Alumnus was happily heavy lifting – then COVID-19 emerged

Perry Dworkin, D.O.’65, FAOCR, M.H.S.A., is 79 years old and a survivor of stroke and prostate cancer. But if you weigh less than 200 pounds, he likely could deadlift you.

The retired radiologist is a local, state and two-time national champion power weightlifter who in a competition in late December won in his age (70-79) and weight (165 pounds) divisions. He set new personal and Florida records, hoisting 170.8 pounds in the bench press, 154.3 pounds in the squat and 181 pounds in the deadlift.

Alumnus Perry Dworkin sports a tee that translates to “older than dirt.”

He also won the “strict rule” bicep curl, hefting 65 pounds with his back against a wall.

“I’ve never lost in my division, but to be fair, there aren’t many in my division,” he says.

When the COVID-19 pandemic shut down so many aspects of daily life, the self-described “gym rat” was determined to stay active and in shape.

“I am very comfortable in a gym. I need it for my exercise, dialogue with friends, mostly for my sense of accomplishment,” he emailed DMU on April 26. “When it closed, I started walking, which I believe to be the single best exercise. If there is only one exercise available, make it walking.”

Dr. Dworkin mapped out a three-mile route with five hills in his Orange County, FL, neighborhood, eventually adding ankle weights with a challenge of completing the walk in less than an hour. When wind, rain and heat kept him indoors, he and his wife, Eileen, resorted to using their elliptical machine. He also incorporated “serious almost-whole body stretching.”

Before COVID-19 halted most athletic competitions, Dr. Dwokin had earned more than 20 power lifting trophies. He also triumphed over a stroke with two small basal ganglia infarctions that in 2015 left him paralyzed on his left side from shoulder to foot; while convalescing, he had a small prostate cancer treated. After exhausting all his Medicare-covered physical therapy, still using a wheelchair, he had Eileen take him to the gym and tape his left foot to the pedal of a stationary bicycle so he could pedal. He graduated to a walker and then a four-point cane, a regular cane and finally a walking stick. He now has only a slight limp.

“Some people are too stupid to know when to quit,” he jokes. “I’m the most stubborn person you’ve ever met. I wasn’t going to let stroke beat me.”

Dr. Dworkin always wanted to be an athlete and enjoyed working out, but at 110 pounds as a DMU student, he “could have hid behind a light pole.” While practicing in Erie, PA, at age 56, he frequented a local gym where Joe Orengia, a trainer, noticed his weightlifting skills. Orengia took him on as a student and still sends him monthly workouts.

“I did one competition and they didn’t laugh at me,” Dr. Dworkin says. He went on to win his first national championship, hefting 300 pounds in the squat, 200 pounds in the bench press and 400 pounds in the deadlift.

He loved his career as much as he loves exercise. Past president of the Florida Osteopathic Medical Association and the Miami-Dade County Osteopathic Medical Association, he served in the American Osteopathic Association House of Delegates and in several other professional organizations. He also participated in the Health Professionals Follow-Up Study of the Harvard School of Public Health, a 30-year study of the diet and health habits of 125,000 physicians. Its findings affirm Dr. Dworkin’s lifestyle: 1) don’t use nicotine; 2) consume alcohol in moderation or not at all; 3) eat a plant-based diet; 4) avoid saturated fats and sugars; and 5) participate in at least five hours of meaningful exercise each week.

He also strives to exercise mentally, keeping algebra and math textbooks at hand, playing bridge on his computer and studying books on chess tactics. While sheltering in place, he tries to help with household chores, “mundane things that I can’t do wrong like making the bed, folding laundry, setting and clearing the dinner table,” he says.

Dr. Dworkin misses the camaraderie of working out at the gym, where he often wore a tee shirt given to him by his grandchildren that sports the motto, “Vetustior Humo,” or “older than dirt.” He misses the camaraderie of competing at powerlifting events, including those put on by the RAW Powerlifting Federation.

“Everybody cheers for everybody. I do it because I love it, I love the people and I’m good at it,” he says. “It’s good for me, and it certainly keeps me off the street. My goal is to continue doing it as long as I can.”

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