Survival of the Strongest

Pasadena's Anthony Clark is the world's strongest man. You'd think that would make him famous. You'd be wrong.

So is Anthony Clark really the World's Strongest Man?
"You can at least argue the point," says Lambert. "The courts have ruled that the term is so vague that you can't sue over use of it. But he's definitely bench-pressed more than anyone else. Isn't that a good measure of strength?"

Of course, if you had any real doubts about whether Pasadena's Anthony Clark was really the strongest man on Earth, you could simply read the side of his van, which I did the night I met him at Cafe Noche. Anthony Clark makes quite a first impression. Before you even see him, he's pulling up into the parking lot in his Batmobile of a Chevy Econoline Van with the words "World's Strongest Man" scrawled across its back two doors.

When Clark steps down from his van, he is such a conglomeration of effects that you have to look at him again and again, trying to assemble and make sense of his details. Across his chest hangs a gold cross that features both the body of Christ and the crucifix's crossbar as a weight-laden barbell.

I know this last detail because the World's Strongest Man is wearing a muscle shirt, which prompts the keepers of the Cafe Noche gate to send him back to his van for more clothes. When Clark gets within 50 feet of his van, he deactivates its alarm by remote control. "Disarmed," the van announces for all to hear. If he wanted he could start the engine up while standing here, then simply get in and drive away. Instead, Clark digs out a black leather jacket and returns shaking his head.

Clark seems ill at ease. Maybe it's because he's uncomfortable wearing a heavy jacket in the summer. Maybe it's because he's stepping from Pasadena into the reasonably haut monde of upper Montrose. Or maybe it's simply because he knows what sort of response he tends to generate from people who have never seen him before.

As we walk back to our table, where we'll break tostados with his representative/ agent/lawyer, the dapper Rodney Brisco, waiters step aside, and after Clark has passed they whisper, "that's the World's Strongest Man."

True, the waiters know this only because I had told them I was waiting to meet the "World's Strongest Man," but still, Clark's appearance can generate double takes from people who have no idea he bears such an august title. Indeed, despite his prodigious feats of lifting, and his utterly fascinating appearance, Anthony Clark remains nearly anonymous in Houston. That's a situation Rodney Brisco would like to change.

Over lunch, Brisco, who looks exactly like a man who would move in Denzel Washington's circle and who would be married to Alison Leland, the compelling widow of the late Congressman Mickey, discusses his client's most impressive feats of strength. Clark has the highest bench press ever recorded, and that's just one of the records that he'll be trying to break in the National Powerlifting Championships, a competition that's scheduled for Houston this weekend. But Brisco doesn't want to stop with setting more world records; he hopes that Clark will soon find his way into the movies, and into endorsements outside the bodybuilding products, such as Up Your Mass, that he currently promotes.

I look for a reaction from Brisco at the mention of Up Your Mass (the maker, Hot Stuff, also has a product called Up Your Gas, for when you really need extra energy), but he remains perfectly professional, perfectly poised, even when he asks Clark, "What's happened with the Enquirer?", meaning The National Enquirer.

Clark shrugs his behemoth shoulders and talks about the photo-shoot he's just done for the tabloid at Mattress Mac's. He posed hoisting a sofa with two of Mac's employees aboard.

"It should be out by now," Clark says. "I must have got bumped by O.J."
As he says this, Clark has his eyes turned elsewhere. He isn't unfriendly, but he does seem reserved as he discusses his powerlifting records, and when he shares some of his motivational thoughts. "A diligent man always gets his prize," he says with an emphatic, enigmatic arching of his eyebrows.

By now I know enough of Clark's story that I don't find this insight particularly remarkable. Clark was born in Houston to a Filipino mother and a black G.I. father, then was shortly thereafter taken to the Philippines, before being finally returned to Pasadena, where his parents' marriage dissolved. "I'll tell you the truth," Clark tells me at one point. "My dad was a womanizer."

Clark says he still loves his father, and that he felt torn when his parents divorced. Worse, he says that his father began to beat him. "He tied my hands together and hung me over a beam like a slave," he says. "Then he whipped me with an electric cord."

Clark eventually returned home, then tried three times to kill himself. "I tried to hang myself," he says. "That was the closest I came. I tried to jump off a ledge at St. Luke's, but somebody pulled me in. I tried to OD on my asthma medicine, but that only made me sick to my stomach." His father was never around, and his mother worked two to three jobs at a time, so Clark and his siblings had little supervision. Clark was picked on for looking so different, and maybe because in him the local boys simply sensed a weakling.

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