Everybody's getting into the act: More tales of supernatural strength.

February 17, 2006

Dear Cecil:

In 1989, when I was a freshman at Baylor University in Texas, I was driving one evening to meet friends for dinner. I came over a hill and noticed a car on its last of several flips in a ditch on the side of the road. I quickly pulled over. The driver jumped out screaming--his buddy in the passenger seat had been thrown from the car. Another person stopped and noticed a body pinned under the front bumper in the ditch. I grabbed the driver's side of the car and lifted it up four-or-so feet, long enough to realize the guy was unfortunately dead.

About 15 years ago I had a friend named Jerry who was about six-six and one of the strongest people I ever knew. He picked up cars regularly. I don't mean completely off the ground, but I do mean two wheels. He lifted the right half of my 1988 Toyota Corolla GT-S about 12 inches off the ground.

I am Anthony Vincent Cavallo II. I am writing you because I can. My mom did save my life! The story was a little off. The wheel was never removed from the car, the rear suspension spring was (that's what holds up the rear of the car). I was clamped between the top of the rear wheel and the top of the fender. My mom may not have lifted it a full four inches, but she held it up so friends could get a jack under it and pull me out. Ironically I have continued my automotive education and now run five Goodyear tire stores.

That was part of your automotive education? Man, kids think their homework now is a bitch. Thanks to testimonials like yours plus a little additional investigation, I'm now ready to deliver my solemn judgment on superhuman strength. (The Straight Dope 060120: SuperMom: Could a mother actually lift a car to save her child?)  First a last few facts:

  • I found out more about Sinjin Eberle, the guy who pushed the 500-pound rock off himself, having obtained the original report in Accidents in North American Mountaineering from editor Jed Williamson. On May 9, 1999, Eberle and Marc Beverly were climbing Hail Peak in New Mexico's Sandia Mountain Wilderness when Eberle inadvertently pulled loose a large boulder, which fell on top of him as Beverly watched helplessly from above. "All I could see of Sinjin was from the middle of his shins down and the top of his head," Beverly wrote. "The rock covered the rest of his body and was dragging him down the slope I had just crossed. . . . Somehow, with the inertia of the rock . . . and all of his strength, Sinjin was able to get the rock off himself" but sustained serious injuries and was eventually flown to a hospital by helicopter. Eberle himself minimizes his contribution: "The rock fell onto me, but I was on about a 45 degree slope," he tells me via e-mail. "The rock slid over me to the nearby cliff, where it went over and I did not."
  • Little Ed, proving he's not a total waste of hydrocarbons, obtained the following account from Wendell Pew, a retired minister. On July 27, 1957, Pew, then 29, was driving through eastern Nebraska with his wife, Lois, and their two small children. He pulled into a crossroads without noticing an approaching vehicle, which smashed into his right front side. Lois was thrown from the car, which then rolled over her, coming to rest with the right rear tire on her shoulder as she lay face down. Pew grabbed the fender, and pulled up, taking enough weight off the still-conscious Lois that she was able to free herself. She suffered numerous broken bones and was hospitalized for 15 weeks but recovered fully. Pew describes himself as five- eleven, 180-190 pounds at the time, and athletic, and says the car, a 1953 Studebaker Champion, was light. Could he have lifted it under normal conditions? No idea.

Conclusions: (1) Some people can lift up cars, etc, in moments of extremity. (2) Some people can lift up cars any old time. (3) Many supposedly superhuman feats of strength are less impressive on close inquiry. (4) Just the same, Sinjin Eberle, Angela Cavallo, and Wendell Pew aren't folks I'd care to cross during a crisis. (5) Science confirms that stimuli such as adrenaline can modestly boost performance. (6) No one seriously contends that humans can do things beyond the physiological limits of bone, muscle, and sinew, so none of the above is a real shockeroo. (7) No matter how superhumanly hard you try, you're still going to get some detail of a story told over the phone goofed up. Sorry about the accident specifics, Tony. And say hi to your mom.

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