“I tell people you can take the guy out of Jersey,” said Rongo. “You can't take Jersey out of the guy.”
He works his clients hard. Positive reinforcement can do wonders. It has certainly worked for Rongo himself.
“Coming through what I went through the last three years, you're almost forced to be positive or I wouldn't have been able to make it,” he said.
For 20 years, while Rongo took care of his clients, his girlfriend Kathleen took care of him. But on the day in 2014 when Rongo set a new American record for his division by deadlifting 457 pounds at the Alki Classic, everything changed.
“[Kathleen] came over to me and says ‘Can I go home? I don't feel too good,’" Ringo recounted. "I said ‘Sure honey, I'll see ya’. I got home and there was a note. ‘I went to the hospital’. I went to the hospital. The doctor pulled me off to the side and said ‘She has an issue.’”
That's when Rongo began leading a double life: personal trainer by day, personal nurse by night.
“It was just me and her,” Rongo said.
The pressure began to take a physical toll on Rongo, a weight lifter and bodybuilder since the age of 12.
“I'd come down here to the gym in my house and do a couple of push-ups and say, ‘That's it. Let me just go get her some medicine at Bartells’. And that was my life.”
In her final six months Kathleen couldn't get out of bed.
“And the night before she passed away we got officially married,” said Rongo.
Frankie's brother performed the ceremony over Facetime.
“And the next day she passed away,” he said. “The next day she passed away.”
For the first time since Kathleen's death, Rongo returned to the Alki Classic, where he easily lifted 475 pounds: his personal best.
“I feel good,” said Rongo. .
His goal had been to deadlift a world-record 500 pounds with a little help from Kathleen.
“Hopefully I can hear her in the back of my mind saying, ‘You got it. You got it. You got it,'” said Rongo.
Unfortunately he couldn’t make the lift, but Rongo’s friends gathered around him. They know what he's been carrying around all these years.
“That's power lifting,” said Rongo. “That's the sport. Gotta get in there and suck it up you know?”
At the end of the day Rongo received four medals. He had one more lift to do: to raise those medals towards the sky.
“I'm going to hold these up to my angel Kathleen,” he said. “Thank you honey. I know you were here today”.
Rongo will try to break the record fro his division in Las Vegas this weekend.
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