NJ’s Superman Greg Matonick- Thank you Greg (RIP)By
Almost exactly a year ago today I met a man who would become very influential in the man I am now. At the time my marriage was hanging on by a thread and was basically over and I went to the strongman dinner even though at the time my heart wasn’t really into it because of everything that was going on in my personal life. The Iron Tamer Dave Whitley even noticed that there was something off about me though he commented on it after I essentially updated him on what was going on after the fact. I’m about to share a story that I always enjoy telling people and that is how I got involved in the strongman world going from fan to student/practitioner/performer and that involves my teacher, NJ’s Superman Greg Matonick. It’s a story about never knowing where life would lead you and also that when the student is ready the master will appear.
I had gone to the AOBS Strongman dinner as a fan of this stuff and wishing to be the one on stage. It’s a nearly forgotten form of entertainment that is starting to get a resurgance. I remember vividly sitting there as I am contemplating where my life was and what the next thing for me was and I see an older man turn to me and say “So is kettlebell training the only thing you are into or are you into bending steel?” I turn to him and say “Kettlebell training is the main thing I use for my strength and I tried to learn how to do the feats, I even have dvds but it’s still something I find myself unable to do. I don’t know where to begin except from there.”
“I can teach you. I taught him.” As he points to Chris Wonder Schoeck…a strongman approximately my size who bent some really thick steel bars earlier in the evening. Chris confirmed it and is also the star of the upcoming documentary Bending Steel.
“That sounds great but I can’t really afford to pay you anything.” I said. Trying to run a business and starting over from scratch is not easy and was something that had come up in marriage counseling.
“I won’t charge you anything.” This was a big thing and an example of the kind of guy he is. I don’t know exactly what he saw in me or what not but he saw something and wanted to teach me. Whenever I tried to pay him he refused it claiming that he enjoys teaching and shouldn’t be paid for it. I disagreed because he had something that was valuable and had bills he had to pay as well.
That was last fall that that conversation took place. I told him that I wouldn’t be able to train with him for awhile because I had to get my demons out of my head during my separation and that sort of thing. January 9th this past year would be my first official strongman introduction and would represent a new chapter in my life. The first thing we did was bent a steel bar into a fish shape…something that gave me the power to start my rebar to ribbons project. He also covered rolling up a frying pan…something that blew my mind the first time I saw it and with his instruction I was able to do it myself. I don’t remember how long it took for me to progress but it was his urging that got me to bend a steel bar with my nose…something that helped me generate over $1000 for St. Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital. Here is a picture he took of me the first time I bent a steel bar with my nose in his gym, something I never would have been able to do if he hadn’t been there for me.
For a very significant portion of this year that would become my Sunday afternoon. Go down to South Jersey and learn from the strongman. He would explain a feat to me, talk about the mindset and being an all around strongman (something that means basically being a good person all over) and I would do it while he watched with a bit of pride. He never even really asked for recognition that he was my teacher until one day he had said “When it’s time to promote yourself contact the newspapers and tell them you just graduated the so and so academy for olde-time performing strongmen” and I had said “Why don’t I just tell them that I’m your student?” His humbleness had almost forbidden him from saying “I am the teacher of strongmen” but his track record proved otherwise. I was going to help him put together a school for up and coming performing strongmen, just like I was and still am. He had too much knowledge in him, too much talent at teaching, and too much of a desire to teach it to go on quietly like he had been doing.
Here he is in the news with another student Sonny Barry who is also his best friend.
I don’t know if Greg really knew how much of an influence he had on me or if I even knew but it was pretty apparent to all those around me. During my separation I had taken all the pictures that were up in my house and threw them in the Ex’s car and for months all that remained were empty hooks that had represented the emptiness of a past life I wished to forget. After awhile those empty hooks that once held pictures that I had no desire to look at started holding onto some of the steel that I bent which represented other things, things I wouldn’t have been able to do if he wasn’t there to guide me with his generosity and knowledge. This chapter, the chapter of the strongman I am not ready to close and I will not. It’s not what Greg would have wanted anyways. I am willing to teach which to honor him I will not profit on. I’ll talk about this more in a different post because I don’t want his teachings to die with him. I believe I was his last student which I am thankful for the time I had with him.
Greg was self taught in the feats and I’ll never be able to duplicate his system but maybe I’m not supposed to. I guess the next evolution is to teach the rest to myself based on the things he has taught me thus far. A big take away I got from him was that I can do it as long as I believe I can.
Rest in peace Greg. Living by a giving mentality as well as being as dedicating all your feats to the man upstairs I am sure you are up in heaven. When I start doing more shows I always want you to have the best seat in the house because no matter what I may say at the start of every show or who I dedicate my feats to will always be a tribute to you because without you I wouldn’t have been able to do it in the first place. You taught me that strength was limitless as was your generosity. Thank you Greg, I’m going to miss you.
Sincerely, forever your strongman student