DECATUR -- When Sylvester Stallone's character is asked to explain his battle philosophy in "Rambo: First Blood Part II," he replies: "To survive a war, you gotta become war."
Chris Rice brings a similar take-no-prisoners approach to the sport of bench press weightlifting. That means spending about seven hours a week in Decatur's Club Fitness gym and waging total war on hefting weights almost twice as heavy as he is. And Rice's 6-foot-2-inch frame weighs in at 308 pounds, give or take how many of his favorite large pepperoni and sausage pizzas he's disposed of that day.
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He triumphed in a weightlifting competition that was part of the recent Gus Macker basketball tournament with a personal best bench press of 540 pounds. He says the push to do extraordinary things starts with winning a battle in your own mind to make yourself believe you can do it. "It's a mental game; you got to be mentally tough," says the former Marine.
"You've got to believe you can do anything."
Rice isn't the only one doing the believing, however. His friend, fellow bench presser and mentor, Phil Rogers, says Rice is a natural born killer lifter.
"Genetics has got a lot to do with it, and he is a genetic freak, you know?" he adds. "He's one in a million, it comes easy to him. Some people got natural speed, they're born with it. He's got this."
A former standout high school basketball star on an unbeaten Stephen Decatur team, the 34-year-old Rice only started weightlifting two years ago and adopted a mission brief of pushing himself to see how far he could go. Rogers, who has been lifting himself for 10 years, says that could wind up being a long, long way.
"Statistically, the percentage of weight lifters who can bench press 500 pounds is unbelievably small, like way less than one percent, and even for the ones who do it, it might take them 10, 12 or 13 years to achieve it," explains Rogers, 32. "And Chris doesn't know what a plateau is, he is still going up, up, up, up with personal bests."
Club Fitness owner, Mike Lambdin, who has seen a fair number of weight lifters in his time, says Rice is special. "I've been in this business for 27 years, and you just get rare breeds come along and you really see what the human body can do," says Lambdin, 50.
"And people say 'Wow, he's a big guy,' but there is a lot more to it than just being a big guy. He puts in a 40-hour week at work and then he comes in here puts in hours of working out. That's tough, and it's tough to be at this level."
Rice works on the assembly line of the Decatur Caterpillar Inc. plant assembling big mining trucks, but denies rumors he actually pushes the finished vehicles out into the parking lot. When work is done he'll hit the gym, and the war on weight continues. He says pumping this much iron tears down the muscle fibers and then you need enough downtime, and a truckload of high protein food, to rebuild them back stronger.
"You got to eat, eat, eat," he explains. "And I eat pizza; I like Del Carmen's sausage and pepperoni or barbeque chicken. I drink plenty of water (1.5 gallons a day) and stay away from pop."
He isn't sure just how far he can push his iron will using his preferred style of "raw" lifting, which means not wearing a bench press "shirt" or other aids that help lifters. The world record for a raw lift without a shirt now stands at more than 700 pounds.
"But the worst thing you can do is tell me I can't do something," says Rice. "Because then I'm going to make sure I do it."