BRIDGEPORT — Meet Lance Karabel, professional weightlifter, full-time Catholic school maintenance guy, father of three boys and owner of Lance's Gym, a positively no-frills gym in Bridgeport.
Karabel, 41 years old and 345 pounds, recently took over as president of the United States Powerlifting Federation, a nationwide group of competitive weightlifters.
It all adds up to a lot of work for just one guy — even a big guy — but "it's OK as long as I can get out there," he said, pointing from his office into his cramped gym and its steel weight-training equipment.
Karabel recently returned full time to manage the gym inside the Bridgeport Art Center, 1200 W. 35th St., after caring for his mother, who died last month after a lengthy battle with cancer.
But running the gym is just one of his jobs.
By day — from 6 a.m. to 3 p.m. every week for the last 12 years — he's been the maintenance engineer for St. Turibius School and Parish in the city's West Elsdon community area, where he's known as "Mr. Lance."
He then heads to his Bridgeport gym until 9:30 p.m. each night, leading personal training sessions that specialize in building strength. He said his most recent project is bulking up a Chicago cop who entered the monthlong personal training session at 279 pounds and has vastly improved his strength and shed 19 pounds.
"Good training, proper diet. It's that simple," he said.
When Karabel, of Little Village, isn't doing any of that, he's traveling on the powerlifting circuit performing Herculean feats of strength.
Karabel has three national and two world weightlifting championships under his belt and recently set a world record for his squatting ability: 1,008 pounds. His most recent prize-winning effort was a 1,003-pound squat, a 650-pound bench press and an 804-pound deadlift.
On weightlifting message boards, he's referred to as a monster, a beast and a badass.
Inside his office at the gym are a bunch of big weightlifting trophies, a pair of caged pythons, a couple swords and a revolving cast of weightlifters switching up the heavy metal music blasting away from an iPod.
But look closer and you'll see a kid's coloring pasted on the office walls. And the tattoos on Karabel's forearms — each about the size of your average fire log — bear the names of his three sons.
He wants prospective gym members to know that his gym isn't a place for distractions. He wants members can feel comfortable asking questions about proper technique. And no, you're not expected to bulk up to his size.
"We don't even work with a lot of bigger guys," he said.
Jose Montenegro, 25, of McKinley Park, said he joined up after the big chain fitness center experience left him wanting more.
"There, it's like you work out and go home. Here, it's like a house. Here is the only place I've gotten the results I've gotten," he said.
Memberships in Lance's Gym cost $30 per month or $200 for the year. Personal training sessions are $300 per month and include the monthly gym membership. The gym is open from 6 a.m.-9:30 p.m. Monday through Friday; 8 a.m.-4 p.m. on Saturday and 8 a.m. -1 p.m. on Sunday.