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Interview with Steve Pulcinella (2/4/10)

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    Posted: 8/24/11 at 7:44am
Interview with Steve Pulcinella (2/4/10)

Steve Pulcinella is legend in the games.  If you don't know, he has been around and competed for years with so many wins you can't list them all.  The guy is one of the original strong men before it was cool.  If your looking for political correctness then you better stop now.  The guy is an original and a straight shooter.  He has worked for everything he has and in my eyes is a real champion.  I think you will find most of the big throwers love the guy.  I know from the very first time I met him at the East Coast Championship, the guy treated me first class.  This is someone the new guys need to watch, listen and follow to know how to do the games the right way.  So here comes the rooster.  

How old are you?

Im 44 years old but feel wayyy older than that.


Where were you born?

Born in southwest Philly and grew up there until I was in 3rd grade. That neighborhood used to be fit for decent people but its so bad there now you cant even walk down the street.


Where do you live now?

I live in Ridley PA which is a suburb of Philly


How did you end up there?

My parents moved us there from the city when the neighborhood starting going downhill. I grew up in Ridley and still live there. Its a kind of a nice blue collar area just minutes outside of the city. Plus I have Ridley on lockdown, everyone knows me, Im kind of a big deal there.


What do you drive?

Im whipping a 08 Jeep 4-door Wrangler with my gym logos on it.


How long have you been in the gym business?

We started a 1600sq ft key club type of operation back in 1995, then got into a bigger 7200sq ft place in 1999 and opened a commercial operation up.


How did you get into that?

Isnt it every gym rats dream to own a gym? I was just stupid enough to actually do it. I needed a gym where we could really hang and bang in and the local places just werent cutting it. I started small and just borrowed money when I could and just kept adding to the place.


Tell us about your education?

Nothing to tell, I spent most of my high school years reading muscle magazines in the back of my classrooms and watching the clock until it was time to get out and go to the gym. I never went to college. My real education came from the older guys in the gyms I belonged to. To me that was more important.


Tell me about your kids?

I have two total hotty daughters. Alyssa is 21 and Carmen is 18. I had my kids when I was pretty young with my first wife. Everyone always jokes about my girls having a big scary looking dad like me and I always give fathers this advice: Dont worry about the guys they bring home, worry about the guys that they are NOT bringing home.


As a kid growing up, what was your first job?

I was lucky enough to have a job waiting for me in my fathers printing shop which I dutifully started the day after I graduated from high school and stayed there for 24 years. I did tedious pre-press work at first and graduated to sales and customer service. It was a family business so all my family worked there.


When you grew up as a kid, what sports did you play?

I never played an organized sport growing up. We played a lot of street hockey and pick up games of football and all but I just wasnt a team sport kind of guy. In my Sr year of high school I was 235lb kid who could bench 365 and deadlift over 500 and didnt play football.blasphemy! I hate football and the last thing I wanted to do in August was stop lifting and go run around the track at my school in full pads while the history teacher yelled at me.


Did you throw in high school and if so what did you throw?

I did join the track team in my Sr year to throw shot and discus. That was my one regret in school was not doing that sooner. I LOVED the discus the minute I picked it up. With literally no coaching I taught myself how to throw it and did ok. I had throws over 170 in practice the second day I ever picked one up. I think I barely broke 50 with the shot by just skipping back and punching it.


How did you get into weight lifting and when?

I started pretty young, I was about 13 when I really got hooked. My older brother Joe was lifting and wrestling, my cousin Dave was doing it and since we were all pretty close it was just something that we did. Dave went on to be a really accomplished bodybuilder. When I think back to some of the goofy workout sessions we used to do in our basement back then. It makes me cringe. But we trained hard and learned a lot through trial and error.


Talk about doing strength sports and starting out in that?

I really think it all started with two things. The first few years of the Worlds Strongest Man contest were aired on Wide World of Sports right around that time and I thought those guys were awesome. Big huge guys moving all this heavy stuff around really appealed to me. I knew I wanted SIZE and STRENGTH. The other thing was a book that I had gotten when I was a kid called Inside Powerlifting by Terry Todd. Just looking at the pictures of Doug Young made me push hard so that I could look like that. Those factors are what molded me and what I wanted to do with these muscles I was trying to build.


Tell about some international games you did and some of the people there?

I was kind of lucky enough to be on that tail end of the generation before me and compete in meets with Jim McGoldrick, Paul Ferency, Francis Brebner, Kenny Starnes, Alistair Gunn, Dave McKenzie, Carl Braun Etc. And also compete long enough to compete with the current crop of studs like Kerry Overfelt, Sean Betz, Craig Smith, Harrison Bailey, Larry Brock etc. Then of course the guys I got to battle it out against almost every week like Kurt Pauli, Karl Dodge, Ryan Vierra, Mark Valenti, Chris Rusher, Petur Gudmunnson, James Parman, Art Mcdermott, Mike Smith, Harry McDonald, Dave Barron etc. When I look back at the level of talent that I have shared the field with its amazing.


Bethlehem wasnt the nationals back then but it was more of an international invitational and it was one of my favorite games. Just being so close to home, a great time of year to throw and the guys that would be there was always a blast. Carl Braun used to run a nice international games that just didnt quite take off financially. It was a shame, he always had a great field of throwers there.


What was your first Highland Game and when was that?

The first games I did were a small am games in VA called Scotchtown. I dont think that festival exists anymore though. That was back in 1993.


Who was at that game?

I remember Dave McKenzie and Dave Strunk ran the show and guys like Greg Martz, John Stenard, Mark Landis, John Paul Wright, Mike Thompson and James Kieth were throwing. I had never even tried the events before so I remember some of the guys teaching me the throws during warm-ups. I did ok in a few events and was totally dumbfounded in a few but I loved it and was hooked.


What made you decide to try and compete at a game?

There was a festival near me called the Delco Games in Devon PA. A buddy said I should go try it and I went up there but didnt have a kilt and they wouldnt let me throw. There were pros there so I watched them to see what it was all about. I remember it as Carl Braun, Frazier Pehmuller, Harry McDonald and Phil Martin. I was about 290 at the time and saw those guys and I was like Damn, these guys are freaking big.


You have seen the Highland Games change a lot over the years, what changes do you like and not like?

Ok, Im partial to this one but I just dont like the spinning WOB. I was always the top dog when it came to that event standing and then it all changed once day. Thanks HB! I do like how the games have a more legitimate qualifying system for the national championships now. Years back all the championships were still invitational.


What is your favorite event?

I love the caber, its the event that always gets that pop from the crowd. Its always a great feeling to be the first guy to get a really big stick over and excite the folks.


What is a common mistake you see people make in that event?

I think the one wrong thing that people do is panic. It takes a lot of practice to pick a caber and wait till you maintain balance before you think about starting your run. When you are new to it you feel that thing in your hands and just want to get rid of it. Early on when I started throwing I would practice just picking the caber I had and walking all the way across the field slowly just to get comfortable with the stick in my hand.


Who were the first people to influence and coach you in the sport?

Paul Ferency lives only an hour and half from me so he would come down to my house or I would go up to his place and get together. We used to have a good crew of guys that we used to throw with back then. Me, Paul, Rich Costello, Troy Herr and this crazy dude Mark Moyer. We used to have some legendary practices.



Talk some about throwing games as an amateur, what games you did and where.

I only did three small games as an am so really not much to speak of. There was such a shortage of pros on the east coast around that time that because I was big and strong that qualified me to move up I guess. I learned real quick after that though.


Talk about some of the pro games you have done and your favorites.

I loved Bethlehem, Loon Mt NH, Glasgow KY, Alexandria VA and Portland OR the most. Each was just fun, the crowds were always good. But there was one small festival that we would do each year in Oct. Anne Arundel MD wasnt a prestigious game at all but it was the week after Bethlehem and all the guys would stay in the area and compete in it. It would just be a great relaxing day with awesome throwing and just tons of laughs. In 1996 we had Ryan, Petur, Harry, Troupe, Braun, Brebner, Pehmuller, myself, Costello, Ferency all there at once and I have a video of that meet and all you can hear in the background was all of us laughing our asses off. That was the day that Francis broke the world record in the 28. Thats when we coined the phrase Its all fun and games . . . until somebody breaks a world record.


Who do you enjoy competing with and why?

Currently of course my boy Valenti has to be in my top three. I like throwing with Craig Smith, hes just a cool cat to be around. I have gotten to share the field with Sean Betz, its awesome to see his focus and preparation. And you gotta love KO, hes just always having a good time no matter what. As a master I had a few battles with my good friend Gene Flynn in 2008. We have had a great rivalry since we were both ams, then pros and now masters.


Talk about some of the throws, games and moments you are most proud of.

There are so many of the throws and games that stand out. The one game in my career that stands out would be the international challenge meet at Loon Mt HN in 2000. I won the overall in the field that included Harry McDonald, Petur, Alistair, Don Stewart, HB, Wout Zylstra and a few others all at the top of their game. I just had a career day where everything seemed to just come together.


There was one particular WOB throw that I made in 1998 at Carl Brauns games. I was shooting for 169 to break the field record and David Webster was sitting right there on the mic telling the crowd that it was highly unlikely that this record will be broken. I was so pissed I looked at him and said hey David, watch this! and I freaking threw that weight a good foot over the bar and just walked off. I have video of it taken by UHA at the level of the bar and it was a whopper of a toss. Webster was speechless.


Another throw that I am pretty proud of was just last season in Ohio when only two guys could turn this nasty stick out of a field of top pros and I was one of them. I hadnt touched a caber in over a year when I did that. I felt . . . less old after I did that.


Another thing I was lucky enough to be a part of was the short lived UHA series on ESPN. It was a blast getting filmed for TV and then actually seeing yourself in reruns and all. I remember being in a big sports bar one time and there we were all over the bar on TV and people were all looking at me in the bar. Glad I could be part of that era, sorry to see that its over.


Why dont you post more on the NASGA board and what would you change there?

I still post there when I have something to add. I just dont really check in on it that much.


Talk about training and your philosophy in throwing?

When I first started doing games it was obvious that I would have to practice a LOT. I would just throw until the sun when down. My philosophy was, get strong and practice a lot. Nothing fancy. One thing I always tell people that helped me a lot early on was video taping myself practicing. I always advise guys to do that.


Tell us about some of the injuries you had as an athlete.

I was bullet proof until I was about 37 and then it all came crashing down on me. In 1999 Carl Braun was winding a 16lb hammer during warm-ups like his life depended on it and the hammer head flew off. I was standing there waiting my turn and I was talking to Steve King and all the sudden this cannonball comes flying at us. It didnt even one hop, it hit me clean on the fly and broke my leg. I told everyone there that I jumped in front of it to save the people in the sponsors tent. I recovered from that ok and the years that followed I have had four knee surgeries, one shoulder surgery, a torn achilles in one ankle and my other ankle totally reconstructed. All that stuff lead to my semi-retirement.


What impresses you now in the sport?

Kerry really does, how does a little fat kid like that throw so far?? Ryan always impressed me. Ive seen him throw in so many games in the last 15 years and rarely have I ever seen him make a mistake. And of course you Myles, you are like that terminator that has no skin, bashed legs, one eye and is still coming at us. You take situations that would stop just about anybody else and you keep coming back hard. Id share a foxhole with you any time.


Who makes you laugh at games now?

I met Chaffin last year in Ohio and we had a great time. Kerry never shuts the hell up and hes funny as hell, I love his attitude. Valenti is always good for a laugh.for a long time we just laughed AT him. That has always been the best thing about the games. I remember traveling with Troy Herr, Rich Costello and Paul and just laughing so much our stomachs would be sore.



If you were watching Carl Braun wind up in the hammer and it slipped from his hands, who in the sport would you most like to see the hammer hit in the sack?

Uuugh dont even say that, if that hammer would have hit me in the sack that day I think I would be dead. It sounded like a side of beef getting hit with a bat. THWACK!


When I mention these athletes names, just write a few words about them you think of when you see it.

Ryan; The best there ever was. Completely changed the sport

Harrison; Probably the best pure athlete in the games.

Gundmunndson; STONE KING! Man could that guy throw a stone

Alistair; Winner. Never count him out because he is always looking for a way to win.

Don Stewart; What else can you say? Ageless. He is getting better each year it seems

McGoldrick; precise. He was always a cool guy to watch.

Paul Ferency; A throwers thrower. He is so much a thrower that he wears shot putting shoes as sneakers 24/7. Who does that?


In all your years competing, what was the toughest loss and to who, that sticks in your craw and bothers you?

Seriously Im so much more competitive with myself and the times I was most pissed off at games it was at myself. I was happy coming in 5th or 6th place in a big game as long as I threw well.


What challenge can you get up for now days?

Just the challenge of getting through my workouts without getting hurt. My body just seems so much more beat up than a 44 year old should feel. Im always working around some aches and pains. The other challenge is just to get a chance to get the hell out of work to compete. Im stuck at the gym so much and cant seem to get away.



What training philosophy do you follow in the gym?

Im totally instinctive. My training follows no rhyme or reason. I go as heavy as my body allows me on any given day.


What do you like to do outside of the games?

When I am not working I do nothing. I have no hobbies, I enjoy nothing, Im basically miserable. I swear, all I do is watch TV and sleep.



What is your favorite food?

Lately I have this thing for chicken burritos from Qdoba. I crave them daily.  But am happiest with a really good cut of steak and a buttery baked potato.



What supplements do you take?

None. I know I probably should take something but Im basically too lazy and cheap to actually go out and buy them and remember to take them.


What do you drink with a meal at home?

Crystal Lite ice tea. I drink that stuff by the gallon.


What beer do you like?

I know this sounds gay but I think beer is gross and never developed a taste for it.



Do you mow your own grass and what kind of mower do you have?

Yeah, I push that god damn thing around my yard once a week. I think its a Toro. I got it on sale at Home Depot. Cutting my grass seriously cuts into my sitting on my chair time. But Im too cheap to pay anyone to do it . . . thus my dilemma.


Do you like to garden?

Every self respecting Italian guy from Philly grows tomatoes and peppers in their yards. Its a good thing I know a lot of them that are willing to give me the tomatoes because I sure as shit aint doing no gardening.


Are you a Democrat or Republican? 

Im really not political at all. But in Ridley it really pays to be a registered Republican. All the local politicians are Republican so it helps. Believe it or not but the last couple presidential elections I have been stuck at the gym from the times the polls open until after they were closed and missed being able to vote. Prisoners get to vote but I dont.


Are you into Astrology?  What sign are you?

Nah, I dont pay that stuff any mind. Im a Libra though.


Are you a religious man, and if so, what do you practice?

I was Christened catholic but that was as far as it went. I probably could use a little churchin though.


What kind of music do you like?

Im not really a huge music guy, I listen to a little bit of everything. I never owned any kind of iPod or anything. Not a fan of hard metal screaming stuff. I like Dave Matthews, saw him this summer in concert. I would rather listen to old school rap when I train than metal. When Paul Ferency comes down to train thats what we put on and the other guys in my gym hate it.


 Do you have any nicknames?

The only nickname I ever had that only a few people ever called me was Pickles. Here is the story behind that name. Me and a few other guys were picking up Parman at the airport before Pleasanton I think, and James comes off the plane and sees me weighing 320lbs with a big neck roll and says in his winy Texan accent Jesus Christ Pulcinella, that pickle on your head gets bigger every time I see you! That was the birth of Pickles.


Where do you like to go to eat?

I like meat so any steakhouse is all good with me. I drag my wife to Qdoba once a week religiously so I can get my burrito. The Philly area is the awesome sandwich capital of the US so you can always get a good cheesesteak or hoagie just about anywhere here.


What is your best body part?

I used to call my throwing arm the money maker. Before big games I wouldnt even use it during sex so as not to wear it out. It used to frustrate my wife.


What do you like to watch on TV?

I watch everything from cheesy reality shows to really boring educational stuff. The only sport I watch is baseball. The Phillies have been pretty exciting the last few years.


Are you a western movie or sci fi person?  Tell a favorite.

Im really into neither but my favorite western has go to be high plains drifter. Clint was bad ass in that movie.


What are the goals for this year?

I told myself this year I wanted to do four or five pro games. Its really just a matter finding games that will let an old has-been in and whether or not I can get the hell out of the gym.


What are we going to see you doing down the road from now in sport?

I would really want to continue to be a part of the Celtic Classic in Bethlehem. The last few years I have been there doing the announcing and this year Paul has been named as the AD. We really want to build these games more and more and make it into the real culmination of the season for all the guys. Maybe Ill get involved in a couple other games too.

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