Jake Webb – the man that never stops!
By Josh Langenbacher
Jake Webb spends most of his days rising by 5 a.m., spending an hour and a half hiking the three miles of mountain trails around his Huntingdon County property, squeezing in other workout regimens depending on the day of the week, taking his wife for her daily routine and cooking and cleaning.
And then the 88-year-old goes to bed and does it all again the next day.
He does hit the pause button for 15 minutes to meditate after his workouts, though.
“I’m always amazed I can still do all the things I can do,” Webb said.
Perpetual amazement extends not only to Webb’s reflection of what he can still do but also to what his peers think about his body of work.
Webb will receive the Blair County Sports Hall of Fame’s Lifetime Achievement Award during the Hall’s dinner and induction ceremony on Saturday, April 7, 2018 at the Blair County Convention Center.
A pioneer in introducing weight-training to area athletes, Webb’s exploits were recognized in 1971 by the Zuver’s Muscle Hall of Fame, which honored him after two of his lifts met Hall of Fame standard.
He was the first person from central Pennsylvania to receive national recognition in weightlifting after his curl of 150 pounds set a state record. Though he weighed just 145, he pressed 275, and he was featured in national muscle magazines, some including acts of strength such as a man jumping off a six-foot ladder onto Webb’s stomach.
In addition to his feats of strength, Webb’s mentoring career began during an era when weight training was virtually nonexistent.
Some high school football coaches banned it, Webb said, and few gyms in the area offered much. The gym he operated, Jake’s Gym on California Avenue in Altoona, was open from the late 1960s until he sold it in 1985.
Among the countless local athletes he trained include future NFL players Mike Reid and Brad Benson.
“His gym was something you’d expect to see Rocky in,” Benson, who played 11 years with the New York Giants and was part of a Super Bowl champion in 1987, said.
Reid, who trained at Jake’s Gym while in college, said Penn State had no lifting program at the time, and Webb provided the foundation that helped him become an all-pro player with the Cincinnati Bengals.
“Back in those days, you had no machines,” Reid said. “It was before any of the machinery. It was just weights, and Jake’s was the place. He was a bodybuilder himself, and he understood. He was the first guy to talk to me about what you ate and protein intake. He was way, way ahead of his time.”
At the heart of Jake’s Gym was a reluctant showman whose stunts to raise weightlifting awareness held the attention of a large captive audience.
Among the “carnival strongman” feats Webb pulled off include lifting his wife, Barbara, by his teeth, allowing a heavyweight wrestler to jump off a six-foot ladder onto his stomach and permitting anyone who wanted to punch him in his stomach as hard as they could.
“The only disadvantage I had, most of the performers had assistants that they used over and over again,” Webb said. “I had none, really. I just picked somebody out, and they might be a rather clumsy weightlifter or they might be agile. I’d just pick them out of a gym.”
Success for Jake’s Gym was slowcoming initially. Busy working for the railroad, Webb said his gym initially made such little profit that he “wasn’t even paying my light bill for the garage off the darn thing.”
But after retiring 15 years into working for the railroad — “a job I hated,” he said — the retiree’s ability to focus all energy into Jake’s Gym created a mecca for those in Blair County.
Webb patterned his gym after the legendary York Barbell Club.
“Jake’s Gym was the ultimate gym for anyone training,” Webb said. “That type of gym wasn’t anywhere else in Central Pa. from what I knew. The gym itself was nothing like gyms today, but we thought it was ultra modern.”
“Jake ran a strict gym,” Benson said. “He was instrumental in my learning to lift properly.”
Webb becomes the Hall of Fame’s second Lifetime Achievement winner, joining retired Mirror sports editor Jim Lane, who was honored in 2010.
“Jake is a legend in the weight training community and mentored hundreds of athletes,” Hall of Fame president Neil Rudel said. “Between the national recognition he earned as a lifter and the number of lives he touched, we felt it was appropriate to recognize him.”
The Hall’s Lifetime Award is given at the discretion of its board of directors, Rudel said, and will replace the Community Service Award for 2018.
“Because we have such a full program, we’re considering alternating the Lifetime and Community Service awards in years to come,” he said.
Webb is admittedly a little nervous.
“I told Rocco (Alianiello, nominator) I dread this honor,” the sheepish Webb said. “I said I don’t own a suit, I’ve never had a suit on, and I never had a tie, let alone wear one of those monkey suits. That’s going to be more nervewracking to me than performing. I hope I can get through it if I can make it up there. Next year’s a long way off for an old timer like me.”
Advance orders for tickets, priced at $85 ($850 for table) are currently being accepted. Checks can be made payable to the Blair County Sports Hall of Fame, P.O. Box 162, Altoona, Pa. 16603. For more ticket information, call Kathy Millward at 312-0151.