SI Vault
Jerry Cowle
June 11, 1979
The recent interest in bodybuilding has brought to mind my boyhood and my encounter with the patron saint of the art or obsession, Charles Atlas. As a scrawny kid of 11, living in a small upstate New York town, I was an enthusiastic reader of The Shadow, Doc Savage and the sports pulp magazines, most of which carried the Charles Atlas ads, but I never dreamed I'd ever meet the great man himself. How could that godlike being ever have been a 97-pound weakling? And what was this Dynamic Tension that changed his life?
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June 11, 1979

The 'most Perfectly Developed Man' Always Ate All Of His Bread Crusts

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He looked at me closely. "Yes...Camp Atlas. Weren't you the kid who always wanted to play shortstop?"

I was. So we spent some time reminiscing about that summer. He told me he'd changed his name to Charles Jr. I didn't have to ask why. We hit it off well.

The next morning Herk, or Charles, was on deck to supervise the casting off of our mooring lines. As we stood out to sea, he waved goodby, and that was the last time I ever saw him. I've occasionally wondered how he and his ship made out in the invasion, and what he ended up doing after the war. (In fact, he teaches math at Lincoln Junior High in Santa Monica, Calif.)

Around Christmas 1972, I came across a newspaper account of the death of Charles Atlas. I found it hard to accept. To me, he would always look the way he did that summer, standing in front of the campers in his loincloth, performing feats of strength and making a bunch of little kids believe that each of us could grow up to be just like him.

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