When Jim Eskew was named Mr. Florida's 1960 body building champion, little did he know he was suffering from a life-threatening heart defect that wouldn't be discovered until more than 40 years later.
Following his body building championship, Eskew moved to Arizona and turned to power lifting. He eventually became one of the most accomplished lifters in the state, especially in the bench press.
In August 2000, Eskew a lieutenant in the Gila County Sheriff's Office bench pressed 400 pounds to win the 55-60-years age division of the National Police Olympics.
After that victory, Eskew continued to train, but began experiencing burning sensations in his chest and shortness of breath.
"I had trouble in my workouts and was really struggling," he said.
Convinced his advanced age, 60 years, was the reason for his conditioning problems, Eskew reluctantly decided to give up power lifting and weight training.
When the chest pains continued, Eskew decided to consult Dr. Robert Rimmer at the Arizona Heart Institute in Payson.
Rimmer put Eskew through a battery of exhausting tests designed to uncover the causes of his symptoms.
The diagnosis, a malfunctioning aortic valve that he had suffered from since birth, caught Eskew by surprise.
"I've taken all kinds of physicals and that was never diagnosed. I thought I was in perfect health," he said.
Eskew says he had the utmost respect for Rimmer, but decided to consult two other heart surgeons in Phoenix.
Both agreed with Rimmer and told Eskew that if he did not have the aortic valve replaced, he probably had only about a year to a year-and-a-half to live.
Only days after the diagnosis, Eskew was admitted to the Arizona Heart Institute hospital in Phoenix where delicate surgery was performed.
Eskew's defective valve was replaced by a plastic valve that, he says, will remain in him the remainder of his life.
After only three days in the hospital, Eskew was released and sent to Payson to begin his rehabilitation.
"They kicked me out and I went home," he said.
Eskew is first to admit that during the early days of his recovery he sincerely missed the power lifting that had been such a big part of his life.
During a follow-up visit to Rimmer's office, Eskew asked the doctor if he could resume his weight lifting.
The response surprised Eskew.
"He told me 'yes' and encouraged me to begin cardiovascular conditioning on a treadmill," Eskew said.
His first post-surgery workout with weights wasn't a promising one.
"My son was spotting me, and I couldn't bench (press) the Olympic bar (45-pounds)," he said.
Frustrated but not ready to give up, Eskew continued to train with weights and to jog.
"I started at zero, but each workout got a little better. I could lift a little bit more weight," he said.
Eskew is convinced the training sessions speeded his recovery and allowed him to return to work after just three weeks.
Although he hasn't returned to the form that helped him win Police Olympic and Natural Strength Athletic Association bench press championships, Eskew is eagerly looking forward to his return to competition.
That will come tomorrow (Saturday) at the Police and Fire Olympics in Mesa.
Entered in the 60-years-and-over division, Eskew probably won't bench press the 400 pounds he did two years ago.
"But I think I can get 300, maybe 350 (pounds)," he said.
Personal records are out of the question for now, but Eskew remains thrilled he can at least compete. "I'm ready for this (competition), I feel 25 years younger and I'm doing things I couldn't do before," he said.
When Eskew takes to the Police Olympics weight lifting platform, he'll do so before family and friends who will be on hand to cheer his every move.
"It's going to be thrilling, I'm excited like a little kid," he said.
If things go well, Eskew's plans are to continue training and look for other events in which he can showcase his considerable lifting skills.
"It wasn't long ago that I thought this (weight lifting) was all over, but thanks to Dr. Rimmer, I'm back at it again. It's wonderful."