Volume LVNovember 2008Number 4

Achieving Greatness, Olympic Style

This summer was the first time Bro. Bob "Bart" Bartholomew watched the U.S. Weight lifting Team compete in the Olympics since 1968 - when he, himself, was a contender.

Bro. Bartholomew recalls marching through the crowd at the Opening Ceremony in Mexico City and looking up to see the President of Mexico proudly sitting with his wife as the balloons floated through the air. "I swear, the goose bumps on you and the honor of representing the United States - that was the greatest moment of the Olympics for me," Bro. Bartholomew said.

Bro. Bartholomew's life didn't always have the dream-like quality of an Olympic ceremony. "Growing up as a young boy, Bob faced many of the hardships we hear and read about in life," according to Gus Kappes, Bro. Bartholomew's brother-in-law. "As the great German philosopher Frederich Nietzsche suggests, 'That which doesn't defeat you can only serve to make you stronger.'"

Bro. Bartholomew was born in Allentown, Pa., to Hilda Bartholomew. "My father was one of those absent-type fathers," Bro. Bartholomew said. His mother raised the children largely by herself, and as the second oldest of seven children, Bro. Bartholomew became a father figure for his younger siblings. While trying to be an exemplary older brother, he attended night school to become a welder.

When some of his buddies started bodybuilding, Bro. Bartholomew joined them. He participated and placed in many Mr. Pennsylvania, Mr. America and Mr. American Physique competitions, but the subjective judging based on looks, personality and physique bothered him. There was little objectivity.

He joined a weight lifting team at the YMCA and began to train with some friends. He liked weight lifting because, "When you lift a weight, you're just lifting and no one's picking you," Bro. Bartholomew said. Instead of lifting to tone his physique, he trained for power and technique. Soon, Bro. Bartholomew's impressive strength earned him a spot on the York Barbell Club team. "Its team was all the best lifters in the area," Bro. Bartholomew explained. He gives credit to the club's owner, Bob Huffman. "...without him, weight lifting would have been nothing in the United States."

Throughout the 1960s, Bro. Bartholomew won many competitions including the State competition at least eight times and the Eastern Coast competition about half a dozen times. He also placed first in the Nationals in 1966 and around the same time won the North American Championship.

After years of training six days a week for two or more hours each day after a full day of welding, Bro. Bartholomew made the U.S. Olympic weight lifting team. However, the accomplishment of a lifetime came with a cost. "I don't know if I'd do it again. It cost a lot of money and relationships," Bro. Bartholomew said. At 32 years old, he was an older competitor in the Olympics and already had a wife and son. With the pressures of weight lifting and the impending Olympics, his marriage did not last. Bro. Bartholomew also did not have a sponsor, so his expenses came out of his own pocket.

Referencing the current Olympics where the coaches wipe sweat off players and hug team members after exceptional performances, Bro. Bartholomew said, "I didn't have any of that stuff. Nobody had an individual coach there. The U.S. team had one coach and a trainer who was always out and about doing something. I hardly saw him." So what he learned, he learned on his own.

At the Olympics, Bro. Bartholomew, at 198 lbs., competed as a middle heavyweight in three lifts: the press, snatch, and clean and jerk. In the press, discontinued after the '68 Olympics, the athlete lifted the weight from the floor to the shoulders in one movement. When the referee clapped, he shot the weight above his head. In the snatch, a wide grip lift, the athlete grabbed the weight and lifted it above his head in one swift motion. For the clean and jerk, the athlete starts with the "clean," lifting the weight from the ground to the neck and finishes with the "jerk," thrusting the bar above the head.

During the Olympic tryouts, amid weight lifters from 32 other nations, Bro. Bartholomew placed 2nd with his best total score ever. "It seemed like I peaked too early. If I would have lifted in the Olympics like I did in the tryouts, I would have at least placed 4th or 5th," he said. Instead, Bro. Bartholomew represented the United States with a very respectable 9th place finish.

"After the Olympics, it was like a big weight was lifted off my back," Bro. Bartholomew said. "I never went to another meet again. I never lifted another weight. I was burned out."

Bro. Bartholomew continued to work as a welder at Steamfitters Local 420, where he first learned to weld. He later moved to the Poconos where he had several friends who were Masons, and in 1993 became a Master Mason himself. "For me, it changed my life. It's the greatest fraternity or organization to become a part of. It's a great influence," he said. After a move home to Catasauqua, Bro. Bartholomew picked up a dual membership in Porter Lodge No. 284 where he served as Worshipful Master in 2006. "Just that I might be Worshipful Master of a lodge is such a great honor," Bro. Bartholomew said. As for his Masonic brother from the same lodge, Stephen Gardner, R.W. Grand Master, "I look up to him because it takes one heck of a man to do what [Grand Masters] do for two years," Bro. Bartholomew said.

Yet, Bro. Bartholomew is quite a role model himself.

For 40 years, he held an American Red Cross Lifeguard Certification and gave back to the community by life guarding at the Allentown YMCA and Catasauqua Municipal swimming pools. He wakes up early four mornings a week and heads to the Catasauqua YMCA for light exercises on the treadmill. "I think exercising is one of the best things for you," he said. For the rest of his day, Bro. Bartholomew spends as much time as possible with his son, Michael, and two grandchildren, Michael Jr. and Dillon


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