Emtman's forebears on his father's side came from Germany and homesteaded large tracts of land near Spokane and then near Cheney, Wash. They farmed wheat and barley, and they raised cattle. The land—"a few thousand acres," Emtman says—is still in the family. Steve's father, Jim, is a farmer, and so is Steve's brother, Russ. Steve, however, never really caught the farm bug. In the summers of his youth, to avoid doing chores, he trotted off to whatever sports camp was being held in the area. Baseball, basketball, football. For a week or two he would be free of having to haul hay, and this to him was the sweetest gift.
Around the time puberty kicked in, he set up a weight room in the barn behind his house. He had some pretty decent gear in there, and his buddies from town would come over and go at it too, taking turns, urging one another on.
One day Jim Emtman showed up in the barn. Maybe he had heard the noise the boys were making, or maybe there was something he aimed to prove. Steve had put 315 pounds on the bar to see what it looked like. He could bench-press maybe 200 at that point, but the barbell was really amazingly pretty, all dressed up like that. It looked like a pair of Christmas trees lying end to end.
"What you got there?" Jim said.
Steve told him, his voice revealing a trace of awe.
Jim wasn't a weightlifter. Knew next to nothing about it, as a matter of fact. But he weighed about 265, and he was a farmer, and farmers aren't like everybody else. Farmers can just automatically do things. So Jim eased himself down on the bench, under the great straining weight. One hand went up, and then the other. His face took on an expression of mild discomfort, and then....
Boom boom boom boom boom boom.
Six times Jim benched the weight.
"Like it was nothing," Steve says. "It was amazing to me that someone could lift that much, let alone my father."
By the time he graduated from high school, Steve could heft that weight and more. A number of colleges in his part of the country were recruiting him, but he didn't attract much interest outside the Northwest. He weighed 275 pounds and ran a 5-flat 40, and everyone wanted him to play offensive tackle.