Hidden in Plain Sight

What do a retired Kankakee police officer, an 8th grade science teacher, and a school bus mechanic have in common? 

They are three of the competitive weightlifters who currently work out in Bruce Stevenson’s Limestone garage gym. 

Three afternoons a week, Stevenson, his wife Nancy, Nancy Brownfield of St. Anne, Austyn Love of St. Anne, Brice Boehning, of Beaverville, and “GI” Joe Steurer of Bourbonnais, gather to lift weights as well as encourage each other.

Although Nancy Stevenson laments that she has had to sacrifice her garage, the 71-year-old with Parkinson’s is well aware that the exercise is good for her. With the encouragement of her companions, Nancy benches 75 pounds. She and Bruce have been married since 1977, and have 6 children.

Nancy Brownfield of St. Anne, 8th grade science teacher in Bourbonnais, has trained at the Stevensons’ gym for 15 years.  She says it is a stress reliever and is addictive. At 52 years of age, she benches 150 pounds. 

Austyn Love of St. Anne, 23, is a welder at Peddinghouse. Formerly of Bonfield, he has utilized the gym since he was a student at Herscher High School. He benches 270 pounds.

Brice Boehning, 24, grandson of the Stevensons, who also works at at Peddinghouse, lives in Beaverville.  The former volunteer firefighter for Salina has been lifting in the gym for nine years. He benches 300 pounds.

“GI” Joe Steurer, 36, of Bourbonnais, has been lifting for almost a year. Through the rigor of a physical job as a Midwest Transit bus mechanic, and weightlifting in the gym, he has been losing fat and gaining muscle.  Starting at nearly 400 pounds, he currently weighs in at 268 pounds. He benches 175 pounds.

Bruce Stevenson, the founder, is an imposing figure. At 71, Stevenson benches 385 pounds. Steurer shares, “When you first meet Bruce, he is very intimidating. Once you get to know him, he’s not that bad.” 

This weightlifting garage gym has been operational since the late 70’s - early 80’s when Stevenson and a few others began working out in the Limestone garage after meeting at local gyms.  Over the years, the different groups of people who work out at the gym have changed, but the outcome remains the same.  

Stevenson takes his pastime very seriously and began competitive weightlifting in the early 90’s. He creates and perfects the routines that change the attack on the muscles to prepare the group for competition. The group participates in 3-4 state, national and world competitions per year.

Stevenson states, “We have won 1st place in Illinois and Indiana while maintaining State and National records. The World lift will be coming the end of November or beginning of December.” 

In order to not take themselves too seriously, they bring snacks and treats a couple of times a month and even enjoy a pumpkin carving contest in the fall. 

Stevenson continues, “We try to have a good time when we work out. Five to six weeks before a competition, we start bearing down and try to get ready. Our lifters understand everyone’s working condition. They spot really well and help each other out.  We have a good little group here.”

At competitions, they are complimented on their form. Stevenson explains, “I try to make them do it right, but they are not forced to do anything. You can get hurt really easily if you don’t do it right.”

From the outside, one would never know what is behind those garage doors, but inside the gym, they are definitely doing it right. Their work together provides them with camaraderie, fitness, and self-assurance.

Steurer concludes, “When all are heading home from a weightlifting competition and we stop to eat, people turn their heads and look. We are all dressed the same and walk in with confidence.”