“It takes more than just a good-looking body. You’ve got to have the heart and soul to go with it.” Matching the legendary Ronnie Coleman with a record-setting eight wins at the Mr. Olympia bodybuilding competition throughout his 12-year professional career from 1979 to 1991, Lee Haney was the first to ever set the record after he beat the legendary Arnold Schwarzenegger’s seven wins. So, how did he get his start as a bodybuilder and end up serving under the President of the United States?
Born in Fairburn, Georgia in 1959 and raised in Spartanburg, South Carolina, Haney enjoyed a quiet childhood before enrolling at Spartanburg Methodist College to pursue a degree in youth counseling. Having long been a fan of weight training, Haney was in the middle of his sophomore year when he entered the 1979 Teen Mr. America competition. Winning the title as Mr. America and Mr. America Tall, he was obviously hooked by the victory and trained even harder before entering the 1982 Junior Nationals, Nationals and World Amateur Championships. Winning first place in all three competitions, Haney’s career as a bodybuilder was off to a great start.
Ready to upgrade his status to professional level, Haney won the 1983 Grand Prix Las Vegas and the IFBB Night of Champions with second place finishes at the Grand Prix England and Grand Prix Sweden, and third place finishes at the Grand Prix Switzerland and the World Pro Championships. The same year, he made his Mr. Olympia debut and finished in third, which was widely unheard of for a newcomer. Luckily, the following year started what would become Haney’s record-breaking trend as an eight-time reigning Mr. Olympia champion from 1984 to 1991.
Later admitting that “the road getting there wasn’t easy” and that “it took hard work, delayed gratification and, above all, a lot of prayer,” Haney spent an entire year training for the 1984 Mr. Olympia, which left little doubt that the title meant everything to him. With his method obviously working after securing his first victory, the Georgia native continued the same routine for the next seven years with his only other win (outside the Mr. Olympia, that is) at the 1987 Grand Prix Germany II. By 1991 and after setting the record as the only bodybuilder to win the Mr. Olympia title eight consecutive times, Haney retired at only 31 years old.
Thanks to his incredible reputation in the bodybuilding, nutrition and fitness industries, Haney had plenty of opportunities on the horizon but one offer far exceeded the others when President Bill Clinton invited him to join his council as the Chairman of the President’s Council on Physical Fitness and Sports. With the position working to “promote, encourage and motivate Americans of all ages to become physically active and participate in sport,” Haney was an easy choice. After all, who better to lead the country in physical fitness than an eight-time World Bodybuilding Champion?
Holding the position until 2002 when he was succeeded by football star, broadcaster and politician Lynn Swann, Haney eventually returned to his native Georgia with his wife, Shirley, and their two children. Describing himself as a born again Christian and spending the next chapter of his life focusing on his faith, the former 248-pound bodybuilder snagged his own television series titled TotaLee Fit with Lee Haney on the Trinity Broadcasting Network. Airing internationally and popular among devoted Christian audiences, Lee teaches his viewers about the importance of spiritual and physical growth. Occasionally inviting special guests like his wife or other Christian athletes to join him on the series, Haney has built his reputation and his life around his catchphrase, “Train to stimulate, not to annihilate.”
Beyond his work as a Christian television host, Haney has also fueled his popularity over the years with dozens of covers and feature stories on and in magazines like Flex, Muscle & Fitness, Ironman and Muscle Mag International. In recent years, he launched his own radio series titled TotaLee Fit Radio that mirrors his Christian-based television series and is hosted on BlogTalkRadio. Haney uses the radio program as a venue to feature people who once lived unhealthy lifestyles before deciding to completely change their ways and transform their lives based on his TotaLee Fit lifestyle and principles.
When he isn’t busy with his television and radio series, the 57-year-old Haney spends the rest of his time educating the world about the importance of physical fitness and nutrition. After years of competing, the eight-time Mr. Olympia has even worked as a personal trainer to numerous celebrities including heavyweight boxing champion Evander Holyfield, Philadelphia 76er’s star Shawn Bradley and MLB star Gary Sheffield. In fact, Sheffield even said, “I read about him and it was a fantasy of mine to work out with Lee Haney.” One of Haney’s biggest selling points is that he specializes in training athletes in injury rehabilitation, which has undoubtedly put him in high demand.
Now promoting his “30-Day Transformation Challenge” where he encourages individuals of all walks of life to change their lives for the better, Haney is thrilled that he is finally able to give back after all these years. But, he doesn’t just stop at health and nutrition. In 1994, he purchased a forty-acre farm near his home in Atlanta, Georgia and created the Haney Harvest House, which serves as a nonprofit retreat for children. Truly embodying what it means to give back, Haney remains humble after all these years. “I wanted to be able to give something back,” he said. “I’ve been so fortunate to have a lot of good things come my way, and it all comes from values I learned from growing up. If we don’t take time now to give some of that back to this generation then, when will we?”