From 90-Pound Weakling to Weight Lifter
The author, Dale Holzbauer, competing at the U.S. Olympic Weightlifting Trials in 1979.

By Dale Holzbauer

The funeral director and I had been friends for many years. The man whose funeral service I had conducted was also my longtime personal friend. The official cause of death was a massive heart attack.

As we made our way to the cemetery, the funeral director and I began to talk. “He was only 59 years old,” I said.

“The family had to buy an extra-large casket,” replied the funeral director.

The statistics are shocking. Obesity is the No. 2 cause of preventable death in the United States. One-fifth of the nation’s population, 20 years of age and older, is obese or severely overweight. Tens of millions of our children are obese and likely will face a lifetime of difficulty and disease, and ultimately, early death. Nearly 80 percent of America’s adult population is sedentary. That is, they do not meet basic activity-level recommendations.

The obesity epidemic, with its attendant health consequences, is overwhelming the nation’s health system. As this is written, the United Kingdom is considering excluding the obese—along with those who smoke, drink alcohol, and use illegal drugs—from its health care system.

Diabetes, heart disease, cancer, high blood pressure, and other maladies are all directly linked to our lack of exercise and our dietary habits.

I have been in the ministry for more than 40 years, have made thousands of calls on sick and shut-ins, and have conducted hundreds of funerals. I have seen many people die, and many more lose their mobility and utility, simply because they did not adhere to simple, effective health practices.


A 90-Pound Weakling

I had to learn about those health practices the hard way. I was born in 1947 with a defective aortic valve. After my first bout with rheumatic fever at age 18 months, my parents were told I would not live to see my third birthday. My father was a minister for nearly 50 years. My parents prayed for me, and God chose to spare my life. Throughout my childhood I was cautioned not to exert myself because I had a heart “issue.”

I got a job at an IGA store in Auburn, Indiana, shortly after turning 15. I was fired two weeks later because I was too small. (I was, and still am, 5’3”. I weighed about 90 pounds then; I weigh 145 pounds now.) I was too weak to do what was required—namely, stocking the shelves and carrying groceries for the customers. Being fired was one of the best things that ever happened to me.

I called my dad to pick me up, and on the way home he challenged me to make the best of myself in spite of circumstances. The next day I wrote out a contract with God. I promised God I would not use drugs, alcohol, or tobacco. I promised I would control my weight, get enough sleep, and do what I could to get stronger and healthier.

I asked God to help me with these goals, and promised that whatever good came of my resolve, I would give it back to him. I started lifting weights and exercising the next day.


A Weightlifting Winner

That was nearly 50 years ago. Since then, I have been heavily involved in weightlifting and the martial arts. In Olympic weightlifting, I was nationally ranked in two different weight classes. I competed in many local and state contests and either won or placed in the top three in all of them. I also competed in five national meets and placed in all of them, winning a gold, two silver, and two bronze medals against very good national competitors.

I won a silver medal at the National Sports Festival in 1978 and was invited to train for the 1980 Summer Olympics in Moscow, but I declined to train for another two years because we had our second child and I started my first full-time pulpit ministry.

I became interested in martial arts in 1968 when I witnessed a brief, brutal fight between two young men who worked (as I did at the time) on the B&O Railroad. One of the combatants clearly controlled the altercation through the use of techniques I had never seen.

I signed up for karate lessons in Cincinnati when I returned for my senior year at Cincinnati Bible Seminary in the fall of 1968. Since then, I have achieved a fourth-degree black belt, taught more than 2,000 students, fought professionally, and won more than 70 trophies and medals in competition.

I bounced back and forth between martial arts and Olympic lifting for several years. I got into power lifting in my late 40s at the urging of my son, who was a nationally ranked power lifter. After several years of training, I established nine American records in three different weight classes before leaving this sport at age 53.


A Vigorous Life

As I write this, I am nearly 65 years of age. I train no less than five days every week in the martial arts, light weight lifting, cycling, canoeing, and swimming. I had my aortic valve replaced when I was 59 years old. The doctor told me I would have died a long time ago were it not for my active lifestyle and good diet. I spent a total of four days in the hospital and was back at work in three weeks after my heart surgery. God was gracious to me and blessed my efforts during my recovery.

Dale Holzbauer (left) and his friend Leroy Marbaugh—who was 6 when he began training with Holzbauer—after a recent martial arts training session.

I have used martial arts and weight lifting as attention getters in a presentation of the gospel of Jesus more than 600 times in jails, schools, church camps, secular organizations, and churches. Many of my former training partners and students in the martial arts have gone on to use their skills in these same venues, and many others have gone into ministry.

Taking care of my health has produced many avenues for ministry. I have been able to speak about my faith to tens of thousands of people I otherwise would never have been able to reach. The health benefits have been enormous. As I write this, I have three karate/kickboxing demonstrations booked. Two are in churches and one is at a camp for future leaders sponsored by the Rotarians. I enjoy long-distance cycling, canoeing, fishing, hunting, hiking, and snorkeling. I sleep well. I enjoy a vigorous, active life.

This little article is meant to encourage you. We all know some health problems are unavoidable, but here I’m writing about problems that result from poor choices.

Most of this is just common sense. Most of us know we need to be more active. Most of us know what proper food is. Most of us understand our bodies are to be treated with respect because of our responsibilities to others and to our Creator. But sometimes we need a little motivation coupled with easy-to-follow advice.

Please carefully consider your own health. Make it a matter of prayer. And then take some steps to improve your level of activity and overall health. You will feel better and look better.

People love you and need you. The Lord needs you in his service. You can do this!


Dale Holzbauer is a minister, adjunct professor, and church consultant living in Xenia, Ohio. He is a fourth-degree black belt, former pro fighter, and has a class one rating in Olympic lifting and power lifting.


What About Diet?

No exercise program can succeed without attention to diet. Most readers already know that Americans eat too much salt, fat, and sugar. Here’s what I’ve learned and how I handle my diet.

I have found it is beneficial to eat a good breakfast consisting of whole grains, fruit, and egg whites. Lunch consists of fish or fowl and a vegetable or two. For supper I have soup, whole grains, a small portion of meat, veggies, fruit, and a reasonable dessert. 

Through the course of the day, I snack on unprocessed nuts, raisins, and yogurt to combat cravings. Excellent advice on diet is available from your doctor, various websites, and books and articles. 

Forget Paula Deen, austere diets, and fad diets. Eat a variety of good foods and you will see and feel the benefits. Now and then, depending on your health, reward yourself with a treat.

—D. H.


What About Exercise?

A quick look at books, articles, and websites shows there are thousands of plans available for one who wishes to begin a basic training program to improve appearance, health, mobility, flexibility, and endurance. I have distilled what I have learned in more than 50 years of training into two easy-to-remember formulas that will help aspiring trainees.

Fess Parker, of Davy Crockett and Daniel Boone TV and Hollywood fame, was my hero as a kid. I use his first name to help me remember some important principles in training and exercising.

F—Flexibility. Avoiding flexibility training in your exercise regimen is a huge mistake. Following a warm-up (a brief walk, some jumping jacks, or jumping rope), flexibility exercises are greatly beneficial for the subsequent workout and over the long haul. Find exercises on websites and in publications. 

The positions need not be extreme. I have a motto regarding this: “No pain, no pain.” Pain, pure pain, means your body is in distress. There is no need to endure excruciating pain in any phase of your exercise program. 

Flexibility training results in muscles that can better stand a sudden strain or twisting motion. Flexibility training helps lubricate one’s joints. Flexibility exercises help the body to stay younger than chronological age. Be certain your program includes flexibility work.

E—Endurance. Walking, jogging, lifting very light weights for high repetitions, jumping rope, swimming, bicycling, etc. are all good possibilities. Your doctor can give you a target heart rate you should strive to achieve (for a certain period of time, given a normal heart). 

Heart rates must be elevated in order to train the heart. The heart is a muscle, after all, and must be used in order to gain strength and health. When beginning any exercise program, check with your doctor and be realistic. It would be very foolish to begin extreme flexibility and/or endurance work after years of inactivity. The body is wonderfully adaptive, however, and will respond, in most cases, in a very favorable way to stretching and movement.

S—Strength Training. In my Olympic weightlifting and power lifting careers, I was able, after many years of training, to lift some impressive poundage. I still lift weights regularly, but at age 65, I am lifting considerably less weight. 

Weight lifting helps a person lose weight. Weight training thickens bones and helps with mobility, the ability to work, and so forth. The old beliefs that weight lifting would cause stiffness or heart problems are simply ridiculous, as is the notion that weight training makes ladies less feminine. If you, as a lifter, use common sense, you will see tremendous benefits in load-bearing exercise as a part of your overall health plan.

S—Speed Training. Speed is usually a by-product of normal training. When I was fighting, I needed speed. Olympic weightlifting demands speed. Muscle memory provides some speed. One can train for speed specifically through repetition of movement, running sprints, and increasing speed for short bursts when canoeing, biking, or jumping rope. 

This topic is more complicated than can be thoroughly discussed in this article, but is worth exploring and incorporating into one’s routine.

—D. H.


What About Workouts?

Here’s a nonsense syllable to help you achieve your goals: “FID.” Workouts should have frequency, intensity, and duration. 

F—Frequency. You should work out about three times per week. I worked out as frequently as six times per week when I was in hard training for a fight, and I have worked out as little as twice per week when I was “peaking” for a power lifting meet. I have found that working out three to four times per week allows plenty of time for recuperation and provides good health benefits. 

 I—Intensity. You must push yourself a bit in order to succeed. Someone said, “Nothing succeeds like excess.” Use the normal caution, but every now and then, push yourself. If you can easily walk a mile in 15 minutes, walk with light dumbbells or try to finish the mile in 14 minutes. You get the picture. 

D—Duration. Workouts should last long enough to really be a workout. You will build up to this, of course. I find that exercising for an hour is usually plenty. When we think of duration, think beyond just the time of an individual workout. Think of staying fit for your entire life. That’s duration! 

To sum up: plan on working out three to four times per week; push yourself and plan on a workout that will last about an hour; and plan on keeping to this schedule for a lifetime. You will find the truth of Psalm 19:5 as you begin your program: Rejoice “like a strong man to run its race” (New King James Version). 

Exercise doesn’t need to be drudgery. A modest home gym consisting of a few dumbbells, a mat, and a jump rope will get you started. You can add equipment purchased at garage sales as you make progress.

—D. H.


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