MIND OVER MATTER
How I Learned to Bend Steel
The documentary ‘Bending Steel,’ now playing on demand, chronicles how Average Joe Chris Schoeck became a real-life Superman. Here, he tells his story.
I began bending steel October of 2009. Was it purely random? Not really. Initially, I thought choosing to bend steel happened by chance. In reality, it was handed to me.
I was first an avid Olympic weightlifter, and it was an oldetime strongman Joe Rolino that awarded me my first weightlifting trophy. At over 100, he was ageless. He still had all of his own teeth, a mind like a steel trap, and a ferocious grip. His powerful grip amazed me because he was not a big man. But despite his age and stature, I learned that he could bend quarters in his teeth. He was a real superhero. Something only read about.
Joe’s hearty handshake showed self-confidence and sincerity. Self-confidence was something that I lacked. Sometime after that, I purchased lengths of steel and spikes.
I first approached bending steel purely as a strength activity. Over time, I put emotional content into the activity. Harnessing that, I began to develop more force. When something finally bent, I experienced a dangerous euphoria. No other strongman could bend—much less kink—a steel bar I handed out.
I researched oldetime strongmen on the Internet and found Greg Matonick, a legendary bar bender from New Jersey. Greg and I spoke over the phone for close to an hour. He asked me about myself, and if there was anything that I was particularly good at. When I said, “Nothing in particular,” he told me to never say that about myself.
Greg and I officially met on January 23, 2010, at the railroad station by his welding shop just outside Philadelphia. His shop was filled with horseshoes, spikes, and steel bars, and he also had a gym with walls covered with objects bent by legendary strongmen. He encouraged me to try to bend different objects. Alone, I couldn’t budge many of them. However, he handed me a bar that I wedged in-between my legs with his instruction. Securely placed, Greg told me to pull with everything I had. It bent! Greg looked at me and said, “Kid, you have something special.” Nobody had ever said that to me with such sincerity. My life was irrevocably changed.
Greg suggested that I contact Chris Rider, a red-haired giant from PA. Chris taught oldetime strongman feats to me. I saw that this was a real craft, something foreign to most people. I saw Chris about every five weeks, and in-between visits I practiced in the basement of my coop. Chris became a fine friend and mentor.
It was December of 2011 when I met Dave Carroll in the basement of my building. Dave appeared fascinated with what I did, and when I learned of his occupation, we discussed the possibility of making a film. Dave determined that there was enough to make a feature length film—but a feature length film on bending steel? Not really. The team discovered something about me: steel bending is really just an interesting part of my life. I didn't really process this at first. I just conducted my life as usual, and they discreetly filmed me. To me, my life was normal, plain. Little did I know I was growing in strength.
After a period of time, Chris suggested that I bring my new skills public. I was horrified! I had crippling inhibitions about public performance. I did several small shows, but I badly needed panache. Yes, I pulled off some impressive feats. However, I lacked people-savvy. But with time, I started to gain confidence; my steel bars saved me.
I made it my personal mission to bend something that would silence even the most bloodthirsty of hecklers. I wanted to bend the mother of all bars: a 2-inch by 3/8-inch thick 30-inch-long piece of structural steel. This became the focus of Bending Steel. I was set on bending this bar publicly, and the chance came in August 2012 on Coney Island. That morning I tried to bend it, just to see if I could flex it by a quarter inch. Not a chance. I was not only going out onto the stage at Coney Island with something I couldn't bend, but I was going to potentially fail in front of an audience. But I was determined: that bar was bending or they were going to drag me off that stage.
The final film was cut down from 250 hours of footage into 93 minutes. But through filming, I met wonderful people that were all interested in what I did.
Having people invest time and energy in me has given me a sense of value. I now feel that I have something to offer and an obligation to participate in society. People were interested in me for who I am.
Bending Steel captures a pivotal point in my life. It cleansed me of many limitations that held me back. No longer do I need to let success slip by. Things that were aggravations are now challenges.