I ate or anything like that. I just ate whatever I wanted and tried to be as heavy as I could.
Curtis Walker stands near the front entryway of Walker's Gym, the fitness facility he runs with his son, Barry Walker, in downtown Hopewell (photo by Jacob Vaughan).
“I was in the 242-pound class, but I never weighed more than 240.”
While he struggled to keep weight on his chiseled frame, the Georgia native developed a penchant for hoisting bar-bending loads. His best powerlifting total – a cumulative tally that includes a bench press, squat lift and dead lift – was 1,700 pounds.
It came on July 6, 1983. Walker was 50 years old – and slightly disappointed.
“I just never got all my lifts together, not even in that meet,” Walker said. “I missed my best by 40 pounds in the squat.”
THE FAMILY BUSINESS
Most days, Curtis Walker can be found manning the counter at Walker’s Gym in downtown Hopewell. He opened the two-story establishment located on East Broadway Avenue with his son, Barry Walker, in 1990.
“All I was worried about was winning contests, lifting and getting Barry to lift,” Curtis Walker said. “But he wanted a gym.”
The facility serves a diverse membership of about 100, and its members are just as far-flung as the equipment that fills the dimly lit weight room. The patrons that occupy Walker’s Gym range from high school athletes to distinguished lawyers, the weight machines from brand new to decades old.
A handful of both – the lifters and machines – are holdovers from the days when Curtis Walker hosted workouts in his basement. That makeshift gym became something of a Mecca for local weightlifters.
“We could only have 30 people in there,” Curtis Walker said. “It wasn’t enough room. We had to wait for somebody to quit before we could let somebody else come in.”
Not long after Curtis Walker retired from his job as a foreman at Allied Chemical, the father-son duo turned their lifelong passion into the family business.
“We’ve always been in this together,” said Barry Walker, who also found success as a powerlifter and bodybuilder. The first-floor walls of Walker’s Gym are adorned with yellowing newspaper clippings lauding the building’s owners and faded polaroids of old friends and former foes.
“If you look around here, you’ll see pictures of some of the greats,” Barry Walker, 56, said as he gestured to the relics of a bygone era. “These are the guys that started the sport.”
Both Walkers still work out on a daily basis. While neither competes anymore, Curtis Walker’s competitive spirit still bubbles to the surface on occasion.
“I [bench pressed] 205 the other day,” Curtis Walker said with a chuckle. “My great grandson was in here and I asked him, ‘How much did your dad do the other day?’ He said, ‘I think he did 185.’ So I said I was going to do more than that.”
Once Walker established himself as an international powerhouse in the 242-pound class, opponents began avoiding him at all costs. He said they would opt for other competitions or attempt to flee to lighter or heavier weight classes.
“That made me mad when they ran,” Walker said. “I went for the competition.”
Walker claimed masters division world titles in 1980, 1983, 1984 and 1987. He placed second in two other world meets and competed abroad in Norway, Canada and Australia, among other places.
Walker said he would have participated at an earlier age, but the sport was in its infancy in Virginia.
“I got more involved with it [after the age of 40] because there were more opportunities,” he said. “There weren’t any meets in Virginia before I got it started, so the only way I’d get to lift would be to go all the way to New Jersey.”
Walker formed Virginia’s first state-sanctioned weight lifting organization and held regular meetings in his basement gym. Known as the Tri-Cities Weightlifting Club, the group’s logo was the same bulldog that now graces the glass doors of Walker’s Gym’s front entryway.
Walker won his class in the first sanctioned powerlifting event in the state, which took place in Virginia Beach in 1968. Hopewell High School played host to the second event, and Walker helped bring several regional competitions to the Tri Cities in the following years.
Curtis Walker is not sure whether any of his state records still stand, and not many people know about the Virginia Weight Sports Hall of Famer’s accomplishments. He joked that even in his prime he was recognized more often in Australia than in Virginia.
But he wouldn’t have it any other way.
“I like it how it is,” Curtis Walker said. “People don’t know much about weightlifting, so I don’t talk to anybody about it.”
Even an up-and-coming generation of lifters knows little about the grassroots origins of their sport, Barry Walker said. But Curtis Walker’s legacy lives on – for now, at least – in the memories of the sport’s regional forefathers.
“[Powerlifters] my age and older, everybody knows him,” Barry Walker said. “Things have changed so much that some of the younger lifters don’t even know the pioneers of the sport.”
Prince George resident Curtis Walker prepares for a workout at Walker’s Gym in downtown Hopewell. Walker is a four-time powerlifting world champion (photo by Jacob Vaughan).