By Jess Macinko
News Editor 

Histories and Mysteries: Black Iron Gym still going strong


March 29, 2017

Jess Macinko

METAL METTLE: Virginia Williams with student Patrick Kerwin.

Six miles outside Goldendale on Pumphouse Road sits a barn with a big yellow smiley face on the side. The interior is rough plywood with a cement floor. A woodstove is the only heating source. You can see daylight through chinks in the tin roof.

That barn is the Black Iron Gym, and according to member Patrick Kerwin, the no-frills façade houses top-notch training. Kerwin has been weightlifting under the tutelage of owner/operator Virginia Williams since 2009. He had been diagnosed with lower back issues and wasn't showing improvement under his prescribed rehab regimen. His doctor recommended Williams.

"She's a scientist," Kerwin says, pointing to shelves of books on weight training and nutrition above Williams desk. "She does a lot of research; she's always fooling your muscles."

Williams has received a number of rehab referrals over the years. Often, she doesn't know the doctors. But they've heard of her.

The gym competes in powerlifting under the World Association of Benchers and Deadlifters (WABDL). "If I can't have you ready for competition within a year, I'm not doing my job," Williams says. She typically takes her group to two competitions a year. At the first lift of this year, March 18 in Portland, a team of five brought home 10 first place medals and three Washington state awards.

She attributes that success to the group's hard work. "They're really strong," she says. "I just do the shouting."

In it for the long haul

Williams has been lifting since she was 11 years old. At her request, her dad started taking her to "a little back alley gym" in Arizona.

"At that time, women didn't go in the men's side of the gym," Williams says. "My dad would go sit in the door so I could lift. I didn't want the machines on the women's side. I wanted to lift weights."

Sixty-two years later, she's still at it. For the past 15 years, she's been helping others enjoy the sport as well. Williams began by training coworkers at the aluminum plant, as well as local teachers. Eventually she opened her gym.

During her time on the bench, Williams has seen trends come and go. "About every seven years, things rotate around," she says. [Workouts] might have different names, but they're the same thing. Things I did when I was 11, 12, 13-I'll look in the magazines and now they're coming back. Everybody in here will laugh: 'Yeah, we've done that.'"

Williams says the group are like family-close-knit and committed to helping each other improve. The gym's "advertising" is mostly word-of-mouth, and because Williams wants the gym to be accessible to all, membership is only $35 a month.

"I came from Los Angeles," Kerwin says. "If was at a fitness center, I would be paying $300 a month for supposedly one-on-one [training]-I might be one of seven. [Here], Virginia works directly one-on-one with me to make sure I don't hurt myself. I'm guided through every move I make."

Asked what the hardest part of running the gym is, Williams at first can't think of anything. Then she laughs and says, "Sometimes 4:30 in the morning looks a little hard, but that's OK."

Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, she starts the fire in the gym's woodstove around 4:30 a.m. Members begin to show up an hour later. Williams trains until 7 a.m., takes a one hour break for breakfast, then goes back to the gym until the last group leaves-usually around 9 p.m. Tuesdays and Thursdays aren't quite as strenuous: training runs a mere six and a half hours, from 2:30 – 9 p.m.

"I used to do it seven days a week," Williams says. "When I turned 71, I decided to coast."


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