By Chris McCarthy, Publisher/Editor
Unlike most of us, Rick Hagedorn gets to view his recent weight gain in a positive light.
The Gadsden resident recently was inducted as part of the inaugural class of the Alabama Powerlifting Hall of Fame on May 25 in Northport.
“I never really thought of myself as a great lifter; I just competed,” said the 65-year old Hagedorn (pictured above). “I started winning in my weight class and my age division. I wasn’t beat very often.”
As he was playing basketball one day in the prison yard while serving a three-year sentence in the early 1990s at Kilby Correctional Facility near Montgomery, Hagedorn experienced a revelation in terms of his physical limitations.
“Not only was I old and short, I was slow. So I decided that I’d better do something about it.”
Around the same time, a fellow inmate by the name of Will Davis asked Hagedorn to join him in working out. Hagedorn then got to know Lamar Parker, who ran the print shop while providing equipment and coaching to inmates interested in power lifting.
“Both of those guys were influential to me,” said Ha-gedorn. “I still keep in touch with them.”
Hagedorn’s career got off to a shaky start with a 95-pound lift.
“I was as weak as creek water and they had to get [the weight] off of me,” he said with a laugh. “But I stuck with it, and when I got out [of prison] in 1993, I started competing.”
Hagedorn‘s first official competition took place in June of 1994 at Don’s Gym in Huntsville, where he won his first tournament.
“I just welled up with tears, because I had done something positive,” he said. “I started to meet other good powerlifters like Bobby “House” Driskill, Derek Thomas, and Eric Roberts. After a few years, we started attracting other people who wanted to powerlift.”
Hagedorn soon found himself competing in venues around the country. He threw himself into the world of competitive lifting until 2006, when he was sidelined by a hip replacement. Following the surgery, Hagedorn’s doctor advised him to give up lifting. His patient would have none of it.
“I kept on lifting and I was able to pull weight,” said Hagedorn. “I couldn’t do many three-lift events anymore (which included squat, bench and deadlift) but I was able to win a few more world championships. At this point, I’m down to competing in the deadlift.”
Hagedorn also helped promote lifting meets at the annual Riverfest event in Gadsden.
Quite simply, Hagedorn said prison saved his life after he was sentenced to 18 years for cocaine trafficking.
“I don’t want to minimize that what I was doing was not good and not right, and I earned every day (of the sentence),” he said. “I was 40 years old and at a crossroad in my life. I could either go back down that other road or substitute something positive for something negative in my life. [Lifting] and going to AA meetings was my therapy. It kept me from getting back in with the wrong crowd.
Hagedorn was released from prison after serving the minimum of three years and returned to Gadsden.
“I had a lot of guilt about what my children had been through and I just needed to prove myself. I wanted to come back and raise my children and not abandon them.”
A 1971 graduate of Gadsden High, Hagedorn was a member of school’s tennis team. He was No. 2 in singles for the Tigers to No. 1 Buster Stewart, who now is the men’s tennis coach at Gadsden State. Hagedorn then attended the University of Alabama, where he described his time at the Capstone as “the best five years of my life as a freshman.”
Hagedorn, who worked out locally at the YMCA and then at Gold’s Gym, has held numerous world records at one time or another and has 12 world championships to his credit. His regular lifting team includes Matt Maini, Gary Johnson, Johnny Ray Battles and Brant Bishop.
“We had a powerlifting team at Gold’s, and we started to attract other lifters and we all went around and competed together. We had a lot of world champions out of that group. It’s also a great support system. I think what warms my heart the most is that a lot of these folks have gone on to compete and win world championships on their own. We have a good team with good camaraderie.”
Hagedorn extended thanks to Stace Beacham, the former owner of Gold’s Gym in Rainbow City, and Jon Willmore of Willmore 24/7 in Rainbow City.
“Stace always supported us, and Jon has provided Rainbow City with the most advanced gym in all of Alabama. When Gold’s and another gym merged, the owner of the other gym decided she didn’t want the powerlifters, claiming that the powerlifters grunted too loud and tore up the equipment. Out of that decision, Jon was contacted and the rest is history. So, the moral of the story is to always try to turn a negative into a positive. What I’m most interested in is promoting the sport in a positive light.”