Summer Strength Fest

Cave Strong

This past weekend I had the esteemed honor of attending the Summer Strength Fest in Sarasota, Florida at Crossfit Gulf Coast (AKA “The Cave”) as a guest of its owner, Frank Dimeo.

Frank and I met a year or so back at Elliott Hulse’s Strengthology IV workshop, and I like to think that we hit it off right away. If I’m waxing poetic I might refer to Frank as the elder statesman of our rather ragtag confederacy of passionate warehouse gyms dedicated to all things related to strength and badassery, but I like to think of Frank as Ol’ Gunney.

He’s the perfect Gunnery Seargent, absolutely committed to his men and his cause. He’d rather kick you in the ass now under his watch that let someone else do it to you out in the world.

His gym reflects this. In its 1000 or so square feet there is little softness to be found there, a few square feet of mat space for mobility work or planking is all there is. The rest is plates, bars, kettlebells, sandbags, a sled or two. I saw kegs and other odd objects, many just found or homemade, their sole common value being that they were heavy.

The walls are covered with slogans, painted directly on to the wall, t-shirts commemorating events past, news articles and accolades. In the back near his desk hang photos of Frank some ten years past getting his Crossfit certification under none other than Greg Glassman, himself.

There’s a homemade power rack and a set of squat stands, the latter oriented so that as you squat you face an army green t-shirt that reads “Never Give Up,” an inspiration I drew upon heavily as I worked my way through Saturday’s workshop.

The middle of the room is dominated by a large platform with four posts that extend almost to the ceiling from which chip up bars, rings and other forms of suspension trainers were hung. The Cave epitomizes the warehouse gym ethic and exemplifies the creativity and ingenuity that goes in to making a successful one.

Our Coach for the day was Dru Patrick.  Dru is a 5 time World’s record holder in the Bench press. He’s been coaching over at Frank’s gym for some time now, taking a few of Frank’s most dedicated into the world of competitive strongman and powerlifting.

This day there were three of us, myself and two of Frank’s top clients. I must admit, I began the day a tad concerned for Frank and Dru. Two others beside myself was not much of a turnout.

In the end I was, quite selfishly, glad.

Dru was not phased in the least by the turn out. He’s the consummate professional and gave to us his full attention, coaching us all to new PRs and sharing openly of his extensive experience and knowledge. His passion is palpable and his generosity as broad as his shoulders. (It’s an odd feeling to stand head and shoulders over a man that still manages to make you feel small in comparison through no act other than his presence.)

I was pleased as we talked and lifted through out the day to see many parallels in our approaches and philosophies. I often speak about how strength builds confidence, Dru talks about how confidence is strength, cementing a cycle in my mind of endless benefit.

For myself it was a great day. Dru coached me to a combined total of 55 pounds in PRs, 25 in the deadlift and 30 in the bench press.

Beyond just the physical, Dru understands the mental side of lifting and achievement. He talked at length about the importance of having the right mindset, of using your thoughts and emotions to positively affect your lifts and drive you to greater heights.

In the span of six hours we covered bench, squat, deadlift, and shoulder press, including no shortage of accessory exercises. We ended with what Dru calls Suicide Tates, a variation on the Tate Press, but with a thumb-less grip. To make things even more challenging the Suicide Tate is done for four sets, we did sets of 15, and the only rule is that you may not remove your grip from the bells between sets. Rest as long as you want, just don’t let go.

When I finally finished my four sets with 50# bells I emerged a changed man. Sure, my hands didn’t work properly for a while, and my triceps are still sore two days later, but the sense of accomplishment, the knowledge that I stared my limits in the eye and did not back down, more than makes up for not being able to fully extend my arms today.

When it was all said and done I knew I’d been gifted with an incredible experience far too few are in a position to recognize the value of. As a younger man I was an avid consumer of martial arts movies, especially those from China and Hong Kong. A persistent theme that ran through these movies was that the true master existed alone, on the periphery, content to dedicate himself to his art, and unconcerned whether anyone was paying attention or not. To those who paid attention he gave of himself fully, but felt no need to make fanfare or draw others to him.

Frank and Dru are two such masters and it’s a real shame that there are not more who “get it.” But I’m glad I do.

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