The exterior of the building located at 215 Second St. in Colusa is, in a word, unremarkable: The windows are shuttered, and the side of the building that faces the alley is a mishmash of corrugated metal siding. From its exterior, the eye can discern nothing that might indicate the building is occupied. If not for the unmistakable sound of weights — heavy weights — routinely clanking from within, there would be nothing to suggest that this is the training place of champion power lifters.
Step inside, however, and there is no mistaking it. The small front room is packed with conventional and non-conventional fitness equipment — torture devices, as one trainee jokingly calls them. Free weights, sledgehammers, tires, bands, and benches sit on a floor covered with rubber mats.
Emblazoned on the southern wall, with red paint dripping from each letter like streaks of blood, are the words “House of Pain.”
This is Ron Swearinger’s gym, and the place where he trains two highly successful local power lifters, Cynthia Jimenez and Frank Roa, Jr.
Roa has been training with Swearinger (his brother) for more than 50 years.
“I didn’t start out to become a powerlifter. Ron and I have this younger brother-older brother rivalry,” Roa said. “I always wanted to be as strong as my older brother. He’s pushed me to get stronger. He’s held these annual family-type competitions, and I was enjoying lifting weights and getting stronger by his influence.”
As he got stronger, Roa, 60, was curious to see how he stacked up against men in his age and weight class. He was in his mid-fifties when he looked up the world records on-line and realized he could not only compete, but fare very well in competition.
“The records at the time were basically the weights I was warming up with,” Roa said. “So I entered my first one… and I exceeded the existing total (records) by 300 pounds. Basically, I broke the squat by 100 pounds, the bench by 100 pounds, and the deadlift by 100 pounds, as an average.”
Roa went into a second meet, he said, but his body began to break down and he was forced to take a break. Roa returned to competition last April, and proceeded to break two world records (and tie a third) for the American Powerlifting Association-World Powerlifting Alliance (APA-WPA).
After qualifying in April, he will look to break the world record in the third lift — in addition to the overall weight record — at the APA-WPA World Powerlifting Championships in Clackamas, OR, in October.
“I have been working out diligently for the last four months, getting ready for this competition, and I feel that I’m going to be pretty successful when I come back after October,” Roa said.
Jimenez has only been working with Swearinger for about five months, but can’t say enough about the environment, the support, and the results that the “House of Pain” has to offer.
“You saw this, right?” Jimenez asked, pointing to the words on the wall. “When you walk in here, you are going to crawl out, you are going to cry out, but you are going to want to come back. There’s something about working out here, about the energy here. It also has to do with the information he gives you. He’s going to give you all the information you need. This place is all about building people to be better.”
Jimenez says that she met Swearinger by chance in November 2015. Her father, Victor Gomez, met him first, through a mutual friend. Gomez told Swearinger about his daughter and showed him some videos of her lifts. Swearinger’s response shocked Gomez.
“He said, ‘Eh, I could fix that,’” Jimenez said. “My dad goes, fix what?”
While Jimenez was deadlifting a huge amount of weight, Swearinger explained, he saw room for improvement.
“She was a total success, but I saw a flaw that I know that I could fix, and she could lift more, lift healthier, and stay healthier,” he said.
At that time, Swearinger was unable to train Jimenez, but he evaluated her, offered up a few pointers, and she took them to heart.
“Throughout the next six months, I trained with those tips. Then one day he calls and says ‘Maybe we can work something out,’” she said. “When the chance came knocking, I said give me a time and I was there. Ever since then, we train twice, three times a week maybe. He has changed my life. The numbers I lift now, I don’t think I would have gotten there if I hadn’t been here.”
Jimenez has added 70 pounds across her three lifts since she started working with Swearinger. In July, she won first place in her class and best overall lifter. The latter was a personal goal for her, and she immediately called Swearinger — who was unable to attend — to tell him about it.
But for Swearinger, it’s about more than the lifting. He’s concerned about his trainees’ overall health: eating right, lifting right, and living right.
“We made an agreement — she could have continued to dominate local powerlifting contests, but she wouldn’t have lasted long. She wouldn’t have had a career. She could lift a lot of weight, but she wasn’t firing specific muscles. Once she learns stabilization of firing those, there is no limit to what she could do. She’s still raw as far as I’m concerned. She hold national records, but she’s got a future beyond that.”
Jimenez will be taking a year off to meet some personal goals and resume competing next year.
The focus of the “House of Pain” is currently on training Roa, Jimenez, and one more individual, but things could be expanding soon. Roa and Swearinger are in the midst of a year-long class and well on their way to being certified as personal trainers.
“We’re studying anatomy, physiology, nutrition, and everything that goes with it. We graduate in December, and that’s what when we may expand what we’re doing here,” Swearinger said.
When that time comes, the brothers will be open to training everyone from elderly clients to kids to world class weightlifters, so long as they display the sort desire and dedication that is already established in the “House of Pain.”
“We’ve got the whole gamut. We’re not trying to compete with any gym here in town, we’re just trying to offer something different, something that we really care about: better quality of life, mobility, stability, strength, and power — if that’s what you’re looking for,” Swearinger said. “(When we finish our certification) we do want to, and we’re fully capable of handling all aspects, all age groups, and any condition a person is in when they in through that front door, but you gotta have heart.” ■