Strength & Health, Page 26, November 1952

Story of Jim Park, "Mr. America" 1952

as told to Cliff Oettinger by Jim Park

AS our plane left the Chicago Airport Friday, June 27, at 10:30 in the morning, I settled back in my seat and wondered what would happen in New York, City.

Soon my thoughts had wandered back five years to the time they held the "Mr. America" contest of 1947 at Lane Tech. High School in Chicago. I had just started training a couple of weeks before and this was the first contest I had experienced. As fellows like Reeves, Farbotnik, Pederson, Eiferman and many others with sensational builds came up to the posing platform and went through their respective posing routines, I sat on the very edge of my seat and wondered how the judges could pick a winner. for never experiencing anything like it before, I couldn't see how they could pick one from another.

When I returned to the gym the following evening, I got busy with Johnny Murphy and Gene Bohaty, to whom I give most of the credit for where I am today, for they showed me the correct way of exercising and nothing is more important than getting off to the right start.

Our routine at that time was as follows:

Warm up with light snatches35-10100-110-120
Bench Presses310160-170-180
Bent arm pullovers312135-145-155
Straight arm pullovers32050
Sit ups350

This was the routine the three of us followed, at the Y.M.C.A. Hotel in Chicago, in a small but adequate gym on the third floor. One thing in our favor was that we were all very close in what we could handle with the weights, so were always striving to outdo each other in a friendly manner.

To realize how I looked when I started I'll give you some of my measurements at that time. Arms - 14 1/2, thighs - 23, calf - 15, waist - 33, chest - 42, neck - 15, weight - 165. For a beginner, I wasn't a case of a "97-pound weakling".

So it came as no surprise to me when, in only six months of training, I was able to military press body weight and could bench press 210 lbs. I also did repetitions in the curl with 125 lbs.

My measurements had also jumped. My bodyweight was 175, a gain of 10 pounds from the time I had started; my arms now measured 16, my chest measured 45, legs 23 1/2 and calf 15 1/2.

At this time I thought I was pretty good and decided to enter the "Mr. Chicago" contest. I managed to tie for 5th place with 81 points, and to say the least I was disappointed with the results. But when I took a good look at the winners it was easy to see I still had a lot of training to do.

Back I went to the gym and trained all the harder for the next meet. By the following year, 1948, I was able to total 695 in the novice weight lifting meet, to win the 181-pound class at a bodyweight of 180 pounds. I also managed to win the "Jr. Mr. Illinois" title. This was my first experience of winning a physique contest and I'll admit that I felt very well pleased with myself. My measurements then were: Arms - 17 1/4, chest - 46, waist - 32, thigh - 24, and calf - 16.

I then decided to enter the following meet, "Mr. Chicago", held at the Southtown YMCA, and entered both the lifting and physique contests. I copped third in the lifting with a total of 720 pounds, but was among the also-rans in the physique contest.

At that time most of my training was towards lifting and my routine was as follows:

Warmup with light snatches210-15100
Snatches, heavy35145-215
Military press18170
Bench Press35-8250-260-270
Heavy cleans52225-290

By the following year, 1949, my measurements were: Arms - 18, chest - 47, waist - 32, calf - 16 1/4, thigh - 24 1/2, neck - 16, so I decided to enter the "Mr. Chicago" contest again, entering both the physique and lifting competition. I managed to tie for second in the lifting, but being the heavier man I received third. I also received third in the physique contest, being beat out by Al Brijuna and Homer Chelomengos.

After that I trained all the harder for the coming "Mr. Illinois" contest, just a couple of months away. And in my efforts I twisted my left leg while doing some heavy snatches, and was forced to change my style and throw my right leg forward instead of my left.

When the contest came up I was leading by 5 lbs. after the press, but in the snatch Bruno Markunas snatched 235 to my 225 and was leading me by 5 lbs. In the clean and jerk he started with 280 and made it with ease. I tried the same poundage, but not being used to my change in style, I muffed it. On my second try I cleaned it without splitting and managed to half jerk and half press it overhead. Bruno, not lifting up to par, failed with 300 so I was content to place second again. In the "Mr. Illinois" contest I was again beaten out by Homer Chelomengos. This took the heart out of me and in May of that year I returned to my home town of Waynesburg, Pennsylvania, and decided to forget all about weight training. I sent in my application for the Penna. State Police and while waiting to be called read in the Pittsburgh paper of the coming "Mr. Penna." contest. I proceeded to enter and again received third place, also coming in second in all subdivisions but abdominals.

I went back home and proceeded to do some serious training with my York set, living a lazy two months while waiting for my appointment to the State Police. I became restless for the big city again and decided to return for a weekend visit.

There I met and fell in love with Ethel Nichols and, after two months of wining and dining, she finally consented to marry me. On the 29th of October, 1949, I was no longer a carefree bachelor-and I have been extremely happy ever since.

After a brief honeymoon we returned to Chicago and I decided to resume training again. I started training at Irvin Johnson's Health Studio, and my hours being more regular and Ethel being a good cook, I trained with more vim and vigor than ever before.

Upon hearing of the "Mr. Midwest" contest to be held in Detroit in March, 1950, I decided to enter, and much to my surprise I came in 1st, also winning "best arms." Now the tide seemed to have turned for me and when the "Mr. Central U.S.A." contest came up, which was held at and in conjunction with the Chicago Fair, I entered and won "best legs," "best arms" and first in the contest.

I didn't enter the "Mr. Chicago" contest that year, having decided to enter the "Mr. Illinois" competition instead. I was pleased when my training partner, Bill McDonough, won, for not long after that he entered the Army.

Then I entered the "Mr. America" contest and placed 8th, and I accepted some constructive criticism from Ray Van Cleef, of Strength & Health, when he said I looked about 15 lbs. overweight.

In 1951 my measurements were the largest they've ever been. My arms measured 18 5/8 cold, my chest was 50 1/2, legs 26 and calf 17, at a bodyweight of 195 lbs. I still lacked hard definition, but I thought I would stand a chance in the "Jr. Mr. America" contest in Boston.

My buddy Paul Phillips and I took a train to Waynesburg, my hometown, and picked up my younger brother, Frank. In his car we drove the remaining 900 miles. Needless to say when we arrived in Boston 17 hrs. later we looked like something the cat had dragged in. I didn't feel like doing much, much less enter the contest, but I did, and came in fifth, while George Paine and Marvin Eder walked off with most of the honors.

I couldn't make it to the Mr. America contest that year, for on June 14 my wife, Ethel, gave birth to a 7 lb., 11 oz. baby boy. With a third mouth to feed, I had to get down to the business at hand and make more money so I started taking all the overtime I could get at International Harvestor, the plant where I worked. I didn't do any training to speak of for the next six months. Instead I was training our boy, Greg, whom I named after the two top physique stars I know, in my opinion, John Grimek and Reg Park, and ended up with Greg.

About three months prior to the 1952 "Mr. America" contest, I won "Mr. Chicago." Irvin Johnson asked me if I would like to go all out and do nothing but train for the "Mr. America" contest, so I went on a special high protein diet. I was gambling everything I had in the world on this last try, so to speak. It took every cent I had in the bank to do it; not only that, I had to give up our apartment and send my wife, and son back to live with my folks in Penna. Along with them I sent all our belongings. Frankly, I didn't think I would win and had decided to stay in Penna. if I didn't.

My training program at first was as follows. Monday, Wednesday and Friday:

Warm up clean and press310100
Narrow grip bench press, heavy35-8350-375
Wide grip bench press, light210-15250
Incline press215130
Bent arm pullovers312-15200
Straight arm pullovers315-2575
Chin behind neck310
Bent over rowing210165
Pulldown in front
with overhead pulley
Forward raise, D.B.31535-55
Sidewise raise, D.B.31525-45
Unpright rowing210115-135
Heavy curls35-8165-175-185
Incline curls31065-85
One arm seated D.B. curls3-51035

Now this is what I had figured out for me to do in the 12 hours in the gym, but some days I didn't complete it and others I did. The weights I used were usually as heavy as I could handle for the number of repetitions.

On Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday I worked on legs and my course was as follows:

Heavy squat38-10350-375
Roman chair squat315
Leg extension with boots31560-80
Leg curls with boots31580-120
Toe rase with machine920Hvy-lght

This course went along file but it only lasted a month befoer I hit a snag. I didn't want to do anything; I had no energy to work out, I had more or less burned out. Some of you no doubt will think I had it easy but you try staying in the gym day in and day out and you'll find that you actually get sick and tired of it and most of your incentive is lost.

So I did what I felt like from there on in, consisting mostly of bench presses, at which I have correctly done 415 lbs.; curls, at which I can do bodyweight, and a little "lat" work. As for my legs, I worked them with Roman chair squats and calf exercises.

Two weeks prior to the "Mr. America" contest I won the "Mr. Mid America" contest, held at Duncan Y.M.C.A., barely beating Don Van Fletteren, who tied me for "best arms" and "most muscular".

The next two weeks flew by, and before I knew it our plane was sitting down at La Guardia airport. We stepped off the plane into a hot and humid New York City. From there we departed downtown and packed a meal under our belts. All I had was meat, as I wanted to keep my waist trim for the contest.

About six o'clock that evening I met my wife and brother, who had driven up from Waynesburg and we checked in at a hotel about six blocks from the armory where the contest was being staged.

By that time the nervous strain, or pre-contest jitters, had gotten the best of me and I had to lie down for a nap. After a short nap we departed to the contest for the special events which took place that evening.

The majority of the boys competing looked outstanding to me. Paine looked better than ever; I had never met Brenner before and he's more impressive than his photos led me to believe.

I thought I stood a good chance but was still wondering what the special events would tell. When I received my posing number I found that I followed Paine, and believe me he's not an easy man to follow.

After the posing for the special events came that dreaded waiting to find out who won each event.

This waiting has always been the worst kind of torture I have ever gone through. If you are lifting your find out what happens right after you are through, but in the physique contest you wait. Under these conditions minutes seem like hours. Everything was going on in my mind; I bit my nails, my throat was parched and I'd get a drink only to find that I'd no sooner leave the fountain when I was thirsty all over again.

Then it happens; the M.C. calls for Malcom Brenner and George Paine, who have tied for "best legs". I'm sitting there thinking I just came for the ride. Paine wins "best legs" and it's easy to see why. He has the deepest "cuts" I've ever seen in his thighs. They look like they've been chiseled out of marble.

Next is "best arms" and I hear my name called out, (I sit there like I didn't hear a word he said, then it dawns on me), I jump up and practically sprint to the platform. Next the call out "best back" and Brenner walks off with this event. Then come "best abdominals" and Irwin Koszewski wins that. Next is "best chest" and I again hear my name called out (by this time I figure I'm in their pitching). Then the M.C. tells me I also won "Most Muscular" (by that time you could have knocked me over with a wet noodle) and the special events are all over.

After changing into street clothes, we all headed straight for a restaurant and tied into a big steak. That night I lay awake wondering what would happen the next day, and all the while trying to get the contest off my mind. Believe it or not, it was 7:30 in the morning before I won the battle and dropped off to some badly needed rest. At 11 o'clock I was up and wide awake.

Ethel, Frank and his two companions and myself went out to eat and decide to take in the town.

We saw some of the points of interest we had time for and finally it was time to get back to the contest. By then I didn't feel so bad. I had my self-control back and my nervousness had all be disappeared. I kept saying to myself I'd do my best and that was all I could do.

Finally the big events started, and when my turn came to pose I posed the best I knew how. Then came the thing I dread, the waiting and waiting; there isn't a time when the seconds pass at a slower pace. Then finally I found out that I had won, and it was all I could do to make myself believe it.

I can't explain my feelings at that moment. I felt sorry for the boys that were second and third, for I know they had trained hard for this contest also. I wished they could have won too.

But when all the cameras are whirring for the newsreels all over the country, and the flash bulbs blinking, you think of all your friends and people that have helped you along the way, and wonder how they'll take the news when they find out. It's all over now; the worry, the tension, and the time spent training all seem trivial.

As I looked at my wife and saw her happy face, I knew that everything hadn't been in vain. Everything seemed great and I told myself, "Well, I made it". Then came two weeks of vacation in my home town. Everybody stopped and congratulated me on my victory. My mother and father clipped out the write-ups in the papers and are very proud of my winning.

All that had to cease and I finally realized I still had a family to support, so I hopped a train back to the big city and talked up a few deals. Finally I talked to Norbert Grueber, the proprietor of the body builder shop at 1925 West ~Division, and he gave me straight answers which I liked so I'm at present working as a salesman and body building consultant at the shop. By the way, he's the Central AAU weight lifting chairman and the distributor for York Barbells and equipment in Chicago.

So now as a closing note I want to thank Artie Zeller for all the confidence and reassurance he gave me at the contest, and John Grimek, who has always been my inspiration and has always given me good advice. When you read what John has to say, you can take it from me that it's straight from the shoulder.


- This Photo, taken with a flash bulb, gives an indication of why Jim Park was chosen "Mr. America" and "Most Muscualr Man" of 1952. At the time of the contest, he weighted 187 at 5-9, with 49-inch chest and 30-inch waist. Early in his career, Jim totaled over 700 in the Olympic lifts, and lately he has handled 400 pounds in the bench press and squat. (Al Urban photo)

- When Jim Park, the new "Mr. Ameirca" was presented with the STRENGTH & HEALTH trophy by Bob HOffman, publisher, his lovely wife was present to share in his happy triumph. (Al Urban photo)

- Here is our 1952 "Mr. America", Jim Park, of Chicago, with some of his trophies. Although rather small as a teenage, Jim played football and wrestled at Waynesburg, Pa., high school. It wasn't until he turned to weight training that he grew to his present size. (Photo by Cliff Oettinger)

- The new "Mr. Ameirca" combines muscularity, symmetry and grace of movement. (Cliff Oettinger photo)

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