At a Mighty 104, Gone While Still Going Strong
By MANNY FERNANDEZ and MICHAEL S. SCHMIDT
Joe Rollino once lifted 475 pounds. He used neither his arms nor his legs but, reportedly, his teeth. With just one finger he raised up 635 pounds; with his back he moved 3,200. He bit down on quarters to bend them with his thumb.
People called him the Great Joe Rollino, the Mighty Joe Rollino and even the World’s Strongest Man, and what did it matter if at least one of those people was Mr. Rollino himself.
On Monday morning, Mr. Rollino went for a walk in his Brooklyn neighborhood, a daily routine. It was part of the Great Joe Rollino’s greatest feat, a display of physical dexterity and stamina so subtle that it revealed itself only if you happened to ask him his date of birth: March 19, 1905. He was 104 years old and counting.
A few minutes before 7 a.m., as Mr. Rollino was crossing Bay Ridge Parkway at 13th Avenue, a 1999 Ford Windstar minivan struck him. The police said he suffered fractures to his pelvis, chest, ribs and face, as well as head trauma. Unconscious, he was taken to Lutheran Medical Center, where he later died.
New York is a city of extraordinary lives and events, and here, indisputably, was one of them — one of the city’s strongest and oldest, struck down on a Monday morning by a minivan in Brooklyn.
“Pound for pound, in the feats that he practiced, he was one of the greatest performing strongmen we’ve ever had, if the lifts he’s credited with are accurate,” said Terry Todd, a co-director of the Stark Center for Physical Culture and Sports at the University of Texas, who knew Mr. Rollino for more than four decades. “He certainly wasn’t one of the strongest all-time strongmen, because of his size. To ask a well-trained 130-pound man if he can lift what a well-trained 400-pound man can lift is asking an unreasonable question. But for his size, Joe was apparently one of the strongest men who ever lived.”
Mr. Rollino stayed away from meat. And cigarettes. And alcohol. He said he walked five miles every morning, rain or shine. At the height of his career, he weighed between 125 and 150 pounds and stood about 5-foot-5.
He was a teenager when he watched Jack Dempsey knock out Jess Willard in 1919. He later boxed under the name Kid Dundee, became a Coney Island performer, worked as a longshoreman, fought in World War II and had a bit part in “On the Waterfront” that never made the film, not necessarily in that order.
Among his many accomplishments, Mr. Rollino was proudest of one in particular. “My finger strength,” he told an interviewer for ESPN The Magazine. “Six hundred thirty-five pounds. See the size of it. At 150 pounds, nobody ever beat me in this world.”
He was a legend within that small Coney Island society in which few New Yorkers would want to become known as legends: the men and women who swim in the Atlantic when it is at its harshest and coldest. On a 6-degree day in January 1974, Mr. Rollino and six other members of the Iceberg Athletic Club swam into the waters off Coney Island. The freezing Atlantic was like steel: It didn’t intimidate him...http://www.nytimes.com/2010/01/12/nyregion/12ironman.html?hp=&pagewanted=print