Bennie Dooley is enjoying the comforts of retirement. Sleep in a little, go on a hike, take a yoga class.
It’s all good for the former powerlifter who spent 14 years as one of the strongest men in the world.
After 10 world championship titles and 15 world records, Dooley, 63, had his accomplishments recognized in November when he was inducted into the World Association of Benchers and Deadlifters (WABDL) Hall of Fame.
“When I was given the award, I said I couldn’t have done it alone,” said Dooley, whose heaviest bench press topped out at 641 pounds. “Mac Urritta was my lifting partner for 14 years. I couldn’t have done what I did without him.”
After working in the New Mexico copper mines for 17 years, Dooley moved to Kennewick in 1987.
He has been athletic most of his life. He played high school football and one year at New Mexico State as a running back before turning his attention to competitive softball.
“I was pretty heavy into softball when we moved here,” Dooley said. “I got into lifting and I liked it. I thought I wanted to do body building, that was all I had ever seen. I knew my biggest challenge would be dieting.”
Then one day he saw Anthony Clark — at one time the world’s strongest man —compete at a bench press meet in the Tri-Cities.
“I thought, ‘That’s what I want to do,’ ” Dooley said. “A few months later I competed in my first meet. That’s where I met Skip Sandberg. He said when I was serious, to come talk to him. I went to see him.”
Sandberg had a weight room at his business, where Dooley and others would workout and glean knowledge of the sport from Sandberg.
“Skip was the Godfather of powerlifting,” Dooley said. “I lifted with Skip and others. He taught me how to lift, how to train. I owe him everything. I set 15 world records, and Skip had a lot to do with that.”
While others did all three lifts — squats, deadlift and bench press — Dooley just competed in the bench press.
“I was an OK squatter, but I was a horrible deadlifter,” Dooley said. “The guys I know who deadlifted are on crutches or have had hip replacement or severe back problems. It is hard on your body. Bench is where my strength was. I didn’t like to do the other ones anyway.”
After of a couple of years of hard work and competing, Dooley set his first state record. Other records followed and the trophies piled up.
Dooley also was a member of USA Powerlifting, competing in events in Europe and Russia.
Dooley stopped competing in 2009.
“I moved my dad (Bennie Sr.) up here from New Mexico in 2007,” Dooley said. “My dad is the greatest human being I have ever met. I took a year off from competing to spend time with him. My last five years I never had much competition, and that took the fun out of it. The sport died out in the Tri-Cities, and I never really started again. I miss it a little bit, but it was time.”
Dooley, a retired electrician for Mission Support Alliance, still does his time at the gym, lifting and taking fitness classes at Tri-City Court Club. The weights aren’t nearly has heavy and yoga has been a challenge, but it’s getting a little easier.
“I don’t go as heavy as I used too — my shoulders can’t take it anymore,” Dooley said. “I’m going from big and strong to being as fit as I can. At my heaviest, I was 268 pounds. I had to hold my breath to bend over and tie my shoes. I’ve lost 50 pounds. I’ve always taken care of myself. I’m trying to get out of my comfort zone. I’ve been doing yoga for about three months. At first I thought I would get a lot of looks, but that hasn’t happened. I have learned I’m not very flexible and I don’t have good balance.”
Retirement also has given Dooley and his wife, Lorna, time to travel and visit their kids and grandkids.
“It’s hard to believe I’m as old as I am,” Dooley said. “I don’t feel 63 or act 63. Time marches on and I’m fighting it as hard as I can.”