By Gail Clark for TCAJoB
If good fences make good neighbors, then West Richland’s Skip Sandberg, owner of Tri-City Fence, is making many good neighbors as he builds good fences throughout the Tri-Cities. Since 1968 Sandberg has run his fence business with the same work ethic and dedication that has propelled him into the ranks of the top five master powerlifters in the world.
“Powerlifting caught my attention when I hoisted my first dumbbell,” recalls Sandberg. “I was 19 when I joined a few friends who were training with the Denver Broncos football team. I was attracted to the sport as a way to train hard and stay in shape. As a result, I’ve continued to train hard and had the privilege to lift at meets all over the world and make many friends.”
Three nights a week and on Saturdays, Sandberg is in his private gym working out, rarely missing a workout. “I make it a point to train even when we travel,” said the 72-year-old Sandberg. “I know where the gyms are located and I go.”
“I train for about two and a half hours during each session,” said Sandberg. “We train smarter by not overtraining. Every lift counts,” said Sandberg. As a result of his discipline and dedication, Sandberg holds nearly every world record in powerlifting’s three main disciplines – bench press, squat and deadlift – in every age and weight division in which he has competed.
A room in Sandberg’s home is filled with hundreds of gleaming trophies of every shape and size, magnificent swords, rows of medals and neatly framed certificates. In recognition of Sandberg’s contribution to the sport of powerlifting, he was inducted into the World Powerlifting Congress Hall of Fame during the Raw Powerlifting World Championships in September 2010 in Idaho Falls.
“I was taken by surprise when they announced the Hall of Fame award,” said Sandberg. At that same meet, he set a world record and was named outstanding lifter.
Sandberg has helped many other lifters throughout his more than 40 years in the sport. Training with Sandberg is to acquire skills of learned intensity, absolute dedication and purging all bad habits. There is no one better to have on your side,” said Jeff Conley of West Richland.
Conley, a powerlifting, world record holder, has been lifting with Sandberg since 1986, setting records in his own age and weight division.
“Skip’s enthusiasm for the sport is infectious,” he said. “If you are serious and willing to put out the effort, Skip will teach you everything he knows. Through his coaching, he has helped many powerlifters prevent serious injuries.”
Sandberg just seems to attract good lifters. Bennie Dooley of Kennewick, Washington spent more than a decade training at Sandberg’s gym, subsequently breaking world titles in his division.
“When training for a meet at Skip’s gym, you can cut the intensity with a knife,” Dooley said. “Yet the lifters are never pitted against one another. There’s great camaraderie within the group.”
In the last year, a 15-year-old high school student stepped into Sandberg’s private gym to train from the master. The young man has already set world records in his age and weight class.
“He has the potential to do fantastic things but I have to hold him back so he doesn’t injure himself,” said Sandberg. “I want to instill in him the difference between training hard and training stupid.”
“I keep an eye on everyone training with me and get a feel for what they can achieve that day. I’m looking for the razor’s edge, erring on the side of success, not on negatives. I want us to make all our lifts whether in training or at a competition,” Sandberg said. “I recognize that some days we just don’t have it.”
That same dedication and hard work to achieve his goals has served him well when coming back from injuries.
Although he’s remained relatively injury-free throughout his career, he has had surgery for a crushed disk, shoulder and knee injuries. Recently he hurt his back and is slowly regaining his strength in his squats. Yet he has made an impressive come back, training harder and lifting more.
“I know I’m getting older,” said Sandberg. “But I’m not ready to face it. My bench is as good as ever. I can press 460 pounds any day.”
Brent Mikesell, a powerlifter who lives in Spokane, said there are fewer than five guys in the world with as many world titles as Sandberg.
“Some lifters won’t even enter the competition if they know he is lifting since Sandberg never loses,” Mikesell said.
In the world of powerlifters, Sandberg is considered one of the master legends in powerlifting and one of the strongest men to ever live. His friends and colleagues in the sport kindly acknowledge that because of his dedication to powerlifting and willingness to help everyone from kids to masters, Sandberg has helped many others achieve great results.
Sandberg is married to May Hays of West Richland and the couple also owns the Sandberg Event Center and Gardens in West Richland.
But when it’s time for Sandberg to train, you will find him in his gym.