By John Goralski
The thunder from 30,000 cheering fans seemed to fade into white noise as Frazer Pehmholler took his first step across the New Hampshire field. His arms strained from the 670-pound load that hung from his clenched fists. His vision narrowed to his eldest daughter in the distance as she waved him toward his goal.
The first step was for the doctors that helped him overcome a debilitating bone disease in his youth. The second was for his Southington coaches that nursed him back to health at Memorial Pool. He took a steps for his high school teammates, his college teammates, his parents, his friends, and his daughters, but the last one he took for the world.
It was one small step for mankind, but it was a giant step for Pehmoeller. With a 99-foot walk, the boy that spent two years on crutches in elementary school had walked into a new world record at the Scottish Highland Games.
For a brief moment in the mid-1990s, Pehmoeller was the strongest man on earth.
“If I knew that I was that close to 100,” he said with a laugh, “I would have probably broken a finger trying to make it there.”
Few athletes are as accomplished or as relatively unknown as Frazer Pehmoeller. He holds the two oldest track & field records at the high school, but it’s only been a couple of years that his records were displayed in the high school cafeteria. His records at the junior high schools have been long lost in the decades since the 1970s. His indoor track records at the high school still eclipse the record holders by feet rather than inches, but his exploits aren’t official since they predate the official varsity team.
He set town records in discus and shot put. He set college records at UConn and set world records in the Scottish Highland Games. Pehmoeller is in a class of his own.
“He is the best kid ever,” said former Blue Knight track & field coach Pete Sepko. “He is a really nice human being. He’s a gentleman, and I’ve always been really proud of him as a kid and with what he did. It didn’t come easy. He was such a hard worker, and he’s the best thrower we’ve ever had.”
Pehmoeller never set out to topple records. In fact, sports weren’t a big part of his youth. Stricken by a rare bone marrow condition in his youth, he spent his time recuperating while his friends were honing their skills in local youth leagues. When he tried out for the junior high teams Pehmoeller didn’t make the cut, but he didn’t let that stop him.
“I actually tried out for the baseball team but that didn’t go too successfully,” he said. “Then, I saw these big guys running around the old football field at DePaolo, and I figured I might as well try what they were doing. I had no idea what a shot put was or a discus or anything.”
At the time, Southington was already known for their throwers with Dean and Danny Angels setting records at the high school while Pehmoeller was chasing their records in the junior high. They were approaching the 60-foot barrier, and Pehmoeller was closing in.
By the time he arrived at the high school, Pehmoeller was ready to challenge their standards.
“I just got through a good group of throwers that were throwing 58’8” and 57’7”,” said Sepko. “I remember thinking, ‘How am I going to top that?’ In through the door walks Frazer Pehmoeller, and he threw 60 feet within two or three years of them.”
Few athletes trained as hard as he did. Pehmoeller’s practices stretched until sunset. He spent the off-season in the gym and running sprints on the track. As a sophomore, he caught the shot put competition by surprise with a second place finish in the state competition. That was the start of his dominance in the sport.
“We worked out a lot together in the weight room, and he kept getting better,” said Sepko. “Every year he got stronger, and he got faster. A lot of people think that you just have to be strong to throw that far, but you have to be fast, too. He always took pride in bringing down his 50 yard dash time. He came down every year. He wasn’t just getting stronger. He was getting faster.”
As a senior, Pehmoeller finally broke through. He snapped the 60-foot barrier in the shot put. He shattered the school records in shot put (60’10”) and discus (175’3”). When the smoke cleared, he had earned two state titles in shot put and one in discus. Suddenly, scouts from across the college ranks descended upon the Southington native.
“It was pretty cool. I grew up in a family where my grandfather, my father, and even my brothers were electrical contractors, so there was a path set for me in the electrical business,” he said. “What throwing allowed me to do is be the black sheep and go out to do what I wanted to do.”
Pehmoeller took the process seriously, interviewing the coaches as much as they were interviewing him. He settled upon UConn because they offered him a course of studies that held his interest, and the coaches stressed kinetic training rather than chemical shortcuts.
“One of the biggest concerns for me as a thrower was steroids,” he said. “Back then, they were so prevalent in the college realm, and I didn’t want to have anything to do with them. You really had to question coaches and feel them out because there was a lot of pressure if they took an athlete like me.”
It turned out to be a good decision. Pehmoeller went on to letter eight times with four years on the indoor and outdoor teams. He became one of the most versatile throwers in school history, competing in all four throwing events.
“I ended up being more of a jack-of-all-trades in college even though I wasn’t much of a javelin thrower in high school,” he said. “Basically, with the shot you don’t want to throw the javelin, but since I had some decent throws in high school, they ended up having me throw it in college. I remember being at a Big East championship in Villanova, and I threw the shot put, discus, hammer, and javelin.”
Along the way, Pehmoeller collected four Big East titles in the throws. In the training room, he set a school record in squats, and a record in the shot put that stood for more than a decade.
“I had a great coach in college, and he was a kinesiologist. He would say that an event like the shot put had about 5,000 things that you could do right or wrong on every single throw,” he said. “The goal was to do more things right than wrong. If you did that, you were a really good thrower.”
Pehmoeller didn’t quench his thirst for competition by the end of his NCAA career, but it was a couple of years later that he finally found a way to compete. His cousin told him about the Scottish Highland Games, and he packed his car for a road trip to Loon Mountain in New Hampshire.
“I had no idea what I was in for. I didn’t even know what kind of shoes to wear. I had never even seen it before,” he said. “I showed up and found out the first day was for professionals and the second day was for amateurs. I was there for the first day with a borrowed kilt from my secretary.”
In his first competition, Pehmoeller captured the stone throwing event, but he quickly learned that the other six events were more of a challenge. Slowly but surely, he began to rise in the rankings. By the mid-1990s, he was ranked fifth in the world.
Along the way, he set a new American record in the Sheaf toss, an event that requires a pitchfork to hurl a burlap bag stuffed with straw over a horizontal bar. Then, he set the world record in the Strong Man walk (99 feet) that shattered the former record (80 feet). A few years later, he decided to retire.
“You were moving something like two tons of weight on any given day,” he said. “It used to take me two days to recover. Once it got to two weeks, I called it quits. I never had an injury, so I felt I was pretty lucky. The younger guys were coming up with sponsors like Power Bar. Here I was an executive doing this as a weekend warrior.”
That wasn’t the end for Pehmoeller. He had developed a knack for training athletes during his time with the Scottish Games, and it wasn’t long before he returned to high school track & field. He saw some safety concerns during his daughter’s competition, alerted the coaches, and was drawn into their ranks.
“It wasn’t like I got into coaching to try to make them good,” he said. “I just didn’t want any of them getting hit in the head. With all my years of throwing, I learned a lot about safety. I didn’t see any of that, so I got involved.”
Over the next six years, Pehmoeller’s throwers captured New York State titles in every season. Two of his athletes were nationally ranked. To satisfy his own need for competition, Pehmoeller entered the Empire State Games, and he earned a pair of gold medals in the discus competition. Lately, he’s been competing as a cyclist with his most recent escapade in Portland, Oregan where he competed in a six-day, 600 mile race.
With his long career that spanned high school, college, and beyond, it was no surprise that Pehmoeller was selected to represent the town in the Southington Sports Hall of Fame. On Thursday, Nov. 8, he will be inducted in a ceremony at the Aqua Turf in Plantsville.
“It’s totally humbling,” he said. “So many people had a lot invested in me over the years. I’m sure everybody says it, but I really mean it. You can’t get to a point where you’re recognized like this without a lot of help and support from a lot of people.”
For tickets, contact Jim Verderame at (860) 628-7335.
To comment on this story or to contact sports writer John Goralski, email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.