December 2, 2023

His energy was stupendous however Doug Hepburn is now all however forgotten within the metropolis he sacrificed a lot for. A B.C. sculptor intends to vary that.

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From the second he was born, life was a battle for Doug Hepburn.

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Forceps have been wanted to yank him from his mom when he was born in 1926, leaving everlasting scars on his temple. He entered this world with a membership foot and an ocular situation generally known as an “alternating squint.” Surgical procedures — and there have been lots of them — finally corrected the latter, however his proper leg remained barely withered for the remainder of his life.

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However nothing may cease the bullying in school that got here with being totally different.

His father was an alcoholic and deserted his household; his ensuing stepfather confirmed little fondness for him or his prodigious urge for food, and kicked Hepburn out of the home as a young person.

All of it left Hepburn shy-natured and tormented by shallowness points, ones that closely contributed to his melancholic bouts with despair, alcoholism and drug use later in life.

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“The one factor I find out about life is it’s a sequence of lifting your self from one 12 months to the following,” he as soon as mentioned. “It is a pure technique of life; it’s not a misfortune to must elevate your self up.”

And Hepburn did elevate himself. He lifted others. And he lifted, famously, extra weight than any particular person had.

He held the crown of the world’s strongest man, the legendary tales of his energy backed up by shows that dumbfounded the onlookers who flocked to Trout Lake on the possibility they could see one. The previous lifeguard would carry a ship that usually took 4 males to maneuver above his head; he’d absent-mindedly bend cash and bottle caps in his palms; he as soon as lifted a platform with the Vancouver Canucks beginning six standing on it, skates and all.

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His energy was stupendous, his fame lending renown whilst far-flung as Russia.

And at the moment, he’s all however forgotten by town that he sacrificed a lot for.

In this Dec. 30, 1958 Vancouver Sun file photo, world champion weightlifter Doug Hepburn lifts six Vancouver Canucks hockey players, a total of 1,500 pounds. Photo: Roy LeBlanc
On this Dec. 30, 1958 Vancouver Solar file picture, world champion weightlifter Doug Hepburn lifts six Vancouver Canucks hockey gamers, a complete of 1,500 kilos. Picture: Roy LeBlanc

EVANESCENCE

Hepburn’s title and story do sometimes pop up in a cyclical method, however the sample is ebbing away with fading regularity. His legacy, his followers argue, deserves some concrete — or on this case, brass — recognition.

Norm Williams was a youth who’d make the bike journey from North Burnaby to East Van to observe Hepburn casually rip licence plates or decks of playing cards in half, or have a gymnast stability on the finish of his outstretched arm.

In case you’re a hockey fan, you understand his work. He’s the artist commissioned to create the statues of Pat Quinn and Roger Neilson that grace the steps exterior Rogers Enviornment.

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Even for those who’re not a hockey fan, you in all probability know his work, together with his Steveston wharf’s Legacy work one of the crucial photographed public artwork installations within the metropolis.

Williams has been making an attempt for years to get a statue of Hepburn commissioned, however time — he’s ending up a chunk commemorating the wartime efforts of the ladies shipyard builders in North Van — and cash, an estimated $150,000 for the undertaking, have put it on the again burner.

Together with B.C. Sports activities Corridor of Fame curator Jason Beck and some others, a GoFundMe has been launched to fund the undertaking.

“You possibly can argue whether or not Gretzky was the most effective hockey participant of all time, or possibly it was Bobby Orr, possibly it was so and so, however there’s a pair issues you may’t argue,” Williams mentioned. “Say, the quickest human being on the planet; there’s occasions — you may’t argue it. It’s over and executed with, ‘he was the quickest.’

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“And it’s the identical with the strongest. You possibly can’t argue (Hepburn) was the strongest man on the planet in his day. I do know once we noticed him, there was little question in my thoughts if he was his strongest man on the earth. As youngsters, we’re sitting there on our bicycles with our mouths open, simply type of standing again a little bit bit and watching him to do his stuff. I imply he didn’t break information, he annihilated them. He was simply phenomenal.”

Sculptor Norm Williams in his studio in Abbotsford earlier this year. The original figures used to form the casts for his previous works, Steveston’s Legacy and Roger Neilson, can be seen behind him. Photo: Nick Procaylo
Sculptor Norm Williams in his studio in Abbotsford earlier this 12 months. The unique figures used to kind the casts for his earlier works, Steveston’s Legacy and Roger Neilson, could be seen behind him. Picture: Nick Procaylo Picture by Nick Procaylo /PNG

Hepburn’s accomplishments embody gold medals on the 1954 British Empire Video games in Vancouver, the identical meet Roger Bannister and Roger Landy battled it out within the famed Miracle Mile, and gold within the heavyweight division of the 1953 World Championships in Sweden. He was additionally the winner of the Lou Marsh Memorial Award and Lionel Conacher Award (Canada’s male athlete of the 12 months) that very same 12 months.

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Hepburn died in 2000 on the age of 74, in relative obscurity.

Williams’ studio on the base of Sumas Mountain is suffering from tiny, six-inch maquettes — small, scaled-down prototype variations of bigger items — of Hepburn and different works. The clay type of the Neilson statue is there, armless, and numerous busts of Quinn sit on cabinets, making it the type of house the place you could be by your self, however by no means be alone.

However the room is dominated by an eight-foot tall model of Hepburn, sans palms, who Williams hopes in the future will likely be standing atop a four-foot pedestal in a redesigned viaduct plaza on the southeast nook of Beatty Avenue and West Georgia, framing B.C. Place behind. The completed pose can have Hepburn triumphantly holding a weight excessive within the air, as soon as he figures out the engineering wanted to make it secure.

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“A variety of it’s common sense. However to get to get the Metropolis to simply accept it, it’s a must to have engineering executed on it. They don’t need it falling on anyone. They’re humorous that approach,” he mentioned, smiling.

The statue’s pose is stylistically and technically devoted to the long-lasting picture of Hepburn. The moustache, the footwear, the unitard, the broad shoulders, all recreated identically. Williams’ works are exquisitely detailed.

“For the typical particular person, it doesn’t matter a rattling. However for those who get it flawed for any individual who actually is aware of, they’ll by no means forgive you. So it’s a must to type of appease the final market after which appease the individuals who have been there and actually know,” Williams mentioned.

With the Quinn statue, he had the assistance of the previous Canucks legends widow, Sandra. However for Neilson’s work, it was as much as his analysis, poring over footage and researching the previous coach. Portraits have been too sanitary to actually replicate Neilson’s soul, and candid newspaper photographs have been too grainy to supply a lot.

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“Fortuitously, I remembered him; I used to be fairly a hockey fan and I may I may image him,” Williams mentioned. “I knew his little mannerisms, like he used to chew on the within of his lip, and it made his mouth look crooked. That doesn’t present in his portraits as a result of he doesn’t try this when he’s having a portrait taken of him, you understand?

“Then it got here all the way down to the footwear. The one image wherever I discovered of his toes was the place he was sporting sandals on the seaside, which was no assist in any respect. I’m considering I can’t think about him sporting Cuban heeled footwear or Gucci footwear … I mentioned ‘I feel you understand he’s type of be extra of a hush pet sort’ besides that he was a millionaire, so he wouldn’t be getting his footwear at Walmart.

“And on the unveiling, a girl got here as much as me — and I don’t know who she was — however she mentioned ‘you understand, Roger was a good friend of mine for 30 years.’ I requested how did I do, and she or he mentioned ‘You bought him. You bought him proper all the way down to the Hush Puppies.’”

Vancouver strongman Doug Hepburn performing one of his favourite feats of strength by ripping a licence plate in half. Photo: Brian Kent
Vancouver strongman Doug Hepburn performing certainly one of his favorite feats of energy by ripping a licence plate in half. Picture: Brian Kent

Moreover desirous to get it proper for his childhood idol, Williams is aware of all of the cautionary tales abounding of artists who’ve infamously fallen brief in his medium. The misshapen and homely Cristiano Ronaldo bust, which simply celebrated its five-year anniversary, has entrenched itself absolutely in everlasting meme territory, and the tragic Carol Burnett statue in her hometown isn’t far behind.

“I noticed the image (of Burnett’s statue) first earlier than I learn something within the paper. I mentioned ‘Who is that this black man? I assumed it was a male African-American. I didn’t know who it was,” he laughed.

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LOST LEGACY

Hepburn had the misfortune of competing at a time in Canada when solely hockey and soccer actually mattered. His sport was denigrated as a pastime for neanderthals, and within the days earlier than social media, newspapermen took their liberty with him, calling the 5-foot-9, 285-pounder a bathtub of lard or a strolling meatball.

When confronted by those that known as him all brawn, no mind, he’d caustically reply “how does it really feel to be neither?”

Whereas he was an detached scholar as a youth, he was a well-read grownup who wrote poetry, learn the encyclopedia for enjoyable, and was keen on reciting Shakespeare and the 10-minute rhetorical speech of Spartacus to the Gladiators at Capua.

However energy was what he was recognized for. He was the primary particular person to bench press 500 kilos, and even on the age of 54, he was nonetheless squatting 600 kilos. At age 72, two years earlier than he handed, he may nonetheless do a one-arm navy press of a 160-pound dumbbell.

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Weightlifter Doug Hepburn was a paragon of fitness into his 70s. Photo: Ian Lindsay
Weightlifter Doug Hepburn was a paragon of health into his 70s. Picture: Ian Lindsay

Hepburn broke the world file in Sweden regardless of going there together with his ankle sore from a coaching accident two weeks earlier than, an damage that left him unable to place any weight on it simply 10 days earlier than he was presupposed to fly out.

On the Empire video games, he gained gold whereas barely breaking a sweat.

“To observe him elevate was spectacular; I’ve by no means seen something prefer it,” mentioned Tom Thurston, who wrote Strongman: The Doug Hepburn story, which was revealed in 2003.

“If he can get it to his shoulders. He may press it and he didn’t pressure. It simply went ‘fffttt’ and it was up.”

Hepburn broke eight world information, and gained the U.S. weightlifting championships in 1949, however the Canadian Novice Athletics Union (CAAU) wouldn’t acknowledge them and surprisingly refused to help the B.C. man. As an alternative of sending him to the 1952 Olympic Video games, the CAAU determined to not ship anybody in any respect. The subsequent 12 months, Hepburn was pressured to pay for his personal flight to the worlds in Sweden, the CAAU stubbornly withholding their help.

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Hepburn’s solely revenue upon returning as world champ got here as a $150 wage from Vancouver mayor Fred Hume, who paid him out of pocket to be his “bodyguard on name” so as to keep Hepburn’s novice standing.

He had affords from Switzerland to be a coach — together with a automotive and wage for all times — whereas the U.S. federation tried to woo him with American citizenship and a boatload of money. He refused, feeling an allegiance and accountability to Canada.

“The person was a Canadian hero. He actually was,” mentioned Thurston, who was additionally Hepburn’s enterprise supervisor.

“He wasn’t simply prime of the category — he was approach above all people else. And the truth that he’s simply been ignored is … a travesty. It’s too unhealthy that folks selected to place ego earlier than the Canadian folks. What number of gold medals did Canada lose due to politics and egotism? That’s simply not proper.”

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A health club that was promised to him after the Empire video games by no means materialized, and he descended into alcoholism and despair. However he lifted himself out of it, turning into — amongst different issues — a professional wrestler, nightclub singer, health club operator and inventor. He helped any aspiring lifter who matched the drive he had as a youth, and the Doug Hepburn Methodology remains to be a legitimate coaching approach at the moment.

The World Weightlifting Championships have been held in Vancouver on the fiftieth anniversary of his win in Sweden, however he wasn’t there to see it, having handed away three years earlier than.

“I feel folks received the flawed impression. Doug was wasn’t a showcase, he was simply infatuated with the issues that the human physique generally may do,” mentioned Thurston. “I can bear in mind happening to see him to 1 time, after which the 50 kilos of weight hanging off his little finger by a rope … (and) he was doing finger curls with it. He says, ‘Have a look at this. Are you able to think about that the human finger can try this? In case your arm was that large in proportion, then assume how a lot you probably did curl. That’s what was going by means of his head. That’s how his thoughts labored.

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“At one time, each authority on the planet, each certainly one of them vowed up and down, there’s no approach that any man can ever bench-press greater than 500 kilos due to the 500-pound barrier. Everyone was completely positive about that. And take a look at what the human physique can truly elevate now.

“Doug by no means ever stopped. He by no means give up it doesn’t matter what occurred to him. He simply stored doing it and he stored doing it, and he if he was nonetheless alive, he would nonetheless be doing it. … I feel if the general public was made conscious of how a lot we may have executed for him and didn’t, and now we’ve got an opportunity to do one thing for him (with a statue), I feel maybe which may make a distinction.”

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