Interview with Maris Sternberg
By Eric Stone
4/9/04

Maris Violin

Eric Stone:  Tell us a bit about yourself, how old you are, what you do outside of powerlifting, where you live, where you grew up and anything else general you'd like to add about your life outside powerlifting.

Maris Sternberg:  I'm 55 years old. I grew up in Chicago, where I currently reside.  I got my BA in Music Education from Northeastern Illinois University; MA in Special Education from Georgia State University.  I taught in a residential school for the retarded in Georgia.  I was a high school band director in the Chicago Public Schools.  I also owned  my own music store in Downer's Grove for many years.  Currently I conduct the North Park Community Band in Chicago, and play the violin, flute and viola.

ES:  What are your best lifts in powerlifting in competition and training, and at what weight?

MS:  In training, 605 squat @ 198, 325 bench @ 198, 500 deadlift @ SHW.  In a meet, 551 squat @ 198 - 1985 Hawaii Open, 285 bench @ 198 - Myrtle Beach 1988, 501 deadlift @ SHW - Boston Women's Nationals 1988, 1265 total - Mountaineer Open 1985.

ES:  What are some of your proudest accomplishments in powerlifting?

MS:  I'm proud of my World Championships in that each one has extended my lifting career.  I'm very proud that I have been able to achieve such longevity.

ES:  What is your best moment in powerlifting?

MS:  Wow - my best moment in powerlifting?  My first National Championship?  My first World Championship?  My first World Record?  I've had a great career.  It's hard to pick just one.  Each experience is wonderful when it's happening.

ES:  How did you get started in powerlifting?

MS:  I had back surgery (L5) in '76 and abdominal surgery in '79.  After that my core muscles were so weak I was constantly pulling muscles—the doctor told me to go to the gym.  I chose Bob Gajda's (Mr. America in the 60's) Sport Fitness Institute because they rehabbed athletes.  I figured they could deal with my special issues.  They put me on a circuit routine.  Well, all those reps and sets were so boring to me, I fell asleep at the leg machine!  This was after I moved the leaper machine 8 feet across the floor!  Bob and his wife Karen (World Powerlifting Champion in '80) suggested powerlifting.

The first time I squatted it was like coming home.  I was hooked.  Four weeks later I won the Illinois State Meet (225/100/225 for a 550 lb total) in the 181's.  I carried that medal around with me for a week!  When I was growing up girls weren't athletes.  The most strenuous thing I had done was play through a 3 hour rehearsal!  In hindsight I should have seen it coming.  In high school, I held the school record in leg raises.  Go figure!

Maris Deadlift

ES:  Who are some of the people who have most influenced your training and powerlifting career in general?

MS:  I would say that being around as long as I have, I've been able to talk to most of the "big" names and learned alot from them.  However, hands down, the greatest influence on my lifting has been my coach of 24 years, Ernie Frantz.  In addition, my former workout partner Diane Frantz.  There used to be a joke that Ernie's gym was "magic."  The weights were lighter there!  When Ernie invited me to train with him at my second meet, I was there the next week—with bells on!  He's taught me all I know about training, lifting, and competing.  A lot of the training advice I pass on to younger lifters I learned from Ernie—and I give that advice because I know it works.  All my National and World Championships and the many records I've broken I owe to Ernie.  He brings out my best—and sometimes my worst!

ES:  You and the Frantz Power Team have trained the big three 2-3 times a week all together.  How have you handled this volume?  Why do all three lifts together, instead of on their own day?

MS:  I'm lucky—I'm built for powerlifting—good leverage and thick joints.  I take that kind of abuse well.  We train all three on the same day because that is how it is at a meet.  We're always ready.  One year, Ernie, Diane, and I lifted in 13 meets in a year—setting records, too.  It was just like a workout.

ES:  Did/do you ever do any assistance exercises, or did you just do the big three?

MS:  I do assistance work—but mostly limited to the power moves themselves.  Example—short reps of high pulls, squat lockouts, stuff like that.  But I go heavy on lat pulldowns just because they feel good.

ES:  What advice would you give to the younger powerlifter just starting out?

MS:  The most important thing is form.  If your form is good, you will avoid injury and enjoy a long lifting career.  If your form is good, the poundages will follow.  Work out with people are stronger than you and who know what they're doing.  Also they have to tell you the truth.  Don't let ego get in your way.  I can't tell you how many reps I did during my first few year while Ernie perfected my form.  And if Ernie isn't happy, I still do reps.

ES:  How important do you think training partners like the Frantz Power Team are to training?

MS:  Great training partners make the difference between just a workout and a great workout.  Our team is the best.  We all encourage each other.  Size and poundages are individual.  The team always works together.  They are my family.  They're happy for me when I do well and pick me up when I am down.

ES:  How have you been able to continue powerlifting for as long as you have at such a high level?

MS:  I love the sport.  I'm motivated.  And I have good form!  I can't imagine what my life would be like with my lifting and my music.

Maris Squat

ES:  What is your opinion of the advancement of supportive equipment?  Has/can it go too far?

MS:  I think supportive equipment is great in an effort to protect the lifter.  It goes too far when the lifter relies soles on the equipment and not on strength.

ES:  How did you get involved with the APF?  How does your involvement with the APF relate to the lawsuit on the IPF?

MS:  The entire "IPF Incident" actually began in 1981 at Master Worlds in Naperville, IL.  Ernie was the USPF Masters Chairman and very popular with the lifters in general.  We had lifters from all over the world.  It was a Master Weightlifting and Master Power meet combined.  As I recall there were several hundred lifters that weekend, the majority powerlifters.  Many, many records were broken.  I remember because I was processing the records even back then.  Almost every one was denied by the IPF on some technicality or another.  Needless to say, the lifters were incensed by the fine tradition of the IPF caring and communication.  They refused to listen to anyone.  Ernie, obviously was totally upset.  This was not how Ernie took care of our American lifters.  Grumbling amongst the lifters began.  It grew little by little as it seemed that our USPF officials were more concerned with pleasing the IPF than listening to the American lifter's issues.

It came to a head at 1982 IPF Master Worlds in North Carolina when several foreign lifters were bombed because of language problems.  None of the IPF officials would do anything to help the situation.  IPF Official Nate Foster get into it with Ernie at the AGM that evening.  Words were exchanged—well, fists were almost exchanged.  I remember well, I was sitting between them!  But the rift was established.  With much positive feedback and help, Ernie began the AMPF (American Master Powerlifting Federation).  It was my privilege to be in on the ground floor handling the records and the Secretary duties, and I still do today.

It was slow growing.  Ernie and the rest of us kept a positive attitude.  Ernie took out the first of many bank loans to keep the new federation going.  Because we knew we were right.  The time had come to end the reign of the IPF.  After the next year or so, we worked hard and long.  We dual-sanctioned to get lifters to our meets.  Ernie, Diane and I traveled around the country lifting and talking to lifters.  Ernie wanted to make sure this new venture was for the lifters, by the lifters.

During this time, many lifters (not just Masters), realized that the USPF/IPF was really not interested in the welfare of the athletes; just the preservation of their power.  And so the AMPF became the APF.  In 1984, South Africa approached Ernie to allow them to lift against us in the USA.  At that time, South Africa was banned by the IPF because of apartheid.  Ernie decided to de-politicize the sport and invited the South Africans to lift in a meet on September 16, 1984.  Immediately, controversy started.  The IPF threatened dire results.  As it turns out, there only 20 lifters in that meet—mostly from right in the Aurora-area.  Many big names came to lift and help.  Ed Jubinville was involved as were Tony Filton and Bill Seno to remember a few.  It was a great weekend, making new friends and talking lifting.

The IPF had made threats and now they had to figure out a way to make good on them without looking foolish.  They decided to ban us all from IPF competition for lifting outside the USPF.  However, they either didn't pay attention or were just plain ignorant.  They banned only the people closest to Ernie.  At a closed door meeting to be held in November 1984 at Men's Worlds in Austin, TX, the plan was to deal with our disloyalty.  We were never informed of this meeting.  We were never given the opportunity to defend ourselves.  Basically we didn't even know the meeting was taking place.  It came out later that Ernie, Diane, Felicia, Almy and I were the disciplined ones.  The rest were pretty much ignored.  In fact, a Master lifter, Denny Taylor was put on the Master World team to compete in Canada later that year.

We were never notified of any decision when Felicia, Diane and I went to Women's Nationals in February 1985 in Boston.  When we arrived, we were told that we would not be allowed to lift.  This news came from Judy Gedney, because the Women's Chairman Jan Todd was too afraid to show up, so he made Judy do it.  Felicia and I won our classes which should have automatically qualified us for Worlds.  At the team meeting after the meet, we were informed of the decision to ban us the meeting in Austin.  Right then I told the "powers that be" that I would use every means available to me to be placed on the World team, even if it meant an injunction to stop the meet.

Through a donation by Tony Filton, Felicia and I were able to attend the World Championships in May 1985.  Ernie made hot pink t-shirts for us to wear.  One side said "USA National Champion," and the other said, "I should be lifting at this meet."

We ended up serving court papers to the USPF and IPF officials at Men's Senior Nationals in June 1985 in Chicago.  The lawsuit included Ernie, Diane, Frantz Sports, and me.  There were a number of charges, including restriction of trade and violation of civil rights.  That began a program of lies, threats and accusations by the IPF that almost became a joke.  Then USPF President Coxrad Calter totally sided with the IPF, so there was not help at all.

Eventually, we wound up in court.  The IPF lost by default on all counts including my part of the case.  We sued under the Clayton ACt which simply stated that you can't ban an amateur athlete from competing any place they choose.  We were awarded a judgment of $115,000 total, $13,000 of it mine.  Obviously we never collected.  It did insure that the IPF could not hold any functions in the US.  If they had tried, we could have (and would have) showed up with Federal Marshals to close down the meet and arrest all the officials.  That is what kept the IPF out of the US for so many years.


ES:  What is your opinion of all the alphabet soup of federations in the current day?  Provides options for the lifter, or just confusing and unnecessary?

MS:  I think that many of the "alphabets" have been formed out of ego problems.  It is pretty confusing.  Some have real legitimacy.  Others mean nothing.  The bottom line is it has to meet the needs of the lifters and be lifter friendly.  Stealing the life work of a man, however, is tacky and illegal.

ES:  Why do you think there has been so many of these political "incidents" in the WPC such as the one with Carl Smith, or recently with L B Baker?

MS:  I hope I don't insult Ernie in any way.  These short sighted people get the idea that because Ernie doesn't always express himself well that he is stupid.  That is so far from the truth.  Underhandedness and backstabbing is not the way to build loyalty and it always shows.  They think Ernie's gotten rich on the APF/WPC.  What a joke!  Especially in the beginning, he's put far more money into it.  He's certainly never made money from the federation.

ES:  What do you think about the professional movement of the WPO and Mountaineer Cup?  Are they the future of this sport?  Is this sport marketable to the public as a professional sport?

MS:  I think pro powerlifting definitely has a place.  I think it can be marketable.  But the future of the sport lies in the grassroots—the high school kids.  As they grow older and more experienced, they and the sport will expand.

ES:  Along the same line, what do you think of Ernie Frantz handing the reigns of the APF/WPC down to Kieren Kidder?

MS:  Ernie's been doing this for a long time.  He'll be 70 this year.  Kieren has a vision for the sport form the ground up.  If people will just give him some time, I think they will be impressed.  I work closely with them both.  It's only going to get better.

ES:  What do you think about the Olympic movement in powerlifting?  A possibility?  Worth striving for?

MS:  Through my work with the Paraolympics I think powerlifting will not be an Olympic sport any time soon.  It's way too splintered.

ES:  Maris, thanks so much for taking the time to do the interview!  You are one of the great people in powerlifting!  Thanks for all the help and encouragement you have given me in my lifting career.  Is there anything else you would like to add?

MS:  Well, thank you so much for your kind words.  Thank for your encouragement also.  I would like to say that it's been a great ride.  I've been honored to meet and work with some of the greatest people on the planet.  I plan to be around for many years to come.  Thanks for allowing me this chance.  I'll see you in the gym next Saturday!


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