The Greatest Strength Athlete You’ve Likely Never Heard Of…
by Marty Gallagher
Doug Furnas passed away of Parkinson’s Disease on March 2, 2012 at age 52, leaving behind an incredible athletic legacy interspersed with episodes of triumph, tragic misfortune, and horrific injury, and finally, fatal disease contracted at an early age. If a fiction writer were to sculpt Doug’s tale, tell it true without embellishment or ornamentation, it would likely be rejected as outlandish and unbelievable. We will tell Doug’s tale simple and unadorned in an effort to inform the ignorant about this amazing man and his amazing athletic accomplishments. Periodically, Giants walk amongst us, and it is important that we examine them and learn from them – the great sin is to let them pass unnoticed, for they have lessons to impart that can assist us in our own quests.
Dwight Douglas “Doug” Furnas was born in Miami, Oklahoma in 1959 into an extended farm family. He was raised in Commerce, Oklahoma on a 200+ acre working farm where the emphasis was on the work. “My brother, three sisters and I were expected to perform hard physical chores that started at sunrise. My parents had a saying, ‘the animals eat before we do,’ and after sunrise and before breakfast we fed and watered the animals.” Pre-teen Doug and younger brother Mike were often expected to perform the work of one grown man. “Mike and I were teamed up on work tasks. For example, the two of us might run behind a slow moving truck, together tossing 60-100 pound hay bales onto the truck bed. We would be at the business end of the conveyer belt in the hayloft stacking the heavy awkward bales as they came up from the truck. Fence post digging, carrying heavy objects, wrestling livestock and working long hours in extreme heat and extreme cold were just an expected part of our growing up.” These intense farm tasks laid a fantastic physical foundation for the brothers’ yet-to-come high-level athletic careers.
As a family the Furnas clan competed in professional rodeo: mom and dad competed in the roping events, his sisters would do barrels or calf roping, and Doug and Mike rode bulls and bucking horses. “The idea was for us as a family to win enough cash prize money to cover the cost of the trip – the gas, the hotel rooms, the entry fees and the meals. More often than not we did just that.” Doug’s friends and rodeo buddies went on to create the professional bull riding craze that dominates rodeo coverage to this day. “I could easily have stayed in the world of professional rodeo – I loved it and got better and better with each successive season.” His rodeo dreams were derailed when the Furnas family, returning from a rodeo, crested a hill and were hit head-on by a drunk driver on the wrong side of the road. Every family member suffered severe injuries. Young Doug was hurt the worst and almost died.
“I was shattered – broken leg, broken arm, exploded spleen, concussion, internal injuries…they tell me I came very close to dying.” During his prolonged convalescence and recovery he was introduced to progressive resistance training. “It took me over a year to recover from the accident. During that time I began weight training as part of my rehabilitation. I took to it immediately and loved the quick changes that it produced in my body.” The accident also pushed Doug back a year in school. Now he and his brother Mike were in the same grade. “Our farm-boy chores, combined with our weightlifting and mom’s amazing cooking, caused me and Mike to grow a lot of muscle; we were tough and hard and strong and by the time we entered high school and became involved in team sports we were way more physical than our classmates.” The Furnas boys played football: taller Mike was an offensive and defensive lineman; Doug had sprinter speed and became a crushing fullback. The boys’ football exploits became the stuff of local legend. The brothers played for a small local high school that won the state championship. They both captured all-state honors and both were selected to play in The Oil Bowl, an annual battle between the best high school football players in Oklahoma and the best high school players from Texas. Oklahoma won the Oil Bowl that year, and the brothers went on to play for Northeastern A&M, a small local junior college. The team, against all odds, won the junior college national championship. “We had scholarship offers from all over the country. Coach Johnny Majors wanted both of us and offered each of us a scholarship to play at Tennessee.” And play they did. The Tennessee team included future NFL star and Olympic gold medal sprinter Willie Gault. Also on the team was the most dominant NFL player of his generation: multi-time NFL defensive player of the year and hall of fame inductee Reggie White. Willie, Reggie, Doug and Mike carried the team to the Peach Bowl. On New Years day in front of 65,000 fans (while millions more watched on TV) Tennessee lost 26 to 24 in the final 60 seconds of the game.
Doug went on to play for the Denver Broncos. He suffered the first serious injury of his football career when he developed a chronic hamstring pull. He was relegated to the taxi squad and for the first time ever he wasn’t a starting player. “As much as I admired Coach Rogers at Tennessee, I detested Coach Dan Reeves at Denver. I decided to bag football. For the first time since junior high school, my time was my own; I was not obligated to play a team sport. I wasn’t obligated to practice. I had long been a follower of the sport of powerlifting and had wondered what I could accomplish were I to devote myself to it on a full-time basis. Now I had the opportunity.” Doug and Mike found an amazing power mentor and coach: national and world champion and Oklahoma strength legend, Dennis “The Driver” Wright. Dennis Wright turned out to be the perfect coach for these two athletic protégées.
June 30 Training Camp (The Squat) : Atlanta, GA
July 13 Training Camp (The Squat) : Newport, NC
July 12-14 Starting Strength Seminar : Denver, CO
August 9-11 Starting Strength Seminar : St Louis, MO
September 6-8 Starting Strength Seminar : Brooklyn, NY
October 11-13 Starting Strength Seminar : Redmond, WA
November 8-10 Starting Strength Seminar : Atlanta, GA
December 6-8 Starting Strength Seminar : Wichita Falls, TX