On August 16, 1991, a 10-year-old Roger Lockridge was witness to his mother’s 911 call from Greenbrier County. He remember s it went like this:
Mrs. Lockridge: “Please send the police. My husband says we’re all gonna die and then he’s gonna kill himself.”
911 dispatcher: “Ma’am, I’m afraid we don’t handle domestic affairs.”
Mrs. Lockridge: “Well then, please send an ambulance to Muddy Creek Mountain to pick me up … and if my kids are still alive, pick them up, too.”
“I don’t know if it was the way my mom said it, she was so calm it scared me. But the dispatcher knew she meant business. A state trooper showed up in 5 minutes.”
Lockridge, an adult survivor of repeated domestic violence perpetrated by his father, says the initial response to his mother’s plea for help would never happen in this day and time, when any report of violence is taken seriously. He has since found strength and confidence in the fitness world to support a platform for speaking out as a victim and working with others affected by the devastating family syndrome.
As a 6-year-old, Lockridge had grown accustomed to last call at Tom & Trudy’s bar, where the owner would give him a roll of quarters for playing the jukebox and video games when it appeared his dad was in a particularly bad way. He has a single positive memory of a father-son football bout that lasted about 15 minutes, a quarter-hour of one good day. Fights escalated between his mother and a man he believes was an alcoholic from the time he was a teenager, long before he purposed to start a family.
“Dad tried, but his body got to the point where it needed alcohol like yours and mine needs water.”
Roger was a shy, scrawny boy. A good student and an academic achiever from an early age, further marking him as a target for bullies. One of his first memories is of learning the alphabet backwards before he learned it forwards, prompted by a Sesame Street episode. He earned candy from bus drivers for his strange recitation; he likewise earned the admiration of teachers, curricular praise he drank in as deeply as his dad pulled from the bottle.
“From 2nd grade on, school served as my escape. I liked the feeling of being challenged, of getting praise. I did my best to hold on to that,” he admits.
Lockridge, in good ’90s company, was an avid fan of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. They transported him to another place, the green muscled action figures, symbols of strength and defeaters of evil. On more than one occasion, it was a resounding slap that awoke him from his favorite world of pretend.
“There’d be my mom, laying on the floor and my dad standing over her and yelling at her.”
Some mornings before she would trudge off to work as part of the kitchen staff at a local hospital, she spent extra time fixing her hair over a bald spot to cover evidence of a violent encounter the night previous. Lockridge wonders now at the apathy of those she encountered daily, seeing her over steam tables of food, with hollow, downturned eyes and a heavy heart.
“She saw every nurse, administrator, doctor and janitor in the cafeteria. She would have bruises, her hair ripped out of her head, her false teeth knocked out, and no one, not even health professionals, talked to her about domestic violence.”
There were no superheroes to save her. She would have to do that herself.
Father didn’t know best that day on Muddy Creek Mountain. A frightening chain of events at the end of a knock-down-drag-out fight led to a turning point for the family minus dad, one that allowed them to grow up safe, whole and productive.
Mrs. Lockridge decided she’d had enough. She made her way to her mother-in-law’s house across the road for safety. Intuitively, Lockridge’s father followed. He cornered them, his wife, two sons and two daughters, and his own mother, producing a loaded shotgun, alternating its aim upon each one of them and announcing his plans to override their God-given fate: He was going to kill them, the lot of them, then turn the gun on himself.
The middle child played numbly with his turtle figures, trying to escape back to where good always triumphed over bad. When he looked up, his father’s possessed gaze fell on him, joined by the cold stare from the barrel of the shotgun.
According to Lockridge, his father suddenly lowered the gun and left the house. He says his mother, the most qualified to interpret dad’s erratic behavior, claimed he went to dismantle the wiring to the car’s engine, preventing unexpected escapes before making good on his desperate promise. The impulse had afforded her the time to make the call to law enforcement.
His dad ran away into the woods when the troopers came. The four Lockridge children were escorted with mom from danger and into the Family Refuge Center.
“We were there four months. We left Christmas Eve 1991 and moved into an apartment.”
His mother and father were divorced and the two never attempted reconciliation.
Lockridge now works with the Child Youth and Advocacy Center in Lewisburg, assisting professionals in their services to children, many affected by domestic violence. He is an award-winning fitness writer for Bodybuilding.com and for Iron Man magazine, as well as a motivational speaker.
The successful certified personal trainer and business management and marketing grad says people are surprised by two things concerning his story: his decision to enter bodybuilding and the physical change that ensued, and his passion for keeping his current post in light of his success in the fitness world.
Proudly calling himself a “glorified secretary,” he helps to document and process CYAC forensic interviews, generally assisting where needed in victim support. Lockridge sees value in his story and his role, albeit humble, at the CYAC. Last year, he acted as the technician recording 310 interviews with children in potentially dangerous family situations.
“I hustle to get those DVDs to the authorities, because it’s critical to get the evidence needed for indictments to protect the children,” he states.
Continuing an aggressive writing and speaking schedule while fulfilling his CYAC duties, Lockridge’s 2012 goal is to address groups at all 14 of West Virginia’s domestic violence shelters, inspiring present victims with his strength and his recollections.
“It’s funny. I never wanted to tell my story. You hear so much about battered women and there are stats to prove the majority of victims are women, but you don’t hear too much from the children’s perspective, dealing with the emotional and mental abuse. Having a gun held to your head by anyone is devastating enough. But looking up at a shotgun and seeing your father on the other end of it … I wouldn’t wish that on anybody.”
He is a prolific contributor to Bodybuilding.com, having won their prestigious Writer of the Year award in 2009. The recognition afforded him the chance to meet real-life idols Sylvester Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger. Lockridge says the online publication gets 11 million visits a month, 800,000 hits a day. On the print side of fitness writing, many of his freelance fitness articles are reprinted by Iron Man magazine.
“It amazes me that I can go to Walmart right now, find Iron Man and see my name in it. That’s a pretty awesome feeling.”
Is bodybuilding a physical response to the childhood emotional trauma he endured? Lockridge affirms his past is part of the reason he wanted to bulk up.
“Something I wanted was to feel stronger, not weak anymore like back then. I was also bullied a lot in school. I wanted to take weight training if for nothing else so I wouldn’t feel weak.”
Lockridge says he is the only survivor who stayed at, then went on to work for and to accept a position on the Board of Directors at The Family Refuge Center, where he, his siblings and mother found a safe haven over 20 years ago.
He and wife, Stella, are expecting their first child this year, a special milestone for him as a father determined to do better for his own, another chance to distance himself from the time elapse of painful days.
“You don’t hear about fitness people or people in athletics or sports speaking out against domestic violence. Not only am I a child survivor of domestic violence, but I am a male survivor, and I broke the cycle.”
Thinking back to the scared little boy he used to be and considering others in similar situations and worse, he offers this advice, “It’s not a ‘do’, it’s a ‘do not’ — do not wait for someone to ask you if something’s wrong. If you feel you need help, ask. There’s no shame in that. If anything, it can save lives. Don’t think nobody cares. People care.”
For more information on Roger Lockridge’s advocacy efforts and fitness articles, visit Bodybuilding .com. Or see his personal website: rogerlockridge.webs.com .