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“[Todd] was such a monster—a true force, but also a kind heart and a great story teller.” Arnold Schwarzenegger on Twitter after learning of Terry’s death

Iron Game Giant Dies



Terry Todd the day after he won the first official Senior National Powerlifting Championship

Terry Todd was a bigger than life strongman, scholar, lecturer, journalist, author, strength coach, and ground breaking historian. A superb wordsmith, it brings a smile to imagine him chuckling as people around the world struggle to find words to express their thoughts on his passing. A man who devoted his life to what he loved—two milestones stand out. The first was achieved on his own and the second in partnership with his strong and cerebral wife. He became the first official senior national powerlifting champion as a superheavyweight (twice in a row) making him arguably the strongest man of his time. Secondly, he and Jan Todd co-founded the H. J. Lutcher Stark Center for Physical Culture and Sports on the campus of the University of Texas at Austin. The Stark Center has become the world’s premier academic library of materials relating to strength and physical culture.



Carol took this photo in the bowels of the secured area housing the Stark Center collection.

This room full of old-time lifting paraphernalia lies at the end of a long corridor of moving filing cabinets full of documents
 reflecting people and events in the history of physical culture and sports.   


For many more details on Terry Todd’s amazingly rich and productive life, see The Tribute & Message from the Todd Family: https://www.starkcenter.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/07/terrytodd-obit.pdf  (This compendium of Terry's life is mind blowing. He was a “doer” like no other in the history of strength and physical culture.)

*  *  *

Terry and I were born a few weeks apart. He delighted in being younger, “forgetting” that the difference is de mininimis. (He’d love the legalese.) We’ve known of each other since our teen years competing in Texas lifting meets, but didn’t really get to know each other until about 20 years ago (we’d corresponded before that and Terry had come to the Cooper Clinic to see my treadmill stress test at 55) when he called to inquire if I had any experience with testosterone replacement therapy. He never explained why he wanted to know—he was celebrated for knowing everything about everybody in the Iron Game—but after that often referred to himself as “Low T” in our increasingly frequent banter. He enjoyed coming up with nicknames for people he liked. Mine was “Big Sea.” (Carol was Little Sea and Terry himself was usually Tea.)

I have an accordion file full of email exchanges. The thing that stands out for me is our dueling prose. I’ll miss trying to match his way with words—and almost always coming up short. His vocabulary and knowledge of literature and the ways of the world were unmatched in my estimation.

Terry and I had a special relationship. We were brothers in our love and respect for the Iron Game. While his core interest was pure strength, he appreciated the need for balanced fitness. He and Jan wrote a wonderful book titled Lift Your Way to Youthful Fitness, which I referenced in my book RIPPED 3: The Recipes, The Routines & The Reasons.

While I could never match his innate strength, intellect and scholarship, he understood my appeal to those interested in lifetime fitness. He sent many journalists and academics my way, telling them about the bald guy who lives on a mountain top with his wife and has much to offer those who want to stay young and fit as long as possible. We both had a passion for physical culture; he studied it from every angle and I lived and wrote about it.  

His early retirement from competition set the trajectory of his life. He decided then and there that he’d rather spend time studying and writing than in the gym. He always trained but never again let it consume his life. He also decided to lose weight—and stayed slim (by his standards) the rest of his life. He wrote about it on our Success Stories page. We're reproducing it here, because it goes far beyond his weight loss, shedding light on his way of thinking and lifestyle.

*  *  *

As for your “Biggest Loser” piece, I read it the morning it appeared and found it to be the most thorough—yet easy to understand—explanation that our evolutionary capacity to avoid starvation is even more rigorous, long-lasting, and unyielding than I’d realized. In my own case, one thing I do find occasionally difficult these days is to eat less than I’d like to eat and—throughout my life—have eaten. I understand it, of course, but I don’t particularly care for it.

My situation is unusual in that although I gained the 140-150 pounds I packed on over about ten years relatively slowly—12-15 pounds per year--when I stopped competing, did very few squats or deadlifts, never went to limit weights in any exercise, spent much less time in the weight room, and dug out my tennis racket. I dropped almost a hundred pounds in only eight or nine months. When I stopped thinking about competing I also stopped drinking the three or so quarts of whole milk that I drank during most of my competitive career. My point is that ever since I made this radical change in my weight training program I’ve never gone back to Dr. Thomas DeLorme’s classic Progressive Resistance Exercise—although I probably still ate as much of all the basic food groups for the next 40-45 years. Finally, in very recent years--as I gradually lost muscle, strength, and especially power--I’ve been able to tell that I should be employing a bit more caution at the table. I realized that although I weighed about the same I was not the same, physically.

Like my maternal grandfather, Marvin Williams, who was a famous eater until his 90th year—when he finally quit bucking hay and working cattle and, as a result, ate a little less—I’ve always loved to eat and to eat my fill. For the last half century I’ve rarely eaten less at my main meal of the day (usually dinner) than a half chicken, or two burgers, or a pound of either beef or fish or venison or pork (wild when I could get it, which was at least half of that period), along with a lot of fresh vegetables and fruit, especially vegetables, of all kinds. I’ve never eaten bread regularly unless I was having sandwiches and I doubt if I averaged two desserts a month during my adult life.

However, even though I ate so freely all those years my bodyweight rarely went below 245 or above 265. Part of this was due to the regular tennis I played until I was almost 40 and moved to rural Nova Scotia where tennis courts were uncommon, especially in the country. Even so, the work I did cutting and hauling wood with my draft horses—along with my regular trips to the weight room with Jan, who was then beginning to exercise her considerable genetic aptitude for heavy lifting—allowed me to give full play to my appetite and to drink a beer or some wine with evening meals most weekends. Although I never gave it much thought it occasionally made me grateful that my body was somehow “happy” when I was in the 245-260 range and physically active without really pushing the weights. But I rarely skipped workouts—usually only when I was facing a period of hard work on one of the country places where Jan and I have spent most of our lives together. I almost never weighed myself during those years, and I retained a lot of the strength I gained during my decade of obsession as a competitive lifter.

But as my metabolism began to change, and as various small orthopedic problems (chief among them a badly torn rotator cuff, which came from the service motion in tennis) began to make it more difficult for me to exercise in the way that suited me, I trained fewer muscle groups, particularly in the upper body. This removed some of the pleasure I got from training, along with some of the muscle mass I’d always maintained so easily, and so I trained with less weight and did a bit more walking. I actually believe that had I not ruined my rotator cuff and developed a partly frozen right shoulder I’d have remained more like my younger self even later in life than I have, just as Papa Williams did, and not have to wonder whether I should eat that last piece of chicken or that last avocado. But I consider myself to have been undeservedly lucky to have had the ancestors I had. (Both grandfathers were in their 90th year when they died, both were very healthy and injury-free throughout their long lives, both were much heavier than the recommended weight for their height and ages, and both were wise and hard-working—as were both grandmothers, one of whom died at 97, lived alone for a few years at the end, and never stopped taking care of her yard and trying out new recipes, mainly on me).

As for Jan, who had more natural aptitude for strength than I had (allowing for the difference in gender) she has held onto her acquired strength rather well, although she weighs quite a bit more than she’d like to weigh. She actually did more or less the same thing I did years ago when she dropped over 80 pounds very quickly through a change in diet and lots of farm work and gardening, but in her case she still felt so strong at the lighter weight that she decided to lift in a few contests as a “Lightweight.” Accordingly, just as she broke records in all the classes on the way up from 165 to 181 to 198 to super-heavy she was able to lift in 148 pound class and set the first drug-tested world record for women by pulling 474 (I think) weighing 146.

In my case, once I retired from the platform I intentionally avoided going to, or even near, limit weights because I was actually fearful that the same sort of obsessiveness which drove me to train on holidays, alone, and even—especially—when what I really wanted to do was to pick up whatever novel I was reading, get a bowlful of almonds or roasted pecans, put on some blues, ease back into my favorite chair, and fall under the sway of the well-written word. During the many years when Jan and I worked with young powerlifters in Canada, Auburn University, and here at the University of Texas, some of the boys would occasionally say, “Doc, you’re still pretty stout, you ought to enter this coming contest with us.” My standard reply was something like, “Boys, the last time I had a sticking point in the gym was back in 1967, and my hope is that I never have one again.” And then we’d all laugh.

A considerable difference between me and Jan in the years since we dropped so much weight so quickly is that every now and again she’d take a notion to go heavy in the deadlift for a several weeks and work up to a few reps with between 300 pounds to over 400 pounds—even well after she was 50. As for her weight, Jan loves to cook, to eat, and to feed people—along with the many animals we’ve had through the years, including Bill Kazmaier and Mark Henry. I should add that Jan’s overall health markers have always been excellent, and she has the same truly unusual capacity for sustained work she’s always had—even before she began lifting. As an undergraduate in college, she carried a full load of classes, worked part-time, and for her last two years was the managing editor of the university newspaper. Jan chose her ancestors well, just as I did.

*  *  *

Terry was truly unique. It's impossible to quantify the many ways in which he will be missed.

As a long-time friend said when he learned of Terry's passing, “It may seem that our world is a bit weaker today but actually we are all immeasurably and eternally stronger for having known him.”

“May GOD have a special place in heaven for him,” as our friend Richard Sanders added.



Terry at the conference celebrating Clarence's 75th birthday and publication of his 10th book Take Charge at the Stark Center.

Photo by Carol Bass

August 1, 2018

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