Part 1 of the interview series-by John Rahme
Monday night brought upon a restless and sleepless night, pondering about what to ask? How to ask it? And, unsure of the reaction I might get. I drive through morning peak hour Sydney traffic early Tuesday morning nervously hoping I will not be late to a meeting with someone I regard as the greats of sports coaching and in the game of lifting.
I arrive with ten minutes to spare, wanting to get comfortable revise my questions and get my thinking in order. I order a coffee, turn around and if I was under any misconception that I was getting in early to prepare for Luke, I was wrong. Luke, like the interview will show was there, early and more than prepared, as so has been his life. It was he that took control and he who ran the show. It was Luke’s way, and what a way it is. Hold on, brace yourself and Welcome to the world of Luke borreggine.
Born 1st June 1961, same day as Marilyn Monroe, Marilyn got the good looks, Luke got the brains. A young Borreggine is at school playing his school basketball and is looking for a way to improve him in the sport. A friend of his suggests weightlifting. At the time there were about 5 to 8 kids at the school throwing weights around and they also looked big, strong and good. This appeals to Luke and he makes his mind up. To the gym it is. The gym he decides to head to be Burwood PCYC.
Burwood PCYC at this point in time is no commercial Swiss ball gym. It is known as the “BOYS CLUB”, a rocky balboa type of gym. There is no techno music and TV screens with the latest video hits on there. I ask you at this point to clear your mind of any conception in your head of how a gym is and follow this description. Imagine yourself Walking into a room where a timber floor is constantly shaking not just from the thunderous weight been pushed and thrown around, but from big strong tuff men walking around marking territory and keeping a watchful eye on any new comer , keeping the new comer in the right pecking order. Men who just not only lifted big, or were just physically big, but were BIG. The men in this gym where just down right tuff and had a mongrel in them which was set in an old fashion way. You walked into their house and you showed respect immediately and followed unwritten rules. There was no suggestion box. But there was a complaints department, the complaints department had two areas, one was outside in the back lane and the other was in the middle of the gym. You were free to make a complaint or if you chose to, airs your grievance’s but rest assure that your complaint would be dealt with immediately and with action. Especially, if disrespect or contempt to a senior member of the BOYS CLUB was shown. There were 4 platforms for lifting; there was one platform in the boys club that you did not lift from. Whether the gym was empty or full. This was the A-grade platform as Luke describes it. He tells me that to lift from that platform meant seniority and you had made your way up the food chain. He remembers quiet clearly an occasion where someone would walk in and not to adhere to this law. He was sentenced immediately with no trial. That’s how it went.
Luke description of this gym comes across as almost shear survival of the fittest and toughest. He recalls on many an occasion that he was tested, tested constantly and had to rise to the challenge and the test or be eaten alive. The testing to me seemed as a slow and steady rising and progression in the pecking order, as if there was an unspoken way of only recruiting the mentally tough and mentally willing and this is how they created a tight band of brothers, not just inside of the boys club but outside of it as well. It seemed to me that these men built a powerful and a secure network of an inner sanctum of mateship. Where they could call upon the band of brotherhood. Fail the test and be pushed to the side and never climb the order. Pass a small test and move onto the next test. One thing that is imprinted in my mind and I can do it no justice by trying to describe it in anyway other than saying it the way it was said, was something that Luke said, he looked at me straight in the eye and said, “john, one thing you never did was show dis-loyalty in the BOYS CLUB, especially to Bruce “CHIEF” Walsh.
The reason I am writing so vividly on this period and place and going into such detail of Luke’s life, is all that he follow’s to tell me of his history in the sport is recorded in history and in files. All his achievements of coaching at elite level are there in black and white. All his education, articles, lectures and teachings are all in black and white. You cannot take that away or ignore it. But the make up the beginnings of Luke’s life isn’t. This is the beginning of Luke in weightlifting. At a young age he throws himself in the lion’s den and has to at first feed the lion, clean up after them and adhere to them as a cub, slowly the cub grows, cubs enter adulthood where they will be challenged and through the challenge, it will determine where their place is in the pride. Lose the challenge and be a follower, lose the challenge and become a lion which sits beside the pack king and do as the king demands. Face the challenge, respect the challenge and earn your respect through the challenge and then take your place. This was no ordinarily place or gym, men in here ruled streets and clubs, bow before them or be forced to bow. This is Luke’s beginnings. he was put in a place where he either move forward respectfully and take all the tests that were given and do his best to succeed or just be pushed aside and ignored. I’ll give you a little tip. He wasn’t pushed aside and ignored, neither did he want to be, Luke was here and he wanted to be seen and respected. He made that decision and backed himself to do so. I add this to finish off from the history of the boys club. Luke met all tests in a respectful and loyal manner and this is the reason for his success in the early days in the boys club, but more so important his success in the sport of weightlifting. RESPECT AND LOYALITY.
Bruce Walsh known as “CHIEF” was the icon and mentor of Luke borreggine. Bruce called Luke his fourth child, and Luke called Bruce ‘CHIEF’. Bruce was an old school man. He ran a tight ship and was a very well educated man in the sport of weightlifting and strength and conditioning. Bruce ran Burwood PCYC. Bruce introduced Olympic lifting into rugby league and worked with the old wests magpies known now as the wests tigers as a strength and conditioner. Luke calls Bruce Walsh a political mastermind and when Luke talks about Bruce Walsh you can see the respect, loyalty and admiration he has for this man. Bruce’s life was weightlifting and loved to teach and coach. Luke had so many great things to say of this man that I actually felt that I was a poorer man in never having to meet him.
This bring me to a point where I believe is the beginning of Luke’s life and realisation that weightlifting is and will become his life and Australian weightlifting will become his newborn child whom he will raise,protect,feed,educate and love like no other.
Sunday afternoon, Luke borreggine is 16/17 years old and is at home with his family. He receives a phone call from Bruce Walsh not asking to see him immediately but summonsing Luke. Luke begins to describe to me his feelings at the time, he says to me, “now when someone calls you at home on a Sunday in my day and wants to see you, there was generally a bad result at the end of the meeting.” Luke makes his way over to see Bruce and his head is travelling at a thousand miles an hour of what it may be about, or what he had done wrong or worse, what was going to happen to him. Bruce greets Luke and sits him down, “Luke” he begins to say, “We feel that you have a lot to offer in the future for weightlifting, not as a lifter but as a coach.” Bruce continues whilst Luke is sitting in a confused but euphoric state, “we have found you to be a man of reliability and trust, the passion and love for lifting seems to just pour out of you.” He finishes off with. “Now f—k off and go home.”
At the age of 21 years old Luke takes over Burwood PCYC after Australia failed miserably at the 1976 Olympics and we received no gold medals. The Australian government decides to pour some money into Australian sport and weightlifting is one of them and they create the AIS in Canberra. 70%-80% of all the weightlifters were taken from the boys club to Canberra. A gentleman who Luke highly regards called Lyn Jones is taken from the boys club as head coach at AIS. Harry Wardle comes over from England to the boys club to coach and 12-18months later is recruited to go to the AIS. Luke determined not to let what built him and paved the way for him close down takes the reins of the boys club and keeps it going.
I sit here and I look over 6 full pages of Luke borreggine’s record and coaching statistics, from world championship to commonwealth games to Olympics. I look at his fight for the sport he loves so dearly and admires. His achievements are mind blowing. And so are the stories he can tell. Some of which will stay with me as asked of him, but I do hope one day he does write a book because believe me, your eyes will pop out of your head and you will have fits of laughter and plenty of “ jez, I wish I was there “ scenario.
I intentionally do not try to disrespect Luke by not documenting all his achievements, all his stations and positions at all, but I try to bring across and describe to you all the beginnings of a man who will go down as one of the greats in weightlifting. With every appointment he had there was a fight for what he believed in and what he was doing. Every appointment brought a new challenge and at times some incredible turns in the road he was travelling. He was made an example of at one point in his career due to the politics in the sport and then was asked to redeem the sport. All of this due to his unbreakable spirit and belief system. You see, I would be lying if I said Luke had no ego. I would be lying if I said that I thought he was the loveliest person in the world. But his ego was derived from a place in his heart where he put the good of the sport and athlete first before himself, a lot of people looked upon this as ego driven. I put this forward for you to contemplate. Luke’s ego gave opportunity and chance to a lot of weightlifters in Australia, he put them in the right position and gave them the right chance at the right moment to make a mark in their life and history, those who were able to take that chance and opportunity were grateful, those who couldn’t were resentful. I ask you to look upon it as how you see it not others with might do.
I finish off on this, when Luke borreggine was born, god himself or herself physically took out the function in Luke’s body which enable him to take a backward step. Luke physically and mentally has never taken a backward step and couldn’t if his life depended on it. In his belief system he has his idea of what is wrong and what is right; his fight for that belief system is non-negotiable. Loyalty means life to this man. Passion oozes out as sweat and before you got there, Luke was there.
Interview series-by John Rahme