When Thomas A. Wright was told he was "pretty strong for an old guy," he saw it as a backhanded compliment. And a challenge. "I want to see just how strong of an old guy I really am," Wright said.
Wright, 57, is a professor of management, Jon Wefald Leadership Chair and a Fellow of the Association for Psychological Science. He also belongs to the World Association of Bench Pressers and Dead Lifters.
Those two aspects of Wright's life might seem to have little in common, but his research interests include optimizing employee performance and finding innovative ways to enhance employee health and well-being.
"As a lifelong fitness nut, I have found weightlifting beneficial to both my physical health and mental well-being," Wright said. "I love the idea of competing against myself, with the possibility of continuous improvement."
Power lifters compete in categories based on age and weight. Wright has competed in 10 meets since 2004; in 2006 he won the title of World Champion Bench Presser in the men's masters division for his age and weight class. His personal best on the bench is 435 pounds, a little more than two times his body weight.
If he competes in the World Championships this November in Las Vegas, it will be his third time in five years to compete on that level.
"The people are great and come from a variety of professions, such as doctors, lawyers, dentists and many others," Wright said. "Power weightlifters are not bodybuilders; we enjoy things like beer and chocolate. We focus on strength, not a small waist."
Some of the people Wright has met at competitions have become friends and role models. "At one meet there was an 80-year-old man who bench-pressed around 300 pounds," Wright said. "It's nice when you're a middle-age guy to have inspiration like that."
Wright is recovering from shoulder surgery, but he still trains.
"I exercise six days a week with stretching, dumbbells, free weights, running, walking and a lot of other cardiovascular activities," Wright said. "I'm looking forward to working out on the Flint Hills trails with my wife and family."
When working out at the Chester E. Peters Recreation Center, Wright doesn't blast rock music or put on a show. "Sometimes I catch students glancing over to see what the grey-haired guy is doing," Wright said. "I'm new to Manhattan and to K-State this academic year, so I don't have workout buddies yet, although I really enjoy the social aspect of working out with others."
Fitness has always been important to Wright. In his younger days, he trained to increase his speed, strength and agility. He attained a personal best of 37 inches in the standing vertical jump and 27 repetitions with 225 pounds on the bench press, both popular testing measures in the National Football League. A current "stretch" goal is to dead-lift 500 pounds.
The dead-lift is probably the oldest test of human strength, Wright said. Its roots go back to ancient competitions involving who could lift the heaviest stone. Today the goal is to successfully lift a loaded barbell off the floor from a stabilized, bent-over position.
"Weightlifting is a great benefit to increasing my overall energy level, and it makes me feel young," Wright said. "What I lack in strength I'm OK with, because I'm all natural and I'm healthy."