Dan Wohleber Yesterday at 12:39pm · Elyria, OH · Dan Wohleber was the greatest strength athlete you never heard of. In the late 1970s a smart, genuinely tough and ungodly strong skinny man named John Black opened a gym in a tough town: Cleveland. Black created a hardcore training facility that was a magnet for every bad ass in a bad ass town. John and Bob Fortenbaugh created a powerlifting squad that he campaigned at the junior national championships and senior national championships. Incongruosly (or unintentionally ironic) the gym was called Black’s Health World. This gym and these guys were anything but examples of “health.” Some were motorcycle outlaws, others were enforcers (allegedly) for Jackie Presser and the Teamsters. Some were debt collectors and others were called, “one punch.” They were also called “The Wild Bunch,” and for good reason: when roaming together as a pack, say at a bar, “incidents” would routinely occur. John Black was the strongest skinny man I ever saw. At 5-11 and 198 he could legitimately squat 800 below parallel and he could deadlift 775 any day of the week. Only a low 400-pound bench press kept him down. Black once fought in a Tuff Man competition because the gym was behind in rent. He tore up the competition and also tore a tricep in the final fight; this injury destroyed his bench press for the rest of his competitive career. For years I coached Black’s Gym at the national championships. In the lead up to the nationals, John would select the 11-man squad, handle the travel and hotel logistics and act as a buffer between our athletes and coaches and the officials. Bob Fortenbaugh and I would divide up the Black’s team lifters and competition coach them. We captured five national team championships and Bob and I were named as IPF world championship team coaches in 1991. We guided team USA to the world team title over 33 other countries. This was one of the highpoints of my life. John once related to me about the first time he ever saw Dan Wolheber. “This big 14-year old kid, maybe 180-pounds, walks into my gym. The kid watched as I deadlifted 405 for 10-reps, which at time, early in my lifting career was a new personal record. I was pretty pumped afterwards. As I am congratulating myself, the kid walks over to the bar and using a double overhand grip and the worst technique I have ever seen deadlifts the 405 for 14 reps! I was like, ‘What the f#@k!’ Naturally I gave the kid a free membership.” Within six years the kid became the first man in history to deadlift 900 pounds. But that is getting ahead of the story. Danny was taken under the wing of the Black’s crew. He got so strong so fast that he ended up ripping a pectoral. Not having the money to get the ripped muscle surgically repaired, from that point forward he essentially bench pressed with one arm. I first crossed paths with Dan when I worked with Mark Challiet as his coach. Mark and Dan faced off in the 242-pound class in an epic battle in 1980 that was one of the most exciting I have ever seen or been a part of. Mark was on that day. We watched as Wolheber opened his squats with 821-pounds, which he missed. Mark made his conservative opener and his second attempt with 788. Danny jumped to 841 on his second squat and missed again. Mark jumped to 804 for close miss. Wolheber insanely jump to 871-pounds, this was well above the current world record. I was elated, when Dan missed this weight he would be out of the competition. Bye Bye our toughest competitor. I did not see this, but later heard that Dan was smoking a Marlboro prior to the world record attempt. When his name called, he stood, flicked the butt across the backstage warmup room and said, “Showtime.” He then strode the platform a crushed the squat, setting a world record that stood for years. Strangely, my boy Kirk Karwoski was the man that bested this lift with a 904-pound world record. Mark’s worst lift was the bench press. He was a world record holder in the deadlift and a fabulous squatter, but his long arms hurt his bench press. As bad as Mark’s bench press, Dan’s was even worse. At the competition, Mark benched a so-so 452, peanuts for the 242-pound class where 550-pound shirtless bench presses were not uncommon. Dan Wolheber bench pressed 369-pounds that day, the lowest bench press ever posted by a national champion in the 242-pound class. Going into the deadlift, it was a see-saw battle between the two best 242-pound deadlifters in the world. Mark made his opening deadlift and Dan would respond with a slightly higher success to retake the lead. It all came down to Wolheber’s final deadlift with 821 pounds. If he made it, he’d be the national champion. I watched with a sinking feeling as he broke the bar from the floor and ratcheted it to lockout for the win. The crowd went crazy. What a freaking rocket ride. Dan was selected as a member of the United States powerlifting squad that competed in India at the world championships. Danny was a young boy traveling outside the United States for the first time. He had a terrible trip: cars, buses, 18-hour plane rides, horrible food and horrible Indian heat. He placed a disappointing third. He had, however, one of the best excuses in the history of athletics: he caught malaria. He recovered and reemerged two years later. He was much bigger and stronger. Weighing a full 275 pounds, Dan shattered world records and shocked the world when, after squatting an astronomical 960-pounds, he then made the first 900-pound deadlift in history. The deadlift was earth-shattering. The 900 pull had been in the gunsights of superheavyweight lifters for a decade and though many got close, no one had pulled 900. The fact that the man weighing a mere 270-pounds made the lift further amplified the accomplishment. In this wretched era of “deadlift only” competitions (don’t even get me started on allowing straps, hitching, and bendy bars) Dan pulled 900 after squatting 960. There is an unimaginable degree of pre-fatigue that a world record squat will inflict on any deadlift that follows. The two lifts use many of the same muscles, thighs, erectors, abdominals and hamstrings. Before he tied into the final 900-pound deadlift, Dan had squatted 840 (in the warm-up room) made an opening attempt with 900, a second attempt squat with 930 before the world record 960 effort. Then the deadlifts: he pulled 800 in the warm-up room before opening with an 840 pull, them 870. That is a hell of a lot of super heavy squatting and deadlifting before being allowed to attack 900. Can you imagine how much he could have pulled on this day had he not had to squat? I think a 950-pound pull would have been a lead pipe cinch. Oh, and by the way, Dan’s two lift total of 1,860-pounds (960 squat + 900 deadlift) was not exceeded by any lifter, regardless of bodyweight, for fourteen years, until power God Ed Coan exceeded it weighing a ‘mere’ 242-pounds. Dan’s roll was ended when he suffered a horrific squat wipeout with 900 + pounds. He told me that the massively powerful John Florio saved his life by retarding and redirecting the bar path when both knees were ripped apart simultaneously. Dan came back from this gruesome occurrence and lifted at the inaugural APF world championships in Maui. I was there coaching Chaillet and the two giants were lifting against one another again. Again Dan missed his first two squats on technicalities and again he kept upping the poundage, despite miscues. Mark stood next to me as we watched Dan get ready for his 3rd. For Mark and I, it was déjà vu all over. “Oh my God…” Challiet groaned, “not this nightmare again1” Mark said this under his breath as we remembered our last encounter with Dan. It was not to be. Danny did not get his 3rd squat and Mark won the title. In 2018 the exploits of these strength giants are forgotten. In 2018 the methods that they used to set records that cannot be surpassed to this day, assuming legitimate lifts are done without supportive gear and corrupted judging. It blows my mind that internet guru with lots of followers and no credentials (or bogus credentials) proliferate and prosper while the methods of the giants are forgotten.