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The Interview Issue: Arnold Sports Festival Co-Founder Jim Lorimer

Mike Thomas

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Each January, we feature the movers and shakers of the city in in-depth, in-person interviews that dig into their backgrounds, their plans, and what ties them to the capital city. While our interview issue subjects are all Columbus-based, their stories are universal. So settle in, cozy up, and give yourself some you-time. You’ll want to read every word.

As a trailblazer in sports promotion, Jim Lorimer has opened doors for countless athletes.

The unassuming exterior of the Arnold Classic Worldwide headquarters does nothing to betray the treasure trove of riches within. Inside the nondescript beige building in a Worthington office park are countless trophies and awards, depictions of Arnold Schwarzenegger from his bodybuilding heydey rendered in both oil and bronze, and more than one sword from the 1980s big- screen adventure Conan the Barbarian.

More impressive than any of these material things is the history this place represents, the far-reaching impact of which could never be contained by four walls. It is where the keeper of that history can sometimes be found— the one who lived and shaped it, along with countless lives around the world and over many decades.

At 93 years of age, Arnold Sports Festival Co-Founder Jim Lorimer still works seven days a week. To say that he’s accomplished a lot in his time is a massive understatement.

“I’ve been fortunate to have a lot of opportunities,” the effussive and humble Lorimer says of his many achievements. He’s the kind of person who you can speak with for an hour and still only scratch the surface of his story. Details that could serve as the focus for an entire profile—his having served as the mayor and vice mayor of Worthington for 52 years, for example—come and go almost as footnotes.

Among his varied accomplishments, a few stand out. A successful career in high school athletics as a champion of track and field and captain of the football team. A stint in the US Navy, then on to law school, followed by a role with the FBI. More than any of these things, one feat stands above the rest in Lorimer’s estimation.

Photos: Brian Kaiser

“I’ve had an opportunity to do a number of things, and have enjoyed them all. But the most rewarding of all is what happened with the Arnold Sports Festival,” he said.

Featuring 22,000 athletes from 80 nations representing more than 80 sports, the Arnold Sports Classic is Columbus’ signature event— in athletics or otherwise—as well as the largest multi-sport event in the world. (For a sense of scale, around 14,000 athletes took part in the 2016 Summer Olympics and 2018 Winter Olympics combined).

While competitions at “The Arnold” showcase the best of sportsmanship and healthy competition, the event as we know it would never have happened if not for a war—the Cold War, to be exact. That, and an exceptional group of teenage girls.

“During my years in the FBI in the 1950s, I was involved in the intelligence field. In that period, the big challenge was the Soviet Union, and I was interviewing communists all the time,” Lorimer recalls. “The communists were reasonably intelligent people, but they would insist with me that the communist system was superior, and that we were going to be living

under that system in the future. Of course, I did not agree with them on that.”

Throughout this era with its highly- contentious geopolitical climate, sporting contests were just one of the many venues in which the USSR would attempt to showcase the supposed superiority of its way of life. In the 1950s, the communists began to recruit a strong body of athletic talent who were trained at a professional level in their various sports for the sole purpose of dominating the West in athletic competition.

In 1959, American athletes faced off against the elite talent of the Soviet Union at an event in Philadelphia. By then, Lorimer was out of the FBI and had moved on to an executive position at the Nationwide Insurance Company in Columbus. A lifelong sports fan and a curious observer of communist tactics, Lorimer travelled to Philly to watch the proceedings in person.

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“The U.S. men, because of their great interscholastic program, managed to beat the Soviet track and field athletes, even though they had been training essentially as professionals for almost a decade,” Lorimer remembers of the event.

The women’s competition was another story.

“In the high jump, for instance, the woman representing the United States was doing what we call the ‘scissors’ high jump. That’s where you just sort of step over the bar, like in grade school,” Lorimer explains. “The Soviet girl was doing what was in the Western rule, and she jumped almost a full foot higher than the U.S. girl.”

At the conclusion of the weekend’s events, scores of the women’s and men’s teams were combined. The Soviet’s totals narrowly edged out those of the US team. The next day, Philadelphia inquirer published a headline that went out across the globe: “Soviet Team Beats U.S.”

Lorimer knew that the U.S.S.R. would use this win to trumpet the superiority of communism, when in reality, it was only a result of female athletes in the US lacking the training needed to compete.

“I said, ‘I could find a girl right here in Worthington and show her immediately how to jump higher than that girl on the U.S. team,’” Lorimer recalls. And he did just that.

Lorimer contacted a friend who happened to be the Worthington track coach, and asked him to identify the best 14 or 15-year-old female track athlete. The coach pointed him to a student named Melissa Long, a girl who raced against (and beat) male track competitors in her age group.

When Lorimer contacted Long about training for track and field events at the national level, the young woman jumped at the opportunity. From there, he mined the top female talent from a Junior Olympic competition put on by the Columbus recreation department at The Ohio State University, and the Ohio Track Club was born.

“As I contacted them and their families, the reaction was the same as it had been when I contacted Melissa,” recalls Lorimer. “Here was a girl who didn’t have a chance to express herself athletically at all, and they were in heaven that somebody wanted them to come and compete.”

And compete they did, winning numerous meets on the 1960s indoor track circuit across the east coast. “In New York, the main indoor meet is the Millrose Games. These girls were winning—they won the Millrose Games, they won everywhere they went,” Lorimer said.

Lorimer’s success with the fledgling squad eventually led to his appointment as a member of the U.S. Olympic Committee for Women’s Athletics, which he would go on to chair. For his proven sports promotion acumen, he was later tapped to organize the National Weightlifting Competition at Veterans Memorial in 1967, and then the “Mr. World” Competition in 1970, which added the draw of a bodybuilding competition to a traditional weightlifting meet.

That first Mr. World event brought a young Austrian phenom to Columbus, and the rest is history. Impressed with Lorimer’s skills as an event runner and promoter, Schwarzenegger vowed to return to Columbus upon his retirement from competition and partner with him for an event that would raise the profile of bodybuilding to a global audience. The two came together over a handshake deal that would create the foundation for the Arnold Sports Festival as we know it today.

Through his decades of achievement in a landmark event that has helped shape the lives of countless athletes from across the globe, Lorimer has never forgotten where it all started. Every five years, he reunites with the group of special women who made up the first Ohio Track Club team, whose achievements paved the way for generations of female athletes to follow and who served as the forebears of Title IX legislation that guarantees equal treatment for female athletes to this day.

“They were 15 and now they’re all age 75. Every one of those girls graduated from college, and they have six master’s degrees, three PhDs and one Harvard Law School graduate,” Lorimer says with pride. “They all tell me that the most significant opportunity they had was the opportunity to express themselves competitively. That sports experience affected their lives, and that’s what still drives us, that we’re affecting so many lives. If you have 22,000 athletes coming in, that means a lot to our community and it’s a lot of kids learning the important lessons you get from something like sports.”

Lorimer sums up one of those important lessons: “The primary lesson of sports that is also true in life: you get back pretty much in proportion to what you put in.” Coming from someone who has achieved what Jim Lorimer has in his lifetime, it’s advice worth taking.

To learn more about the history of the Arnold Sports Festival and for details on its upcoming events in 2020, visit arnoldsportsfestival.com.

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Coronavirus

Penzone shares: what to expect with salons

Julian Foglietti

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With the closing of Hair Salons on March 18th, buzz cuts and bowl cuts have made an appearance on the heads of Ohioans, young and old. Luckily for those desperate for a do, Dewine has announced that hair salons may begin to reopen on May 15th. To guide us through the transition, I spoke with Debbie Penzone, President and CEO of Penzone Salons, about serving on the Governor's salon advisory board, dealing with the business effect of the virus, and what we can expect from hair salons moving forward. 

I understand that you served as the chair of the Governor's committee board regarding reopening salons. What did you do in that role? 

On the committee, my role was pulling from my experience as a cosmetologist and business owner to assemble a group of individuals that represent our business in Ohio. We had everyone from 10 person salons to one person barbershops. braiding salons and nail salons, to schools and three health commissioners. From there, the job was building an agenda and listening to members while consulting health professionals on how to expand upon existing sanitation guidelines.  The Ohio State Board of Cosmetology has been enforcing for years. Beyond that, it was a lot of keeping time, guiding the conversations, gathering information and reporting it.  We also wanted to build plans if something did happen in a salon, and make sure that everyone could abide by these practices so we can remain safe and open.

In what ways has the virus caused you to rethink the way salons will function moving forward?

One of the things we did was go through a COVID specific certification process with Barbicide, which produces a lot of the sanitation products already used in salons and barber shops. A lot of people don’t realize that in the Ohio Administrative Code, there are very specific sanitation guidelines that you have to follow when you get your license, and there is a major component of constantly learning new sanitation practices all the time. The main difference you’ll see is us taking that sanitation to the next level: social distancing between booths, or barriers put in place, as well as reduced capacities in many salons. There will be more emphasis on reducing contact points and sanitizing things like doorknobs and counters as well. The biggest change will be the way we interact with our clients. We're a very emotional industry. We’re huggers, and we’re very close with the people we work with. Our clients are like family to us, so having to distance ourselves and not engage in that way will be different. 

What has been the greatest challenge to overcome over the past months? 

It’s really been adapting to the constant change we're all facing. We might spend all this energy sharing with our team new knowledge, but the next week it will change again. It’s been difficult to coordinate and continue to train everyone and update them with the new practices, as well as provide support for them while we're all distanced from each other. We're all scared right now, and it’s important to not lose our community so we can give each other confidence in the direction we’re heading in.

What have you witnessed over the past few months that gave you hope?

The biggest hope for me was serving on this committee. I’ve always felt so strong about our industry, so bringing so many people together and supporting one another during this difficult time. This whole thing has really brought us together as an industry, and shown that we can work together to support each other and raise each other up. There's enough clients for everybody, and it’s beautiful to see the incredible diversity of salons and see us all coming together to work with one another.

Are you worried about customers returning?

We’ve opened our booking today, but were not opening on the 15th, because we want to have a few days to go over the new procedures with our teams before we start to bring clients in. Every salon will only be operating at 50% capacity, and then we’re extending the hours to make sure everyone has the same hours they used to, and some of them are already booked out to July.

What would you say to ease the concerns of customers?

Really that we’re regulated by the state board and have so many sanitation practices in place. We have printouts posted showing the guidelines for clients that come to the stores, and for those who are high-risk, we are opening up early so they can be the first people to come in right after the salon is sanitized. What's important to remember about salons is that the regulators randomly check our spaces to make sure we're complying, and as we build on regulations, these checks are going to be taken to the next level. 

As a hairstylist, do you see any hairstyle trends emerging from this?

I definitely think there's gonna be a boom for bobs and pixie cuts, ‘cause people are just done. Maybe some bold colors, because everyone just wants to come out and say, “I’m back, baby.” Maybe just a little more attitude with the cuts people are getting.



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Coronavirus

Meet the Saviors: from doctors on the front line to PPE makers

Mitch Hooper

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While searching for Columbus’ helpers, we found that they come in many different shapes and sizes. And this month, we are telling as many of their stories as we can.

These are the stories of the saviors on the front line, working at hospitals, and assisting patients on a day-to-day basis. Or these saviors are at home and providing essential resources to these same folks on the front line. These efforts are quite literally saving lives and risking their own in the process.

Saviors: Pauline Vales, COVID-19 ICU Nurse at Riverside

It was just a little more than a week before Gov. Mike DeWine announced the state would be going into social distancing orders when Pauline Vale and her husband had already begun leaving for a vacation to Texas. And when she returned home on March 10, the events preceding have been a rollercoaster ride of long days and nights, moments of sacrifice, and above all, bravery in the face of danger.

“We have to be mindful about what we need to do each time we enter a patient room because we can’t just run in and out when we need something. It’s harder to connect with our patients because they can’t see our faces, we can’t hold their hands without gloves on, and it’s harder for them to hear us talking through a mask,” Vales explained. “It seems like there is something new every single day, so we have had to adapt and evolve many times over in the last weeks. And there is just more stress and worry in general, but my unit has really come together as a team and done so many amazing things.”

The challenges are seemingly endless for nurses in the ICU like Vales. She said beyond medical professionals having limited contact with patience, hospitals are not allowing visitors unless it's a life situation or fits a different protocol.

There’s also the battle of resources; now more than ever, folks on the front line need protection like gloves and N95 face masks. Luckily, that call is being heard by larger corporations who can do something, such as Battelle. Battelle now works with hospitals, including Riverside, to decontaminate face masks for these front line workers.  And coincidentally, Vale’s husband works as a virologist at Battelle while she was also a former microbiologist for Battelle.

“I have been able to share my knowledge about virus research and testing with my co-workers at the hospital. It has been very helpful to understand the challenges in developing reliable testing and treatments,” she said. “When we first realized that PPE supplies were a real concern, we were worried about how we would be able to protect ourselves and still care for our patients. The relief of having enough PPE available was really palpable on the unit.”

Vales also faces challenges in her personal life. As a mother to a six-year-old boy, the outbreak of COVID-19 has severely changed his day-to-day without much preparation. Like most young children, social distancing is stopping him from going out and playing like he normally would.

“It’s difficult to convey the situation without scaring him,” she said.

But still, Vales and the rest of the team at Riverside continue to fight on the front line, day-in and day-out. And through all the adversity and tough times, she is still taking a moment to recognize the silver lining on these cloudy days.

“The outpouring of support for health care workers has been amazing and people have been so generous to our unit. We have gotten sweet treats, thank you cards, coffee, and so many encouraging words, which has been very much appreciated,” she said. “Different departments in the hospital have been doing kind things for each other, and our food service staff have been a huge support. I have seen many kind acts across Columbus as well. Food drives, to organizing financial help for families in need, to the support of local businesses. It has been great to see so many people doing what they can to help others.”

***

Saviors: Travis Ulmer, MD, FACEP

Sometimes the battle against COVID-19 in Columbus means taking your talents elsewhere; and that’s what Travis Ulmer, MD, FACEP, is doing. And even then, it’s an uphill battle.

“The toughest thing I’ve had to deal with is that I’ve been applying and registering to help New York City for multiple weeks,” Ulmer said. “But extensive red tape has prevented me from being where the healthcare workers are truly overwhelmed and need us the most.”

Ulmer specializes in emergency medicine here in Central Ohio. As someone who has worked on the front lines here, he’s been reminded of the importance physicians like himself can have—especially during an international pandemic. And all the extra steps medical workers have made to further protect their families, he said the outbreak has been eye-opening within his own life.

“I will never take for granted the impact and importance of being present for our families when we are home,” he said.

But, while there have been many struggles, he’s found the silver lining in moments like this.

“The most beautiful thing I’ve seen is that so many people appreciate the entire medical staff, not just us as physicians. There is an incredible workforce that collectively cares for patients. I am so glad they are being recognized and appreciated for the heroes that they are.”

***

Saviors: Kim and Kallie Mallett, Mask Makers

Life was normal for Kim and Kallie Mallett just a few months ago. While Kim worked at Burn Boot Camp, Kallie was busy as an American Sign Language interpreter. And then in a flash, as it has been for most of us, life was far from normal.

Gyms were one of the first of businesses to close due to COVID-19 so Kim was out of work. And Kallie was also temporarily laid off from her position. Though the financial losses have been tough to manage, the biggest thing the two said they miss is getting to interact with and help all the people they meet through their jobs. So it makes sense that the two found a way, even through social distancing and shelter-in-place, to help by making face masks.

“I have been sewing off and on for years so when an EMT friend expressed a need for homemade masks as a way to extend the life of hers and her fire stations N95 masks, we felt called to help,” Kim said. “We quickly realized how significant the shortage of PPE was across all essential workers and just kept going. In the three weeks we’ve been making masks, we have completed almost 700.”

Through mask making, they’ve been able to raise more than $900 in donations—$700 of which will be donated to the Mid Ohio Food Bank and the rest will be used to purchase more fabrics to make more masks.

“It’s been amazing to see Ohio come together and lend a helping hand to their neighbors—from six feet away, of course,” Kim said.

“I’m further reminded of how interconnected we all are and how we need to continue to rely on each other because we truly are all in this together.”

And of course, they’ve learned lessons along the way.

“I’ve learned to take it slowly and one day at a time,” Kalie said “I will be more appreciative of time with friends, the ability to workout with my gym family—really, just normal life in general.”

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Govt & Politics

NY Times lauds Dr. Amy Acton with video tribute

614Now

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If you live in Ohio, you'd have to have been living under rock these last 6 weeks to not know who Dr. Amy Acton is. Now the NY Times is making sure the rest of the country knows too with this nearly 7-minute tribute video titled, "The leader we all wish we had".

As the state's lead spokesperson on the healthcare side of the pandemic, Acton has received wide praise from both near and far. Despite recent protests that occurred outside of her Bexley home, most Ohioans believe she has been a shining star in these dark times.

She has a tribute t-shirt, "Not all Heroes Wear capes" created by Homage

Her own (Ok, Gov. Dewine too) tribute parody video

Her very own bobblehead from the Bobblehead Hall of Fame

A Facebook Fan Page with over 133,000 members

Here's our profile piece from the April issue of (614) Magazine - the cover of which is featured in the NY Times video. Very cool, Sarah!

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