Each week through August, the Wyoming County Press Examiner will be spotlighting a “Sportsperson of the Week” to recognize the efforts and achievements of our community members still enjoying their sporting passion.
This week, we spotlight Jim and Janel Brown of Tunkhannock. Among other accomplishments, the Browns hold the distinction of being the first husband and wife to represent the United States on the Open powerlifting team together, as they did in 2009 in India.
Name and Age: Jim, 54 and Janel, 47
Passion: Powerlifting and Bodybuilding
Current Town: Tunkhannock
High School: Jim: Tunkhannock Area; Janel: Scranton.
Job: Owners of Brown’s Gym in Clarks Summit.
What age did you begin? Jim: 11 years old; Janel: 18 years old for lifting and 26 for competing.
How did you get involved? Jim: When I was a kid I watched the Incredible Hulk with Lou Ferigno, and thought that he was the coolest ever; Janel: When I met Jim, and watched him compete, I realized there were no women there and wondered why not? I thought ‘I can do that’ and wanted to prove I could.
Who did you begin power-lifting with initially? Jim: No one, really, I started bodybuilding when I was 18 and went to a show to watch, not compete, and remember thinking these guys were enormous. I asked how long they were training, and when they told me only about a year, bells went off. I realized it wasn’t natural. I was disgusted with it, and quit training, but a few months later I saw an ad for the first Drug-free Powerlifting Association and it was at the Woodlands. I didn’t even know what it was, but once I saw drug-free I was sparked.
Now who do you train with? Jim: Not to be arrogant, but people train with us now. We are the US power lifting team coaches and have trained over 1,000 people.
What equipment is needed to be successful? Jim: A strong mind. Determination and grit, too, as this hurts like hell, but you have to be tough to get through it. It is a mindset, sure it is easy to go out to the bar after work and have a few beers, it is harder to go to the gym.
Where do you power lift? Both: At our gym.
Have your competitions taken you out of the country? Absolutely. We coach at an international level, and some of our competitions have been in Germany, India, Astonia, Luxembourg, Lithuania, Czechoslovakia, Guatemala, Mexico, and Aruba.
Have you seen any interesting places because of this? Jim: I was able to see all three Statues of Liberty- they are in New York, Paris, and Luxembourg; Janel: When we were in Luxembourg, we stumbled upon a US World War II cemetery. We went in to see it, we hopped a wall to get in, and got caught. Once we explained we were Americans, and didn’t know it was closed, the man let us pay our respects and gave us a private tour. Then he told us to go out the same way we came in. After we spoke a little more with him, he arranged for a private tour for our whole US team.
Have you received any awards or accolades? Jim: Eight time National Champion, eight time IPF North American Champion, Second at the World Championships, Gold Medal in bench press in World Championships, but I am most proud of my 2010 United States Coach of Year. Janel: In powerlifting, 2015 World Champion, five time National champ, five time North American Champ, and last year I was second at the NPC East Coast Bodybuilding Championships.
Tips to offer rookies: Don’t expect too much too soon. This is not something that will happen overnight. Sometimes, it can take 10-15 years to get to where you want to be, a lot of hard work has to happen before you look like an athlete. You also need to discover what your body reacts to, including nutrition.
Biggest accomplishment: Jim: Being selected as the 2010 Coach of the Year, and being able to lead the US teams in international competitions. Janel: Winning the World Championships on US soil in Denver in 2015. My dad was able to come out then and be there for that.
How long do you plan to continue power lifting? Until we can’t anymore; Jim: It took a long time to get where we are, no need to quit now.
Why do you do this? Jim: I was tiny in school. I was always the smallest. Lining up first in school photos, in lines, etc, and I was too small to be any good at team sports. I felt small kids aren’t good to any teams, even if they are talented, so I needed to go for an individual sport. Out there, it is just you and the bar. Janel: In the beginning, I started at 18 to be able to protect and defend myself. Now, it makes me feel strong, and I don’t feel my age, I feel younger. I just don’t know anything else.
Athletes you admire: Jim: John Kuc is my hero. He was a founding father of the American Drug-free Powerlifters, and set a record in 1980 that still stands today. He was from Kingston, so I was able to work with him for 10 years; Janel: Nicole Wilkins. I was able to work with her, she is a four-time Ms. Olympia, and a great representative of fitness and advocate of women’s health.
Superstitions or rituals involved? Jim: I tell the guys not to put their belts on the floor; Janel: I eat steak, a baked potato, and have a beer the night before every competition. It shakes my nerves and helps me rest better.