It’s 3 a.m. and Fred Lokuta bounds out of bed without an alarm. It’s what you might expect of a guy who holds two state weightlifting records, but Lokuta does not wake up early to work out. He wakes up early to go to work.
As Deputy Secretary for the Pennsylvania Department of Public Welfare’s Office of Developmental Programs (ODP), Lokuta has a 112-mile commute from his home in Dupont to Harrisburg. But he loves his work and says he cannot wait to get going every morning. The weights have to, well, wait.
Fred Lokuta was born strong.
Even as a 50-pound center in junior football he remembers feeling stronger than most of the bigger kids.
Strength, he says, has more to do with what you cannot see than what you can.
When it comes to Lokuta, what you can see are a powerful chest, broad back, and bulging biceps. But what you can’t — what’s deep in his gut — is what has made him a current record holder and has him ranked 5th in the nation in the 40-and-over category.
At 52 years old and 148 pounds, he holds the state bench press record in the masters division (290 pounds) and in the open division (290 pounds).
“I really believe there is such a thing as natural a strength,” he says. “I believe it is genetic.”
He also believes strength shows up in more places than in the weight room. His job is one.
Lokuta is administrator of the DPW’s intellectual disabilities program, overseeing a $3 billion budget and 3,000 employees statewide. He is at his desk by 6 a.m. and typically does not leave for home until 6 p.m. “I answer about 250 emails a day,” he says.
And that is only part of the job. He spends a lot of time in the Capital and also does a lot of travel throughout the state. Never forgetting where his career began, he still makes time to visit families in their homes. “That’s important to me,” he says.
His job requires him giving a lot of speeches which is ironic, he says, because he shied away from a career in teaching because he didn’t like talking in front of people.
Lokuta says he always has been an early riser and wakes up before 3 a.m. even on weekends. He eats no breakfast and is in his car and on his way before 4. “I truly can’t wait to get to work,” he says. “Right now our concern is the future for the clients and the stakeholders — the parents and the providers. What does the future need to look like for them?”
Lokuta has served the Commonwealth for more than 28 years in the ODP. He began as a Direct Support Worker and worked his way up to the White Haven Center’s Facility Director and more recently as the Acting ICF/ID Division Director. He served as Acting Deputy Secretary for ODP since November 2012 and was then appointed Deputy Secretary in February 2013.
He could not be in a more perfect career for him, he says. “Both my mom and dad instilled in me a strong sense of caring about others. They set the example for me throughout my life. They also taught me that life is precious and to be valued — and never to be taken for granted. My father always said ‘Picture things that others would not dream possible.’ He was a big believer in hard work and being the best you can be.”
Lokuta’s father, Fred Sr., inspires his weightlifting as well as his work. “He was my biggest supporter when I was wrestling in high school,” Lokuta, a district champion at Pittston Area, says.
Lokuta says his father, who died in 2005, still inspires him. He thinks a lot about him during his drives to Harrisburg — “I never play the radio,” he says — and while he is working out. “I describe him as a cross between Fred Rogers and Vince Lombardi,” he says. It’s the Lombardi part that’s with him during his workouts.
Lokuta hits the gym (Planet Fitness) three separate times on Saturdays and Sundays (two one-and-a-half hour sessions and one 20 minute aerobic session) and three other days for an hour to an hour-and-a-half. His flat bench workouts consist of 12 sets of weightlifting, starting with an empty bar and working his way up to 325 pounds. “I pyramid up and then I pyramid back down,” he says.
Then he puts about 160 pounds on the bar and works to exhaustion, until he can do no more. He calls this “working to failure” and says it is the key to getting stronger.
In between sets, Lokuta spends a few minutes just thinking, mostly about his mom and dad. “My mom is the silent rock who always puts others’ needs first. I am the luckiest guy alive in having two parents who I continue to admire and please. Although my dad has passed, he remains alive in my heart and spirit.”
Lokuta also thanks his wife, the former Linda Scryba, to whom he has been married for 27 tears, and children Freddie, 20, and Camaryn, 15, for their support. “I couldn’t do any of this without their understanding,” he says.