Cardiac Conan, our Caveman Athlete of the month December 2017!
Awesome year for Cavemantraining, lots of growth, happy to end this year with a very special nomination…
Jerry Gray, AKA Cardiac Conan, the 76 years of age kettlebell lifter that only really started living after his first heart attack.
“Exercise in all of its many forms is something that everyone needs to enjoy life. It’s not a stop and go process. It’s something you do everyday. It’s like building a house you’ll never finish, one brick at a time, everyday.”
Jerry Gray is married to Liberty Gray since 1999, has 5 children with his first wife, 3 boys and 2 girls, has 1 stepson, 22 grand children, 16 great grand children, and can chin-up more than most twenty year olds!
Jeff Bott said:
“Jerry had some not so healthy years when he was younger. I believe he had 4- 5 heart attacks heart attacks, and multiple stints.
He then changed his lifestyle, began lifting kettlebells, and is still training hard at 76. The first time I met him was at the IKFF Chicago classic in 2015. He was the ONLY lifter of the flight to finish his 10 minutes. He was snatching a 16kg.
Talking with him was one of the big wow moments for me when really getting to see the benefits kettlebells had for others as well.”
Without further ado, Jerry Gray’s story:
My story begins October 13, 1980 at the age of 39, that’s when I had my first heart attack.
At the time I was more interested in my career, was going through my second divorce and unfortunately was a heavy smoker. Smoking, stress, poor diet, no regular exercise.
All of a sudden my life was falling apart all around me, and I had to make some positive changes. I owed that to my children if not too myself. This is the point where I feel my life really started.
After my first heart attack, I quit smoking, watched my diet and started working out on a regular basis. My major sport at the time was racquetball. I joined a group that played every afternoon. Soon I was going to training camps, competing in tournaments and getting fairly good. During the later part of the 80’s I was competing in masters divisions on a national level.
Around 1984 I was asked if I would donate my time and coach a collegiate sport team at Ferris State University, which I agreed to. During the same time period I was appointed Vice Chairman of a collegiate group, American Collegiate Racquetball Assoc. I was in charge of the National Collegiate Championships for 5 years as well as the Midwest regionals. In 1990 my team Ferris State finished 2nd in the nation at UC Berkley in CA.
In 1989 I was invited to a week long coaches workshop at the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, CO. In 1992 I resigned from all of my racquetball responsibilities. Although I kept up with my personal training.
During the 80’s I also took up running as I thought it would help my racquetball game. Running a few miles a week turned into running races until I completed Chicago Marathon 1989, and New York Marathon 1990.
This was an awesome decade with lots of new adventures. On the bright side, during my yearly weeklong backpacking adventures into the rocky mountains with my kids, I met my wife. Liberty and I dated for 7 years before we married in 1999. Most of our exercise together was running, and the beginnings of weight training. On the down side, the heart disease raised it’s ugly head.
“my change in lifestyle is why I’m still here”
In 1995 a week after running a 25k race I was hospitalised with a heart attack, which required 3 stents and a week in a cardiac care unit. One month later, I was in Glacier National Park with my kids backpacking for a week. A month later I bicycled 380 miles in a 4 day tour. Again in 1999, 3 months before we got married, I suffered another heart attack which required another stent. I was worried that Liberty might cancel the wedding on me. Fortunately she did not.
The decade of heavy lifting, body building and the introduction to kettlebell training
After Liberty and I got married, she worked at the Engineering Co. in accounting. When not working, she started hammering heavy weights. She trained with a group at a local gym, and I trained at home. It was Liberty’s goal to earn a pro card in female body building, which she did in the spring of 2007. She then went onto competing in a pro show in Washington DC. I forgot to mention she was also a 3rd Dan in Tae Kwon do, which she had practiced for 13 years.
Needless to say, she talked me into entering a few body building shows. On one hand I didn’t really get it. On the other hand, being in my early 60’s I built a good base for my training today at 76.
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Around 2002-3 I ran across kettlebells in an article by Pavel. Liberty bought me a couple of kettlebells for my 63rd birthday. Needless to say I didn’t know how to operate them, except for Pavel’s video. So I stuck with the barbells and dumbbells. After a year on the kettlebells, I told Liberty I wanted to go to Pavel’s 3 day RKC camp. So we both went in April 2006. Three days of hell, but we both survived with our first certification. Liberty then opened her first gym for Tae Kwon do and kettlebells in 2007.
“My cardiologist told me, based on end of life studies, my lifestyle is better than the drugs he prescribes.”
After we received our RKC, I did a search for others that might be kettlebell training. That was when I met Ken Blackburn. Ken invited us over for his classes as he had done some GS training. That opened a whole new world of training for me. During that period we also met up with Steve Cotter. In 2007, Ken originally had a couple of small competitions in kettlebell sport in the backroom of a gym in Fenton, MI. It was 2008 when he moved to a larger venue at a Holiday Inn. I believe anyone that knew about kettlebell sport at that time was at that meet. I give Ken a lot of credit for his foresight into the future of kettlebell sport. It was soon after that, that Ken and Steve started the IKFF. BTW, Liberty was the overall best female lifter at that initial meet in 2008.
Again heart disease put me down for 2 more stents in 2006
In 2009 and 2010, Ken took the IKFF Kettlebell competition to The Arnold in Columbus, OH, which Liberty and I plus our team made the journey down to compete. I think in 2009 and 2010 we took down about 10 competitors.
Heart disease struck again, this time with a heart attack after completing the biathlon with 16kg bells in 2010. So I was rushed to the hospital for a 3 day vacation. One of my stents plugged and I needed another stent in a different artery. I was 68 at the time.
Liberty opened up another location in Grand Rapids, MI. It was during these early years of competing in Kettlebell Sport that I also taught fitness and kettlebell sport classes for Liberty’s gym, FITNESSXT. We also hosted competitions starting in 2009.
“The drug protocol after a heart attack is 5-6 drugs, beta blockers, statins, etc. I’ve read several books on the effects of these drugs. I came to the conclusion I should not take them based on all the side effects. I’m drug free.”
Decade 2010 to Present
In July of 2011, I went down to Texas for a 2 day Certification with Sergey Rudnev IKSFA group. Again, after working out in 104 degree heat, I suffered another a heart attack. I was rushed to the hospital Saturday, they stented me that afternoon and wanted to keep me there for 4 days. No way did I want to stay in Texas with a bunch of strangers. I got discharged and was home on Monday. Three weeks later I was with my kids backpacking in the Wind River Range of Wyoming right where I wanted to be. I finished my certification later that year in MI with Sergey.
Liberty has moved away from competing with the kettlebells. She loves Olympic lifting with some bodyweight, and kettlebells.
So for about the past 10 years I have been training people with kettlebells. Seems strange now that I’m 76. What a great job!! I train mostly for competition, although most of my people don’t compete. I use a combination of barbells, kettlebells, hard style and sport. It’s a great job. I love to help people get fit or to step on the platform. I still do most of my own training at home in the garage by myself.
I like to compete 3 to 4 times a year. It gives me something to look forward to. I love training. It was a great adventure to make the USA Team and compete in the IUKL Worlds in Dublin in 2015 where I placed second in the Biathlon with 16kg kettlebells. I hired Ken Blackburn to be my coach and prepare for the team completion and IUKL. For the most part I do my own training, I like to mix things up. The kettlebell is a great tool. But when I’m getting ready for a comp, I call on Ken.
How does your age affect your training and recovery?
WOW ageing is huge!! It becomes a mental battle along with aches and pains. But I wouldn’t have it any other way. I love to train.
How often do you train?
Too much 4-5 times a week. I try to back off on the weight a couple of days.
What does a typical training day look like for you?
I start off my day with a couple of cups of coffee and catch up on the news and FB. Then it’s out the door with my dog Frankie for a 1-2 mile walk. If I’m in competition mode, I’ll do one of Coach Blackburn’s workouts. If not in competition mode, I’ll play with different reps and sets of kettlebells in preparation for my evening class. I don’t workout with my class. I feel I am there for guidance. I like to get in one good barbell deadlift workout a week.
Typically a mini-fast. I start eating around mid-day, maybe 1-2 protein shakes per day. I try keep my eating choices basic, no processed foods. Living with Liberty keeps me in line. I have some supplements that I use along with the diet. It’s been a real trip. After the first heart attack, I went on the American Heart Association diet which is low fat, high carb. That is an inflammatory diet. Which just made my condition worse.
During my 50s, I put on 30# over my marathon weight, which didn’t help either. Liberty and I were working out a lot, but not making any progress. So she made an appointment to see an MD that was also a body builder. She wanted to pursue bodybuilding, I was lifting and playing racquetball. This was 2001 just after my 60th birthday.
The doctor liked our workouts, but didn’t like our diet. So he schooled us on diet. After 3 consultations we never looked back. It was but a few years till we found the kettlebells. But for me, the die was set. My arteries were trash.
It was around 2005 that I went to a alternative health clinic. They suggested chelation to rehab my arteries. So went through about 35 -1 hour chelation treatments. Not sure if it helped.
I’ve moved my diet off all the fast carbs, added more fat and protein and slow carbs.
I feel really good about my health now. I think I’ve had all the diseased areas stented. 😀
Since I started the kettlebells, I’ve been back at my marathon weight weight for 8 years, 175, down from 205# in 2001. There was a time, when I got on the platform, I’d get paranoid about having another heart attack. But I’m over that now. 😀
My current doctor likes the kettlebell work that I do. He tells me to push my limits. This type of training will add more collateral arteries to the heart muscle.
I credit my kettlebell training for the excellent condition I’m in now, along with diet and Liberty.
What advice can you give the “special populations”, who are sitting at home and wishing they could do what you’re doing today?
WOW good question. My friends like what I do, but they don’t want any part of it. My advice would be to start your day with a brisk walk of a couple of miles, rain, sunshine, heat or cold. I’ve been walking dogs for over 20 years. I firmly believe I need it more than they do.
What is your favourite lift in KB sport and why?
Snatch. I feel that it touches all the bases, strength, posture, flexibility, and cardio.
What are your future goals?
Stay the course. I want to keep on doing what I like doing, kettlebell training and teaching, backpacking, golfing, skiing, biking, travelling, wife and family. Life is meant to be lived, but not on a couch.
The one thing you would say to someone who needs to make a change but struggles to get going, struggles to find the motivation, struggles to put in the effort …
WOW another great question. This is a tough one. I would have to say, “Start Slow” in whatever part of your life you want to change. Change causes chaos, which needs to be worked through before moving forward.
The health system?
Although people are living longer, the current health state of elderly people is tragic. The medical and insurance companies are profit motivated. End of life studies show that people with the highest cholesterol live the longest. End of life studies show that drug side effects negate any drug benefit. People with the lowest cholesterol levels have the highest dementia. It’s been a real trip. I’m glad of where I’m at in life, and firmly believe that I have more to achieve and enjoy.
My goal is to be able to do next week what I did last week.
Favourite lift: Snatch
Non favourite lift: Jerk
- 3 months before my 70th
Snatch 16kg 168reps
Jerk 2-16kg 65 reps
- 5 min Snatch 16kg 99 reps age 75
- 5 min Snatch 24kg 66reps age 73
- 3 months before my 70th
5 min Biathlon
Snatch 20kg 78reps
Jerk 2-20kg 30reps
- My most recent competition Nov. 18
12kg Snatch 162 reps
16kg Snatch 75 reps
If Jerry Gray’s story tells us anything, it is:
- It’s never too late
- Never give up
- Don’t let anything bring you down
Semi-retired Professional Civil Engineer and Land Surveyor
Owner: Mid-MI Engineering & Surveying Co. since 1971
Graduate: BS Civil Engineering Mich. Tech. Univ.
AAS Highway Tech. Ferris State Univ.
Instructor Ferris State Univ. Surveying 4 years
Instructor Part-Time Ferris State Univ. 6 years
Don’t forget to like and share. Show Jerry your support, and help others see that there is a way, there is a solution, it just takes persistence, and effort. Peace.
Check out all nominees
- November 2017: Jeff Bott
- October 2017: Leo Urquides
- September 2017: Maurizio Tangari
- August 2017: Russel Godwin
- July 2017: Eric Leija
- June 2017: Shawn Powers
- May 2017: Jessica Huttig
- April 2017: Kirsten Tulloch
- March 2017: Henk Bakker
- February 2017: Rik Brown
- January 2017: Kelly Manzone
- View all
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