Dr. Jan Todd, who set more than 60 national and world records in women’s power lifting and was listed in the Guinness Book of Records for over a decade, has been inducted into the National Fitness Hall of Fame. Todd is the Roy. J. McLean Fellow in Sport History at The University of Texas at Austin and co-director of the H.J. Lutcher Stark Center for Physical Culture and Sports, which also is at the university.
“When I began lifting weights in the early 1970s, there were few women who trained with barbells in the U.S.,” says Todd, who was dubbed “the strongest woman in the world” by many media outlets and athletes during her power lifting days. “And there were almost no other women who were interested in the idea of enhancing their strength and building muscle through training. After some of the media coverage I received–in Sports Illustrated, in People magazine and on television shows like Johnny Carson’s ‘Tonight Show’–I got letters and phone calls from all sorts of people. Track and field coaches, university athletes and women interested in power lifting wrote thanking me for not being afraid to lift in men’s contests and for speaking out on behalf of women.”
When Todd began power lifting in 1975, there were no rules or sanctioned contests for women, so she lobbied the national power lifting association to allow women to compete and helped draft the first rules governing women’s participation. She also served as national and international chairperson for women’s power lifting in the association during the early years of the sport and became a strong advocate of drug testing for both male and female athletes.
Upon joining The University of Texas at Austin’s College of Education in 1985 as a weight training instructor, Todd discovered that there were only a couple of women in the weight training classes that she taught in the Department of Kinesiology and Health Education.
“Once word got out that the new instructor was a woman,” says Todd, “the number of women in the classes dramatically increased and within just a few years we had as many female as male students. This was as much a product of the times as it was that I was instructor, but I did have many women tell me that they found it reassuring to see me in the weight room.”
In addition to her international reputation as a pioneering female athlete, advocate, role model and scholar, Todd also has published best-selling books on fitness and weight training. With her husband Dr. Terry Todd, who also is a faculty member at The University of Texas at Austin and is a former U.S. men’s power lifting champion, she wrote “Lift Your Way to Youthful Fitness.” The book was the first to argue that weight training could offset the aging process and the first to introduce to Americans the idea of organizing a personal fitness program by using the concept of periodization. After publication of this book, the National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA) asked Todd to help them write an official position paper on strength training for female athletes. Shortly after, she was honored with the NCSA’s President’s Award for her leadership in the project.
She has written over 100 articles on the history of exercise, strength and conditioning for academic and popular magazines and published “Physical Culture and the Body Beautiful,” a well-reviewed academic book on the history of women’s exercise. In 1990, she and Terry established a leading journal in the field of exercise studies called Iron Game History: The Journal of Physical Culture.
With husband and fellow scholar Terry, Todd also is co-director of the H.J. Lutcher Stark Center, a repository for the largest physical culture collection in the world. The stunning collection contains thousands of rare and valuable items, representing areas as varied as sport, the alternative health movement, the Olympics, the circus and vaudeville, hygiene, school physical education, body building and weight lifting.
The collection of over 300,000 items includes photos, books, journals, scrapbooks, paintings, film, training courses, posters and items such as medicine balls and barbells. It was created by contributions from the Todds as well as from eminent collectors around the world. The expansive collection will be moving to a spacious new 27,500 square foot home in the fall and, at that time, will begin to feature rotating exhibits detailing the history of physical culture and sports.
Todd continues to work in the area of women’s fitness, co-directing a strength training program for women who want to pass the rigorous physical fitness tests required to become a firefighter in Austin. She has been working on this project with Dr. Roger Farrar, a professor in the Department of Kinesiology and Health Education, for the past five years.
Todd’s hall of fame induction ceremony was on March 15 at Glendale Heights Golf Club in Illinois, where she was recognized for her considerable contributions, as an educator, to the profession of physical fitness.
“I am deeply honored by my inclusion in the hall of fame,” says Todd. “Growing up, as I did, in the era before the passage of Title IX, I never dreamed of having a career in sports or exercise, let alone a career that would revolve around strength in all its various aspects. To be singled out for this kind of recognition is truly special.”
Learn more about the Todds and the H.J. Lutcher Stark Center.