Mighty Things From Small Beginnings

On October 20th this year, at the age of 74, Sri Chinmoy raised the bar for senior citizens yet again when he wristcurled a dumbbell of 203 pounds ten times with his right arm and then ten times with his left arm.

Ptolemy, a Macedonian general in the army of Alexander the Great, once made the wry comment, "Dreamers exhaust us." Clearly, this was a man who had spent long years dragging himself through Europe and Asia behind his illustrious and spirited commander-in-chief.

Ptolemy’s words strike to the very heart of the paradox of dreamers. "Behold, this dreamer cometh," we read in Genesis. And, over the millennia, many dreamers have walked this earth. Each dreamer arrives with a new vision, a new inspiration, a new direction in which humanity can accelerate its progress.

But the truth of the matter is that this vision is often more than we earthbound mortals can bear. It is a plain fact that humankind is resistant to progress. We are content to live within a narrow field of vision, a comfortable range requiring a minimum of exertion. Sadly, each time we choose the familiar and the known over the unfamiliar and the unknown, we hinder dreamers from the full expression of their gifts.

I say this as a preamble to introducing a most extraordinary feat that was recently performed by a man who has been hailed as one of the most divinely inspired dreamers of our age and that is Sri Chinmoy -- poet, musician, composer, artist, athlete and spiritual teacher.

When Sri Chinmoy first took up the sport of weightlifting in 1985, at the age of 53, he aimed to show that after the age of fifty, we can still achieve so much in our lives. Over the past two decades, he has illustrated his theme by lifting heavier and heavier weights, setting world class records in the seated and standing calf raises, the one—arm overhead lift and many other innovative lifts — records which remain unchallenged to this day by any person of any age.

On October 20th this year, at the age of 74, he raised the bar for senior citizens yet again when he wristcurled a dumbbell of 203 pounds ten times with his right arm and then ten times with his left arm. Video and photographic records of this lift show the entire movement. To begin, Sri Chinmoy’s right forearm rests on his upper right thigh, palm facing up. He places his left hand on his left thigh just above the knee to help support his upper body. Two assistants lift the dumbbell onto a safety cradle and position it in front of Sri Chinmoy’s right knee. They then roll the dumbbell onto Sri Chinmoy’s knee and he grasps it in his right hand. Using the tendon and ligament strength of the wrist and the muscles of his forearm, Sri Chinmoy then flexes his wrist and curls the dumbbell towards his body ten times in succession. At the same time, he is forced to correct the natural tendency of the dumbbell to tip inwards due to the uneven surface of the knee. According to the requirements of a standard wrist curl, the forearm does not raise up from the upper thigh.

After completing ten repetitions, the dumbbell is rolled back onto the safety cradle which is moved to a position in front of Sri Chinmoy’s left knee. Then he repeats the lift by curling the 203-pound dumbbell ten times with his left wrist.

Anyone who does gym workouts can identify with the magnitude of this lift. Most men do repetitions with a 25 or 30-pound dumbbell. More than that and there is a very real fear of an injury caused by hyperflexion or hyperextension of the wrist. The wrist is widely considered to be so weak and vulnerable that only small incremental weight increases are made. Structurally, it is composed of eight tiny bones held together by ligaments — quite possibly one of the weakest points in the human body.

So why is it that Sri Chinmoy, at the age of 74 and with the relatively slender right wrist measurement of his Indian heritage has obviously not suffered from the dramatic loss of tendon strength and bone density that we associate with the onset of age? And why, given all these factors that normally weigh on the negative side, does he not share the physical anxiety and self protectiveness of the elderly? In short, what is his secret?

In a statement made immediately after his monumental 203-pound wrist curls, Sri Chinmoy said:

"You may wonder why I do such stupid things at the ripe old age of 74. Well, I live in the heart and God, who is my Inner Pilot, commands me, inspires me and guides me while I am lifting such heavy weights. My Inner Pilot is my inspiration, He is my aspiration and He is my protection. I give Him all the credit. I place at His Feet most soulfully my weightlifting achievements.

"And I tell the citizens of the world only one thing: never give up, never give up! Physical fitness is of paramount importance. There is no age limit when you live in the heart and when you try to be of service, prayerful and soulful service, to God in the heart of humanity."

Here Sri Chinmoy is identifying both the rationale behind his lifts and the source of his phenomenal, one might even say superhuman, strength. He believes he is merely the physical instrument, and it is a higher force &em which he refers to as his Inner Pilot -- who is the Doer. In a short song which Sri Chinmoy composed the same day to celebrate the achievement of his goal, he wrote:

"My poor right tiny wrist, you gladly accept The mighty challenge of 203 pounds. God is the Doer, God is the Action God is the Grace with no bounds."

When we view Sri Chinmoy’s lift from this perspective, then no matter how carefully we examine his physique or analyse his form, there can never be any logical explanation for his strength. In fact, the more scientific we become in our approach to his achievement, the more we realise that there lies at its very heart a numinous core, an impenetrable mystery.

One of the greatest bodybuilders of our era, five-time Mr.

Universe Bill Pearl, identifies seventy different kinds of wrist curl in his epic tome, "Keys to the Inner Universe" (1979). A close friend of Sri Chinmoy, Bill Pearl responded to the news of Sri Chinmoy’s 203-pound wrist curl by saying, "That’s fantastic! In my more than sixty years in the fitness and bodybuilding field, I have never heard of anyone in the world able to curl this huge amount of . A legend may be built around that dumbbell!" In his heyday, Pearl used to do daily wrist curls of 200 pounds — using both arms!

His response was reiterated by Wayne DeMilia, chairman of the International Federation of Bodybuilders Professional Division, who said, "Another uplifting achievement by an amazing man! Out of all the weightlifters and champion bodybuilders I have seen, and I have seen many, Sri Chinmoy is the only one I have ever seen wrist curl a 200-pound dumbbell!"

On the other side of the Atlantic, Jim Smith, the Registrar of the British Amateur Weight Lifters Association, concurred, "I am certain that nobody else in the world can do a wrist curl with a 200-pound dumbbell —no matter how old they are or how much they weigh."

In point of fact, Sri Chinmoy’s bodyweight on the day was 180 pounds (82 kg) — 23 pounds less than the weight that he curled with his wrist!

Another feature which only serves to deepen the incomprehensibility of Sri Chinmoy’s feat is the timeline of his wrist curl feats. In the early 1980’s, as an avid tennis player, he did a variety of wrist strengthening exercises to improve his stroke. In recent years, he has been practising wrist curls with 50 or 60 pounds.

Then, in May this year, the unassuming wrist curl suddenly became an open-ended dream. Even Sri Chinmoy expressed surprise at the speed with which this dream unfolded. "Mighty things from small beginnings grow," as Dryden has so aptly written. Here, then, is the chart of Sri Chinmoy’s progress:

23 May 2005 80 lbs.

14 June 2005 100 lbs.

4 October 2005 160 lbs.

6 October 2005 170 lbs.

12 October 2005 180 lbs.

20 October 2005 190 lbs.

20 October 2005 203 lbs.


A special point of interest is that Sri Chinmoy’s dumbbells were all specially made to the precise weight at a steel mill in Chicago. This eliminated much of the unnecessary bulk and space of regular iron plate-loaded dumbbells.

To vault from 80 pounds to 203 pounds in the course of just five months is unheard of in the annals of weightlifting, where significant advances are measured in terms of one pound or even half pound increments.

From whichever angle we look at Sri Chinmoy’s feat, an easy explanation eludes us. Such is the way of dreamers. The inspiration they receive comes directly from above, not from any earthly impulse, and it descends with that pure, divine inspiration still clinging to it.

Even though, as a weightlifter, Sri Chinmoy is dealing with matter in perhaps its densest form, he is expressing something infinitely higher — a hope, a dream, that we all may strive to live in the heart, to look outwards on life with an open-ended horizon, not setting limits for ourselves, not bound by age or mental limitations, free to accept rapid change in our lives and to be unafraid of the consequences. It is a bold and daring dream for our times and one which, if we truly pursue it, as Sri Chinmoy has done, and not merely salute it as an interesting but exhausting option, will truly reap most positive and lasting benefits for mankind as a whole.