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Friday, September 24, 1993 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Pressing Motivation

HE HAS lifted cars, elephants and a world-record 725 pounds. But self-proclaimed world's strongest man Anthony Clark, who will attempt a new world powerlifting mark in Auburn tomorrow, has more pressing items on his agenda. -------------------------------------------------------------------

The chest muscles are so large the skin trying to contain them stretches in endless rows of lines, with the symmetry of a Midwest corn field. The arms are the size of some waists. The neck and head are one, and a baseball cap rests on top, worn like a yarmulke.

Thought No. 1: So this is what Cortez Kennedy would look like if he spent half a day in a gym.

Thought No. 2: Shouldn't the NFL know about this guy?

Actually, says Anthony Clark, the Houston Oilers did call a few years back but he's doing fine on his own, as the "World's Strongest Man." That's Clark's title for himself, but there aren't too many people willing to argue with him for it - at least to his face.

Tomorrow at Auburn High School, Clark will go for the world record when he tries to hoist 733 pounds above him in the bench-press position. The event is the 1993 U.S. Powerlifting Federation Northwest Open, a competition that draws top national lifters.

For the uninitiated, 733 pounds is roughly twice what most professional football players bench-press, and far beyond what some of the best-known muscle figures in America are capable of. Clark estimates that Arnold Schwarzenegger, the Terminator and a world-champion bodybuilder, was good for about 450 pounds in his prime.

Clark, of Pasadena, Texas, set the record of 725 pounds four months ago, but he's been a force on the powerlifting scene for several years now. He's one of the few people in his sport who can make a living by traveling the world attending events, promoting products, and lifting the occasional elephant.

He pushed the 6,000-pound elephant, in a heavy-duty wheelbarrow, across the floor in a strongman competition in Japan. It's one of the many quirky things Clark gets asked to do, being 5 feet 8 and 341 pounds of well-developed muscle.

"Every weekend I'm picking up a car," Clark said, and he doesn't mean renting them. He lifts Geo Metros, Honda Preludes, anything up to and including a Cadillac Seville. He would be great for jam-packed parties. "For me it's easier picking up a car than picking up weights," he said.

Clark, 27, is also quick with the car trick because it serves his larger purpose, to motivate youngsters to improve their lives. Throw the weightlifting numbers at them - how Clark can squat 1,025 pounds and dead-lift 748 pounds - and maybe some kids will be impressed. But show them that Mom's sedan can be moved all over the yard, and they snap to attention.

Clark, who offers motivational speeches, seminars and one-on-one counseling through his own company, repeats his motto to whomever will listen: "Be the best - not like the rest, never settle for less, because you don't have to!" He speaks in the affirmative tones of a self-fashioned evangelist and sprinkles his rap with familiar sayings. Describing how he uses several muscles in the bench press, he reminds, "United we stand, divided we fall."

"There have been a lot of kids who have said, `Because of you . . . I've gotten my life straightened out,' " Clark said.

But the teenager he remembers most was one who did not make it - a troubled 15-year-old from Houston who wanted to get into boxing. Clark made some calls on his behalf, and broke the news to the kid at lunch one day that he would start in the boxing program the next day. But that night, the boy was arrested for murder.

"That almost broke my spirit," Clark said.

As a teenager himself, the son of a Filipino woman and Native American man almost did not make it. Clark said he tried suicide three times to escape a father who often beat him. He attempted to hang himself and overdose, and another time stepped onto a 19th-floor hospital ledge.

He credits weightlifting for changing his life. At 16, upon seeing an advertisement involving a weightlifter then considered the world's strongest man, Clark decided he wanted the title for himself some day. At the time, he was 5-1 and 120 pounds and a sprinter on his high-school track team.

He earned the title at age 22, although he concedes he dabbled in steroids. He said he no longer uses the drugs and adds that "all they did was increase my blood pressure," but stops short of condemning those who use them.

In that regard, he reflects the difference of opinion in weightlifting about steroids. While some heed medical advice that steroids can cause serious physical damage, others believe the warnings are overblown.

"Too much is always abusive," Clark said.

Clark's history with steroids may taint his credibility as a role model in the eyes of some, but not all. Among his biggest fans are prisoners, to whom he often gives motivational speeches. He gets a letter per day from jails, where physical power gives them respect from peers.

If Clark is effective, though, his followers will see more than muscles.

"The lifting's great, but I want them to see my spirit."

Copyright (c) 1993 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.

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