Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Brooklyn Strong Man Struck Down at Age 104

I opened up the New York Times yesterday to see a headline in the Metropolitan section about a long-time resident of Brooklyn who was struck down during his daily 5-mile walk at the age of 104. As I began to read, I sort of wondered what finally did him in. Was it a stroke, heart failure, something connected to complications from cancer? This man, often called the Great Joe Rollino, was one of the most noteworthy strongman for his size the country has ever seen. Only 125 to 150 pounds, he could easily lift three times his weight. In the 150 pound category, Joe bested all comers. He was most proud, though, of his finger strength. Apocryphal or not, he proudly claimed that he once raised 635 pounds with a single finger! He was also a fearless swimmer who swam in the waters off Coney Island every day in every kind of weather for eight years in a row. The story goes that he was such a strong swimmer that he was able to bring the bodies of two drowning victims to shore on his own despite the fact that the police claimed they were unrecoverable. At one time, he also boxed under the name Kid Dundee, worked as a longshoreman for many years, even appearing in a scene from "On the Waterfront" that never made it to the finished movie, and served proudly overseas in World War II until the War ended in 1945, when he was a mere 40 years old.

So what struck him down? Literally a 1999 Ford Windstar Minivan hit him as he was crossing Bay Ridge Parkway. He had fractures to his pelvis, chest, ribs, as well as injuries to his face. He died later on Monday. So the Coney Island strongman who didn't drink alcohol or smoke or eat meat and who walked 5 miles each morning, regardless of weather, finally succumbed to that most dangerous of urban objects - the motor vehicle. What a sad yet predictably mundane end to a legendary urban life.

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