Jul 26, 2018

The Bodybuilders of Mordor

When I was growing up in Rock Island, we thought of the north as evil.

If you drove straight north on the I-61, you passed towns with disturbing names like Grand Mound, Lost Nation, and Temple Hill, redolent of H. P. Lovecraft's eldritch horrors, weird nature cults, children of the corn.

Then, after about an hour, you reached Mordor, aka Dubuque, Iowa, a town of 50,000 on a bend in the Mississippi.

It was on best route to western and central Wisconsin, but the preacher, Sunday school teachers, and old saints at church would always advise against it:

"Stay away from Dubuque!  It's overrun by cults!  You'll be brainwashed and never come back!"

They were so insistent that I always felt a little frisson of dread, even in college, when we drove through on the way to Madison for a film festival, and again on the way to the Wisconsin Dells resort for the weekend.

It didn't help that my first boyfriend Fred's ex-fiancee, aka the Wicked Witch of the North, lived in Mordor..um, I mean Dubuque.

Dubuque is actually a very pretty town, hilly, with some interesting architecture.

And a Medieval castle (actually the Julien Dubuque monument).

What scared Nazarenes was: the Roman Catholics.

53% of the population.

Seat of the Archdiocese of Dubuque.

Four Catholic colleges and seminaries, a dozen Catholic schools, convents, monasteries, churches, cathedrals...

Today Dubuque's high schools and colleges offer a full range of beefcake potential.

I like this picture of summer swimming lessons at the public pool.  Reminds me of my childhood, where I got swimming lessons at Longview Park every year.

Wrestling singlets are also common.

But what makes Dubuque stand out today is the muscle.

The UPA Powerlifting and Bench Pressing Championships, Mighty Muscle on the Mississippi.

Eric Lilliebridge broke the world record in 2015 with a 2,353 pound lift.

There are also bodybuilders.  John Hermsen, a local bodybuilding trainer, won the Gopher State Classic in his weight class.

There are 23 gyms and fitness centers in Dubuque, more per capita than any other town in the Midwest.

See also: We Stick It to the Wicked Witch of the North


  1. What is the difference between a "gym" and a "fitness center" anyway? Is it just marketing? Is it a plot to make English grammar more like Chinese?

    1. Typically a gym is for training serious athletes, offering weight training equipment and maybe an indoor track but few other amenities. A fitness center promotes general lifelong fitness, so there are yoga and pilates classes, children's activities, senior citizen activities, and so on.

  2. Indoor (or rooftop) swimming pool would be what? Because obviously both athletes and families can use that. Same with a lot of things like martial arts and even ballet. (You'd be surprised how many athletes take ballet. I mean, you used to work for Joe Weider so, you'd have a good idea, but most people would be surprised.)

    I do think there's a conspiracy to make English grammar more Chinese, though. And "center" is a big part of it. Hospitals are now called "medical centers". And malls are "shopping centers". If GNC didn't exist, restaurants would be "nutrition centers". This is unsustainable; you could say *sunglasses* the center can't hold.


    I apologize for nothing.

    1. Except the term "shopping center" predates "shopping mall" by about 100 years. "Medical center" also dates from the 19th century.


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