LO's Dogg Pound is home to world-class lifters
by: Vern Uyetake, Lake Oswego’s Marc Caplan was one of the top weight-lifters in the country in the late ’70s and early ’80s. Then, he hurt his back and walked away from the sport for 21 years. Now, he’s part of a group of local lifters who train in the basement of his home and they’re making a habit of winning national titles.

Operators of the big workout gyms probably would get a good chuckle if they saw Marc Caplan's weight room, which occupies the space of a large walk-in closet in the basement of Caplan's Lake Oswego home.

All laughter would cease, however, once a visitor saw the intensity of the people who train there. Just the amount of weight that is being pumped is enough to leave any onlooker slack-jawed.

Caplan's weight room, which has affectionately become known as the Dogg Pound, or if you're looking for it on the Internet, is home to some of the most dedicated power-lifters in the Northwest. In fact, several of them are national champions for their age groups.

Caplan was a graduate of Lakeridge High School in the mid 1970s, back when athletes didn't spend too much time in the weight room for fear of becoming muscle bound. After realizing that he wasn't going to make it to the major leagues as a baseball player, Caplan turned his attention to weight lifting. He was good at it, too.

Through the late '70s and early '80s, Caplan won three state titles, three Pacific Northwest titles and was second at nationals two times for his weight group. Caplan was a big-enough name in the sport that he was invited to the Las Vegas Invitational at Ceasar's Palace in late 1982. It was the first time that ESPN had televised a weight-lifting competition.

In retrospect, Caplan should not have gone. A few weeks before the event, he came down with colitis and was not yet back to full strength. But the promoter talked Caplan into going, mainly because of the national exposure and the prize money that was at stake.

'I shouldn't have gone … but I was 24 years old. I got caught up in it,' Caplan says now.

Pushing himself to keep up with the competition, Caplan wound up straining his back early in the event.

'I should have quit right there, but instead I got a shot for the pain,' Caplan recalls.

Later on, Caplan suffered a torn lower back muscle and a slipped disc. The pain caused him to black out instantly. It took hours before any feeling returned to that area of his body.

Eventually, the power lifter wound up seeing Lake Oswego physical therapist Roger Miller, 'who got me back to where I could function,' Caplan said.

Miller did more than that, really. He got Caplan's back in the shape it was before the mishap. But Caplan didn't want to risk another serious injury, so he gave up weight lifting. He turned his attention to a number of other endeavors, like selling cars, operating a restaurant and working as an occasional sports agent (he negotiated Clyde Drexler's second contract with the Portland Trail Blazers).

Even though power lifting was in his blood, Caplan managed to stay away from the sport for 21 years. It was almost by accident that he got back into it.

In 2003, two wrestlers from the East Coast were referred to Caplan as a person who might be able to put together the kind of strength and conditioning program that would help them land college scholarships.

While training the kids (in his extra large walk-in closet), Caplan had trouble at one point verbally conveying what he wanted done. So, he decided to demonstrate the lifting method himself.

Fortunately, nothing in Caplan's back gave out during the demonstration. And, just like that, Caplan was hooked once again on weight lifting. He quickly got himself back to the level he was at before and wasted no time getting onto the competitive circuit again.

His first meet back was in early 2003, at a small event in Aberdeen, Wash., and Caplan won the masters division (40 and over) with little trouble. His next event was a national qualifier in Idaho Falls and Caplan won the masters division there as well. Then it was on to nationals in Daytona Beach, Fla., and Caplan capped his comeback with another victory.

Not bad for a guy who had once wrecked his back and had been away from the sport for more than two decades.

But Caplan didn't stop there. He also won national masters titles in 2004 (in Omaha, Neb.), 2006 (in Sacramento, Calif.) and again this year (in Marietta, Ga.).

At the 2004 nationals, Caplan set a national masters record for his 198-pound weight class with an 810-pound squat. He broke a record that had stood for 27 years. Today, Caplan holds all the masters records for his weight class. In addition to the squad record, he holds the bench press record at 501 pounds and the dead lift mark, which stands at 639 pounds. Plus, he holds the total record (which combines all three disciplines) at 1,862 pounds.

But Caplan isn't the only Portland-area lifter who has been making waves on the national scene. Many of them train on a regular basis at the Dogg Pound, under the tutelage of Caplan and co-head coach Larry Hook.

The workouts that Caplan and Hook put their lifters through would leave any novice weary about being in the same room. There's no room for slackers in that large walk-in closet, and the encouragement that is shouted to each lifter echoes off the walls to the point where it's almost scary.

Quite frankly, it's an impressive group that assembles in Caplan's little gym on a regular basis. Four of them won individual national titles at the meet in Georgia in June.

In addition to Caplan, Hook won the sub-masters (30 to 39 years old) and open titles (for all ages) at 220 pounds. Then, there's Donovan Boell, who won the sub-masters and open titles for the 242-pound class, and Shannon Hartnett, who won the women's masters and open titles for the 165-pound class.

With all of those individual titles, the Dogg Pound (or Dogg lb., as it was later changed to) also won the national team championship.

One of the most impressive lifters in the Dogg Pound is Samuelu Aumavae, who only competes in bench press competitions. He holds the national sub-masters title for the 275-pound class and recently broke the national record at 650 pounds.

That same day, Aumavae was going for a world-record lift of 683 pounds but he couldn't get his elbows 'locked out' and just barely missed setting the record. But Aumavae lifted 730 pounds last week in training and Caplan said it's a good bet that he'll hit that mark, or maybe even exceed it, at the World Championships in two months.

And don't be surprised if another record or two falls when the other Dogg Pound members compete at the World Powerlifting Championships in Calgary in late October.

But it's not just power-lifters who congregate at the Dogg Pound. It's also become an enticing training locale for other types of athletes, especially football players. Caplan and Hook are currently doing some intense training with former Portland State stars Chris Berg and Matthis Gehring (a Lake Oswego High School graduate) and Oregon State star Josh Linehan.

All three of those football players have aspirations to play in the NFL, and the training they're getting from the Dogg Pound could be enough to get them there. Earlier this year, at a pre-draft camp for aspiring players, Berg set a record by bench-pressing 250 pounds 50 times. Most prospects can only muster about 25 reps, Caplan said.

While playing in the Arena Football League this past spring, Berg suffered a severe knee injury that could have sidelined him a year or more. But Berg was back in the starting lineup the following week and played the entire game. Berg said his lifting at the Dogg Pound, especially the squat lifting, gave him enough leg strength to continue playing.

'It's not just the weight training,' Caplan said. 'We also teach them the mind set to be a tough player.'

Caplan should know what it means to be tough. He's been there and done that.

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