Florida’s oldest, and perhaps strongest, corrections officer
SARASOTA, Fla. (AP) — Johnny Yong has worn the uniform of the Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office for 35 years, but in his heart he’s still a showman.
“I wish all people could be more like show people,” he said with his precise German accent. “We mix well with the common man.”
Born of a German mother and a Chinese father into Hitler’s Nazi Germany, Yong traveled the world performing classic feats of strength — the definitive circus strongman.
He and his brothers were “hand balancers,” who toured with Ringling Bros., the Harlem Globetrotters and Bob Hope, and appeared on television shows hosted by Ed Sullivan and Carol Burnett.
Nowadays, Yong wears lieutenant’s bars and is assigned to the county jail, where he supervises three sergeants, 38 corrections deputies and nine civilians.
Stories of him ripping phone books in half still circulate within the jail where, on Tuesday, there were 988 inmates in his custody and care.
He’s short but powerfully built, like a fireplug or, more accurately, two or three fireplugs squished together.
At 81, Yong is the oldest certified corrections officer in Florida, the state’s oldest law enforcement officer and the most senior lieutenant at the Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office.
He’s also still a strongman.
Yong just became a world champion for his age group at the World Association of Bench Pressers and Deadlifters competition in Las Vegas, by bench-pressing 225 pounds, 235 pounds and then 250 pounds.
“My record is 440 pounds, but that’s a couple of years ago,” he said. “I hurt myself with the 440. It ripped a rotator cuff. The doctor told me: ‘Johnny, your power-lifting days are over,’ but I trained slowly and came back. Last year in Vegas, I broke the world record with 337.1 pounds.”
A wall of the department’s small weight room bears certificates of Yong’s record-setting bench presses: 325 pounds in February 2012, 336 pounds in November 2012 and 337.1 pounds in 2013.
Fitness is his passion, and he’s become a role model for the other deputies, many of whom are young enough to be his grandsons.
“Every year we have to pass a physical fitness test,” Yong said. “Sheriff (Tom) Knight is very strict and wants his people in good shape.”
Some of his colleagues have asked him, jokingly, if he’s “on the juice.”
“I said, ‘Yes — orange juice!’” he said. “There’s no secret. I was an acrobat. I’m half German and half Chinese. Maybe it’s a good mixture.”
Sheriff’s Maj. Jeff Bell, the 32-year veteran who commands the jail, joked that Yong is the only one on staff old enough to be his father, but he turned serious when asked about Yong’s work.
“I feel very safe having him inside the jail,” Bell said. “He adds a whole new meaning to maturity in your position.”
Yong carried his massive gold medal onto the plane that took him home after attaining his world championship.
The pilots heard of his feat and announced it to the other passengers, many of whom were from Sarasota.
“They cheered me and gave me high-fives,” Yong said.
“They said, ‘Thanks for bringing the gold back to Sarasota.’”
Information from: Sarasota (Fla.) Herald-Tribune, http://www.heraldtribune.com