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SCENE& HEARD HGTV, slumlords and buyers’ despair
“It’s impossible to have a bad workout when you’re in a group of other people that want to see you do well, almost to a fault.” Mark Bell, powerlifter “I remember just feeling powerless, hopeless basically—like, ‘Even if I want to punch him in the head I’m not going to because it looks like he’ll kick my ass,’” says Bell, now 38. That’s when Bell decided to start lifting weights. He quickly proved to be a natural. While some of his peers could only bench 85 pounds, he’d bench 185. His two older brothers Chris and Mike were impressed: Mark was already out-lifting some of their older friends. And so with his brothers’ encouragement, Bell kept lifting. Body fat quickly melted away in favor of muscle. By the time he was 14, he’d started competing. After high school, Bell continued training and also started wrestling professionally. The career took him to Louisville, Ky., Los Angeles and Japan, but after he married and had a kid, he decided it was time to settle down. “I was like, ‘It’s time to get my shit together [and] get my life together,’” he said. By the time Bell and his family had moved to the West Coast in the early 2000s, he’d already spent some time powerlifting under the tutelage of a guy named Louie Simmons, whose gym in Ohio is considered a mecca of powerlifting. The plan was to settle in Sacramento, open a similar gym, surround himself with some of the best California powerlifters and just get stronger. By 2005, Bell had opened Body Construction Zone in Woodland. Over the next few years, the gym and its dedicated group of powerlifters moved from Woodland to North Sacramento and then into a place called Midtown Strength & Conditioning. Eventually, it settled in West Sac in November 2014. “They were primarily people in the area who had already competed in the BEFORE
past,” says Bell’s partner McDonald. “They just either trained together at different gyms or in their garages or whatever, but somewhere along the line we made some kind of decision that we were all on the same road together.” Throughout the 2000s, Bell kept gaining strength, and in his brother Chris’ 2008 documentary Bigger, Stronger, Faster*, which examines the use of anabolic steroids and performance-enhancing drugs in sports, the athlete admitted to using steroids to help his performances. Many in the powerlifting community lauded the film—and Mark—for not shying away from the controversial subject. In one of the film’s final scenes, Bell, on steroids, crushes one of his biggest goals: to bench more than 705 pounds. “My baby brother is on steroids and we all know it,” narrates Chris. “But look at us. My dad looks like he won the lottery and my mom’s prayers have been answered. There is a clash in America between doing the right thing and being the best. Americans play to win all the time because the very thought of losing is hateful.” It is, arguably, a controversial take on the subject. After the film, Bell didn’t stop training. His personal competitive bests would end up being an 855-pound bench press, a 1,080-pound squat and a 766-pound deadlift. Now, Bell has declined to comment to SN&R about any current steroid use. But, he admits, he does get asked about them a lot and is ambivalent about recommending them to people. In a YouTube video posted a few months ago, the powerlifter put it this way: “You guys would be absolutely shocked and surprised at how many people I talk out of it each and every day. You can perform well with them or you can perform well without them.” F E AT U R E
“Silent” Mike Farr deadlifts far more than the average person would ever dream of lifting.
Juiced or not, Bell said he decided to step away from competitive weightlifting after an accident in 2012 made him realize that family life was more important than continuing to compete. Before a May 2012 match, Bell had successfully squatted 1,100 pounds in practice. But he made the mistake of bulking up to more than 300 pounds right before the competition. During an attempt to squat 1,085, Bell says his body wasn’t prepared for the extra weight he’d just put on, and he tumbled, the 1,000-plus pounds of weight toppling back onto him. After, he decided, it was time for a shift. A new focus. So Bell left his competition days behind, having achieved almost all of his competitive goals already. His new goal: “make myself better”—in and out of the gym. In other words: more family time. Now, he weighs a little under 270 and can still bench press about twice that. But it’s the sense of community he’s fostering that may end up defining his legacy as a powerlifter. Last November, Bell moved Super Training Gym into a 6,000-foot West Sacramento warehouse. It’s a private gym but free to members; interested powerlifters can also check it out. These days, somewhere between 30 and 50 people train there on a regular basis. It’s also a testing ground of sorts for a powerlifting safety product he invented called the Slingshot, dozens of which are stocked in a back room. Bell also posts free educational content online, too. In addition to the podcast, there’s SuperTraining.tv, his YouTube channel, as well as a Facebook page and an Instagram account. The point, Bell says, isn’t just about selling. It’s about teaching others that powerlifting is more than a sport—it’s a lifestyle and a community. “It’s impossible to have a bad workout when you’re in a group of other people that want to see you do well, almost to a fault,” he says. “The only way you could have a bad workout is if you don’t show up.” Ω
| A R T S & C U L T U R E
After a six-month search for an apartment in Midtown I’d reached the end of my renter’s rope. Whether San Franciscans were flooding our sleepy cultural hamlet or if I’d just been out of the market for too long, a novellasized stack of denied applications told me everything I needed to know. Renting sucks, and it was time to buy. I thought that would be the hard part, just deciding to do it, until I found out that house-buying is exactly as competitive as apartment-renting. It’s a war against time, where “war” means hemorrhaging money instead of blood, attracting bondsmen like starving sharks— though, honestly, my bond guy has proven very reasonable and I’d be happy to make a referral anytime. It all begins benignly enough with the open-house process. This is how I’ve spent my weekends for months now, cruising up and down tree-lined streets like a property predator, hitting the brakes on my Honda Civic at a glimpse of any “open house” placard set in a front yard, those white balloons beckoning to passersby like a ruse. On these trips I park the car and step purposefully into the brightness of a stark home that is not my own. Staged furniture stands like a sentinel in every room, goading you to consider where a couch could fit or what would perhaps make a delightful home office. It is important to not be swept away by the crushing flow of hugely expensive possibilities such as knocking out a few walls and installing sky lights. You must quiet your mind of uncountable HGTV reruns and home improvement Pinterest boards, instead turning your vigilant eagle eye to sagging rooflines and peeling paint suggestive of far deeper damage than even your eagle eye can see. You do not want to be the fool that gets stuck with this place. I know because I’ve made mistakes. It started with a 100-yearold “charmer” in north Oak Park. After reaching an agreement we set to work arranging for the inspections, and within a week it was determined that the roof, the foundation and everything betwixt were equally doomed. Even the towering oak tree in the backyard would have to go, its roots wrapped around the deteriorating sewer lines like a wrestler in full nelson hold, necessitating specialists and their merciless, “indeterminable” quote for the full price of repair. The house seemed to be standing only by virtue of good weather, the next rain (should there ever be any again) slated to take it down. I walked from the deal and threw my lot in for a handful of other properties, but so far I’ve been shut out. What is a hapless millennial set on home-ownership to do? While the siege of slumlords and billionaire investment groups threatens the affordability of our livelihood here, I will not allow their rampage to discourage me. Sacramento is my home, and it is here that my home will be found. Also, still looking for leads on an enthusiastic real estate agent.
What is a hapless millennial set on homeownership to do?
Published on Feb 19, 2015