And yet he still found a way to write his name into another chapter of powerlifting history.
Rychlak, of Royersford, became the first man to ever bench 1,000 pounds as he pressed 1,005 pounds Sunday, Nov. 21 at the IPA Nationals in Shamokin Dam. Rychlak, who is also the first man to ever bench 900 pounds, said battling nerves before the big lift was nearly as hard as the half-ton he had to push off his chest.
"I tried not to think about it, but I had a hard time just functioning," Rychlak, 36, said. "I was dry heaving before the meet and had a four-day headache going into the event. But as soon as the meet was done, the symptoms drifted away."
Though Rychlak had to battle the pre-meet butterflies, he said his other big lifts have come under similar symptoms.
"My body knew I was going to get it," Rychlak said, a 375-pounder who graduated from Spring-Ford High School.
Rychlak opened the meet with a 950-pound first attempt that went up so easy, his three "handlers" who help hand off the bar from the rack started giggling after the lift. He missed 1,005 pounds on his second go-round as the bar drifted back toward his face.
"And when you're lifting that weight you need to be in an exact groove," Rychlak said.
With the motivation of missing his second lift in the back of his mind, Rychlak repeated 1,005 pounds in his third attempt, worked the bar down toward his chest and then pressed the weight after the command, racked the bar and made the historic lift official. Rychlak made the lift with the initials of his mom, who died when he was 19, written on his forearms.
"This was the holy grail (1,000 pounds), the mythical achievement that nobody thought would happen," Rychlak said.
Rychlak holds the world bench press record in the super heavyweight division, with his closest competitor and nemesis Scott Mendelson 135 pounds away from the feat. Rychlak passed Mendelson for the record last November, and hasn't looked back since.
While Rychlak considers himself the king of his sport, he doesn't receive the compensation or endorsement deals pros from the NFL, NBA and MLB do. As a full-time powerlifter, Rychlak earns money by running lifting tournaments, and gets a cut from supplement and powerlifting gear companies he's sponsored by. But when it comes to meals, airline tickets, tournament entry fees (which are commonly $100 and up) and hotels, Rychlak depends on sponsors who pay ahead for him.
"I am the Michael Jordon and Mike Tyson of my sport, but I feel more like Rodney Dangerfield," Rychlak said. "All I ask is for help, I'm not looking to be a millionaire, but I'm looking to get started and get the ball rolling."
An example of Rychlak's struggles came a few weeks ago when the engine in his truck blew, which hauls his custom-built steel 600-pound bench "Big Bertha" to tournaments. Coupled with the weight from the bench, bar, Rychlak and his handlers, the platform he lifts on has to hold nearly 2,400 pounds.
But without a truck to haul Big Bertha, he's out of luck. So with no money to fix the truck, buy a new one or continue renting and borrowing, Rychlak went on a three-state 30-car dealer tour as he tried to find a dealership who would sponsor him and give him a free vehicle.
His search came up empty, but his mechanic - who has followed Rychlak's career - set up a payment plan to help out. Though the truck's now fixed, Rychlak's still looking to woo the right sponsor who will help make life more comfortable. And now that he's lifted 1,000 pounds, he hopes those elusive endorsement deals are right around the corner.
If he signed such a deal, Rychlak would like to repair the house he lives in with his dad, buy medical insurance and help pay day-to-day bills.
"I'm not greedy, but I don't want to have to worry about money for gas, TV or groceries," Rychlak said.
When Rychlak isn't battling money issues, he's trying to get his name firmly entrenched as the king of the bench press. Several polls were published in lifting magazines asking who would be the first to break 1,000 pounds, and Rychlak was rarely picked to break the mark, though he was the closest. He's also graced the covers of the magazines, but feels he's been slighted as a contender rather than the favorite.
"Even as I got closer (to 1,000 pounds), I was dismissed," Rychlak said. "That ticked me off that I wasn't getting credit and the respect my lifting afforded me."
NOT DONE YET
Though Rychlak admits 1,000 pounds is a major accomplishment, he's not about to stop there.
"I'm not done yet," Rychlak said. "I want to put this away. I want to put the record in a spot that it will take a genetic superfreak to break it."
Rychlak, who has added 100 pounds to his bench the last three years, says 1,100 pounds is doable and 1,200 is possible. For now, he'll take a month off to recoup, and tweak his training (which lasts anywhere from 45 minutes to nearly two hours daily). Rychlak's training system he credits with making the jump from a 500-pound bench press to 1,000 pounds uses flexible stretch bands tied from the bar to the bench. The resistance, he has said, is what builds muscle able to handle the massive weight he's accustomed to.
Once he's back in tournament shape, Rychlak plans on heading out to California to square off against Mendelson, if he can secure the financing, that is. Mendelson and Rychlak have faced head-to-head twice, with Mendelson winning the Bench American event on July 4, and Rychlak besting his rival in the Arnold Classic.
"I just keep getting stronger and stronger," Rychlak said, "there's no stopping me."