By Mimi Wood, Senior Staff Writer for Island Eye News
“Leo is Leo,” states Drew Harris, Principal, Be Local Homes. “Everyone on Sullivan’s knows him.” Supporting his longtime friend’s observation, Leo Fetter himself continues, “I’m like Dennis the Menace. I make my rounds, say ‛Hi!’ to all my friends, and leave a dotted line behind me.” But now this larger-than-life, island personality has left a mark more permanent than a dotted line…Fetter has set the state record in his division for the United States Powerlifting Association, deadlifting 353 pounds. “When I was about 17, I saw Sylvester Stallone deadlifting, and thought ‘I want to do that one day’.” Fetter started lifting at the Charleston Barbell Club, “about 35 years ago, when I quit drinking, to lose weight,” he recalls. He consistently lifted and competed, until about 5 years ago, when he turned 60. “I took about two years off,” he explains, when one day Wesley Coles, his 7 year-old neighbor, called across the yard, “When are you going to start lifting again?” And with that, Fetter was off to the races. Or rather, the gym. When not training with Justin Price at Aspire Fitness, Fetter can be found at Robert Short’s Old Village Gym. “I can’t believe I was ever able to play sports,” Fetter recalls his childhood, “I had three corrective foot surgeries before I reached third grade, and then wore leg braces,” to straighten both his feet, turned in at right angles at birth. “Surfing was my first sport,” noting that it was “somewhat hard to come back and surf Sullivan’s, after riding bigger waves” in San Diego, Baja, Mexico and Eleuthera, Bahamas. Fetter also overcame a speech impediment, and “attention deficit, before that was a thing.” “My parents,” he credits, “knew something was wrong.”
The eldest of seven children, Fetter exhibits few of the classic Type A personality traits typical of a first-born, describing himself as a “C personality.” Meaning, he’s pretty darn laid-back. Studying world history at Wando High School sparked the travel bug in Fetter, as he wondered, “How am I going to see all those places?” He enlisted in the Army National Guard, and was stationed locally, after working at the Navy Shipyard with his father for several years. Completing a 6-year stint, he re-enlisted 3 years later, around 1988. It was at that time the Army National Guard asked Fetter to travel overseas. “My dad was in the military, so he encouraged me,” Fetter remembers. “I went all over Europe and Central America,” before ultimately ending up in Iraq, in 2004. “I was in communications, behind the lines, providing data and voice support for the troops to complete their missions,” using cellphones before they were pervasive. “They give everything to the military [first], to see if we can break it,” he quips. “Most people mistake me for a Marine,” Fetter continues, and it’s easy to see why, with his classic crew cut and trim physique. “I don’t diet; I eat fruits and vegetables,” he confides, but also, “mostly eat lunch out,” circulating through all the Sullivan’s restaurants, noting Home Team as a favorite. With regard to training, he listens to his body, taking a day off if he feels fatigued. “I walk a lot,” he expounds. “I like to keep it simple.” His favorite thing to do in the evening is “watch cowboy movies on rabbit ears.” Fetter counts renowned local author Dorothea Benton Frank, as well as celebrity Stephen Colbert among his legion of friends. “I even have a selfie with Trump,” whipping out his cell for proof. With his open, engaging personality it would be hard to believe he ever met a stranger.
Proud to be an Eagle Scout, Fetter also treasures his stash of “Challenge Coins” that he earned while in the Army National Guard. “They’re hard to get,” explains Paul Walker, former Navy Air Traffic Controller, now coffee aficionado and co-proprietor of Café Paname on Isle of Palms. “You earn them in recognition for a job well done. In many ways, they are harder to obtain than medals.” Fetter has a drawer full of them. Fetter’s list of achievements also include a selfpublished book, A Kids Playground: Growing Up on Sullivan’s Island. His weight lifting trophies, numerous and large, occupy his carriage house on the property that’s been in his family since the 1960s. With roots in Ireland, his ancestry on Sullivan’s goes back to the 1800s. A confirmed bachelor, Fetter’s piercing blue eyes twinkle mischievously as he notes, “Maybe one day I’ll find the right girl. No hurry.”
Fetter’s immediate goal is to deadlift 405 pounds by Christmas. “Leo Fetter is a testament to the value of sustained attention,” states Price. “Showing us what we can accomplish at any age if we are willing to fully commit ourselves to the task.”
Leo Fetter’s book, A Kids Playground: Growing Up on Sullivan’s Island can be purchased on Amazon.