Bill Strong's last name couldn't be more appropriate because he's a survivor.
When Strong was 6 years old, his father died of cancer at age 37. Strong's mother perished similarly when she was 59.
And there's more.
"My mother and father had six children," said Strong, the fourth born of the siblings. "And every one of us has had cancer."
In 1998, it was Strong's turn. He endured an operation to remove prostate cancer. In his late 60's at the time, he was determined to bounce back after surgery and regain his, well, strength.
Still an avid and competitive weightlifter—despite turning 80 this year—Strong doesn't know the meaning of the word quit.
"I think that I was 67 years old, and I was doing 325 pounds, which was the [state] bench press record for my age group," said Strong, a resident of Dundalk's Eastfield community. "But everybody down the gym said, 'Bill Strong's got cancer, his lifting days are over,' you know what I mean?"
Strong's rigorous training regimen and dedication just might have saved his life.
"The cancer was in down in my gut, so it wasn't up top in my pectorals. I just continued to train hard," said Strong, who trains at Bally Total Fitness on North Point Boulevard. "I was doing ... 200, 300 situps everyday, and I was out walking about three miles and doing the StairMaster."
Soon, Strong's stomach muscles responded, as did everything else.
"Six months later [after surgery], I went down to Salisbury to a competition called the 'Feast of The East.' That's when I set my regional record. I did 315 pounds, 325 and 335," said Strong, who stands 6-foot-3 and weighed 216 pounds at the time of the competition.
"So I beat my own state record by 10 pounds six months after I had my cancer operation. I was pretty fortunate, you know what I mean?"
In July, at Rosedale's Exile Fitness Club, Strong won the American Drug-Free Powerlifting Larry Garro Memorial Bench and Deadlift competition with a state bench press-record of 285 pounds for his age group. (Note: When a Patch reporter visited Strong at Bally's recently, he easily bench pressed 300 pounds. Strong said he's saving something to break the state bench press mark again next year.)
Strong's effort easily eclipsed the old mark of 225 for men between 80 and 84 years of age. But the championship feeling is nothing new for Strong, who has been lifting weights since he was 11 years old.
In 2001, Strong benched 330 pounds to win the national title for men in the 70-to-79 age group.
"People look at me and they think that I'm between 55 and 65 years old because I look so young," said Strong, who keeps himself busy with five children and 20 grandchildren and great-grandchildren. "There's always either a graduation or a Christening or a birthday or something, so you're always having a party."
Strong said he "quit school at the age of 16 and went down to the waterfront and got a job as a stevedore" for the Agrico Chemical Co. "I more or less got my education outside of high school."
Strong takes his weightlifting seriously and his achievements are impressive, but he trains with his sense of humor intact. He tells his 54-year-old son, who recently got his wife pregnant, to make sure to "put a helmet on that soldier."
Younger lifters often hear from Strong that "pumping iron is just like sex—if you don't use it, you lose it."
Hurricane Irene slammed the East Coast on Aug. 27, the same day his wife would have celebrated her 78th birthday.
"She was born in 1933, and her name was Irene Mary," said Strong. "So it was like she came back to visit me, and I said, 'Honey, please take it easy on us.'"