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THE WAY TO LIVE
- THE STORY OF MY LIFE -
Part 1

by George Hackenschmidt

It will, possibly, interest my readers to learn some details of my life and of the process of my physical development.

I was born on July 20, 1878 (Old Style), or August 2, according to English methods or reckoning, at Dorpat, in Russia, my father being the proprietor of some dye-works there.  I have a brother and a sister younger than myself.  Both my father and my mother were of average stature, neither of them displaying any unusual physical characteristics, but both my brother and sister possess more than average strength.  My grandfather, the father of my mother--who, by the way, I never knew, as he died when I was only three years old--was always described to me as a big and powerful man.  He had migrated to Russia from Sweden some sixty years before.  My mother always told me that I was very like my grandfather, except that he was rather taller, being six feet in height.

So far as I can remember, I was, from my earliest years, devoted to all bodily exercises, and by the time I was eight or nine years old I used to order about a small army of boys of my own age--being admittedly the strongest of them all.  I was sent to the Dorpat Grammar School (Realschule), and soon showed a preference for the hours spent in the gymnasium.  At a gymnastic competition in the year 1891, when I was fourteen years old, I won a prize as the best gymnast of my own age, a fact which my instructor Herr Drewes, a German, communicated to the press in Germany.  At that date, I was 4 ft 7-1/2 in. in height and weighed 8 st. 10 lb. being of a rather thickset build.  I was one of the best at club and dumb-bell exercises and could jump over 16 ft in length and 4 ft 7-1/2 in. in height.  I could raise and lower a dumb-bell weighing 1 pood (36 lb.) sixteen times with the right hand and twenty-one times with the left, and I once ran 180 metres (about 197 yards) in 26 seconds.
 
My liking for bodily exercises I inherited from my grandfather.
 
On leaving school in 1895, I entered some large engineering works in Reval as an apprentice, with a view to becoming a practical and technical engineer.  But--Man proposes, God disposes!
 
At this time I became a member of the Reval Athletic ad Cycling Club, and threw myself heart and soul into cycling, at which I won several prizes.
 
When autumn and bad weather came round, I gave more attention to exercises with heavy weights and dumb-bells and my ambition soon led me to excel all my fellow members in these exercises.
 
The chief pastimes favoured in our club were the lifting of heavy weights and wrestling.  For the latter I had at first but little liking and was often beaten.
 
About this time I grew pretty quickly, my measurements in 1896, at the age of eighteen, being as follows:-
 
Height - - 5 ft 7-1/2 in.
Chest - - 41-3/4 in. normal and 44 in. expanded
Biceps - - 14 in. straight and 14-1/4 in. flexed.
Forearm - - 12-7/8 in.
 
We had a very judicious trainer in our club, a certain Gospodin (Mr) Andruschkewitsch, a government official, who gave us young fellows many excellent hints on the care and training of the xbody.  At a Club festival held about this time (autumn of 1896) I performed the following weightlifting feats:-
 
With the right hand from the shoulder
 
I pressed - - - 145 lb. 12 times.
Ditto, Ditto- - 155 lb. 10 times
Ditto, Ditto- - 198 lb. 3 times
Ditto, ditto- - 214 lb. 1 time
 
And with one hand lifting slowly from the ground to the shoulder (by the strength of the biceps) I raised a weight of 125 lb. with the right, and 119 lb. with the left.
 
In September, 1896, I made the acquaintance of the professional athlete and wrestler, Lurich.  He was only a few years older than myself, had been a professional for a year, and was touring in the Eastern Provinces with a small company.
 
Lurich challenged all comers to wrestle with him and various members of our club came forward but were all, without exception, defeated by him.  Up to this time, I had shown but little taste for wrestling and had wrestled very seldom, being more partial to work with heavy weights.  Still, I wrestled several times with Lurich, who, even then, was a fairly good wrestler, though, as I speedily recognized, scarcely my equal in strength.  As can readily be understood, Lurich had no great difficulty in throwing an experienced man, such as I was, though on the one occasion on which I wrestled with him in public--in the Standpfort Etablissement in Reval--he could not throw me the first time, and in the second bout I was able to resist him for seventeen minutes.
 
I mention this easily intelligible defeat, incurred when I had had little or no experience in wrestling, because, later on, Lurich used to boast that he had frequently beaten me.
 
This gentleman has, since then, for many years kept carefully out of my way, but this defeat annoyed me and after it I wrestled more frequently and, in the course of the winter, defeated nearly all the members of our club.

In February, 1897, a German wrestler, Fritz Konietzko came to Reval.  It was said that at Magdeburg he had beaten the famous Tom Cannon, then in his prime, who, in his day, had often wrestled with Abs, a wrestler who enjoyed a big reputation in Germany, and had thus achieved some celebrity in the Graeco-Roman style.  Konietzko was a rather smaller man than myself, being 5 ft 6-1/2 in. in height and barely turning the scale at 165 lb.  taking him all round his was not a very imposing figure.  Yet he was very quick and possessed a strength of hand which to me seemed almost uncanny.  These qualities enabled him to defeat all his opponents; especially as he was always undermatched.  I was the only member of the amateur contingent to withstand the German.  We wrestled ten minutes without a fall.  Not long after this Ladislaus Pytlasinski, the Polish wrestler, then at the zenith of his fame, came to Reval and, of course, defeated Konietzko.  Pytlasinski defeated me easily, and we all learnt a great deal from this great expert of the wrestling arena.  In the following year he was the first wrestler to defeat the famous Turk, Kara Ahmed in Paris.  I remember, too, a very powerful village schoolmaster in the neighbourhood of Reval who was one of the chief opponents of this professional wrestler.  He (the schoolmaster) had only a few holds, with which he defeated his opponents.  On one occasion, he got me down in seven minutes.
 
As I have said already, these defeats proved very instructive to me and I gradually, if slowly, began to perfect myself in wrestling.
 
I improved rapidly in lifting power and also in general physical development, and by July, 1897, I was able to press a bar weighing 243 lb. with both hands from my shoulders to the full stretch of my arms.  Even at this date, I established a world's record--which was, of course, very soon broken, but afterwards improved on, and since maintained by myself.  With my hands crossed behind my back and my knees bent, I lifted a ball weighing 171 lb.  this feat proved that I was fairly strong in the legs.  Taking two balls weighing 94-1/2 lb. each in either hand, I swung them with a single motion from the ground to the full stretch of the arms.  Our instructor, Gospodin Andruschkewitz, took my measurements in December, 1897, with the following results:
 
Height - - 5 ft. 8-1/2 in.
Neck - - 18-1/5 in.
Biceps - - 15-3/5 in. straight, and 17-1/4 in. flexed.
Forearm - - 13 in.
Wrist - - 7-1/2 in.
Chest - - 44-7/8 in. normal and 46 in. expanded.
Thigh - - 23-1/2 in.
Calf - - 15-3/5 in.
Weight - - 12 st. 8 lb.

Part 2


[ Georg Hackenschmidt ]

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