Kenneth P. Snell

World Champion Powerlifter

Strength and Fitness Consultant

Champion Weight Lifter Is Mr. Nice Guy

The Ledger

A week ago, Snell won the Amateur Athletic Union World Championships in Atlantic City, N. J., where he pulled 455 pounds in the dead lift - about four times his body weight.

He benched 225 pounds, squatted 375 and came close to his goal of 10 times his body weight with a 1,055 total.

Then he packed up and headed for the airport, leaving a friend to haul back a suitcase full of trophies for the 114-pound open division, master 40-44 and best lightweight lifter. Usually he donates trophies, but he breaks that rule for world titles.

"He had to come home and take care of his little girl," said Pete "Dogg" McFarlane, a fellow lifter and friend who went to Atlantic City to help Snell.

Kayla, nearly 18 months and the sparkle in Snell's crystalline blue eyes, had a stomach bug that she shared with her father.

Although Snell didn't use it as an excuse during the meet, McFarlane said he thinks the illness that slammed Snell when he returned to Lakeland was probably responsible for missing his goal of lifting a total of 1,140 pounds.

With his chest shaved in what could be tanned anatomy lesson, Snell is a buff daddy.

He counts his accomplishments in terms of the time he spends at home with Kayla and his wife, Barbara. And those moments are too few.

Family is Snell's anchor in life. Kenneth Patrick Snell was born on June 24, 1958, in Tawas City, Mich., to Colette and Eugene Snell. He beams with pride when he talks of his career Air Force father, who bounced the family around the country before retiring in 1975 to Lakeland as a lieutenant colonel.

But it wasn't the moving that had an impact on Snell. It was the bullies.

"He just wished he was taller," remembers his mother, Colette. "Then he wouldn't get picked on."

Realizing the odds were against his becoming a basketball center, Snell took up martial arts.

When he was invited to join the Temple Hills Weightlifting Club, a Maryland high school power lifting team known for its champion lifters, he accepted.

They trained in the "shack" - a 7-by-12-foot room built from scrap wood - using a bench press fashioned in metal shop.

And Snell became the squad's star lightweight lifter.

Snell still has the T-shirt from his first Teen-Age Nationals in 1975, where he placed third in the 16-to-17 year-old age group.


Many of Snell's quirks and his regimented character can be traced to those formative years.

Friends insist he gets his champion discipline from living with a father in the military. He never wavers in his training, never quits when it counts.

The most he's ever weighed is 137 pounds when he won his first and only bodybuilding title in 1976.

Lunch is typically a foil-wrapped tuna sandwich at his desk overlooking Kentucky Avenue in downtown Lakeland. A night out is a slice of pizza or two chicken wings.

"He's Three Beer Ken," Baltz said. "Drink one, sill one and pour one out."

Snell's pack-rat mentality - he's been dragging his now thread-bare "lucky" gym bag to meets for more than 20 years - is rooted in the fond memories of his youth.

His older brother, Drew, said he thinks Snell collects old model kits because they remind him of their blissful childhood.

Drew Snell also said he is convinced Snell's sentimental side factored into the purchase of his house, which was built 42 years ago by their uncle, Jay Snell of Lakeland.

"It was in terrible shape when he bought it," Drew Snell said. "Everybody told him not to buy it."

Despite termite damage and other problems, Snell bought the house, which is near his parents, brother and uncle.

and for the last two years, he's poured cash rather than credit - a point Snell is particularly proud of - into new carpet, tile, paint and a nearly finished bathroom.

"He prefers to do that vs. buying a new car," Drew Snell said. "His priorities are pretty well set, and he follows them."

Snell goes to bed most nights by 10 and rises at 6 in the morning so he can get Kayla up and dressed. On Sunday mornings, he tries to go to 7:30 Mass.

He can lift more than 450 pounds, yet shies from picking up a laundry basket.

he travels in elite athletic circles but prefers to drive around town in a dented 1985 Camaro with about 150,000 miles and no air conditioning or radio.

mr. less Than 5 Percent Body Fat also has been known to enjoy a breakfast of chocolate chip cookies.

Cookies aside, Snell remains a dedicated fitness advocate.

He teaches wellness concepts at Polk Community College and volunteers his time to promote weight lifting - whether it means helping at a state high school meet or working with Special Olympics.

"Power lifting has been very good to me. It really has," Snell said. "But improving people's lives through exercise, that's really what keeps me going."

What he finds happiness in, he said, are "the people I train with and work out with, to see how they improve, to share the joy of them getting their best lift in a meet or in the gym, of seeing how it changes their body structure."

Despite a litany of titles - he's a 17-time national power lifting champ - Snell remains humble and agreeable almost to a fault.

While other lifters of his caliber might court national corporations before a big meet, Snell simply scrawls that he's looking for sponsors on the chalkboard near the bench press at the All American Gym.


In two decades, McFarlane can only remember Snell getting made once - and that was when Snell discovered a guy he'd been defending had lied to him.

Even at meets, where the gargantuan athletes around him are slapping each other in the ritual known as the "wake-up call," Snell will psyche himself up in a slow-boiling pace that brings him charging to the bar for the lift.

At the All American Gym, with the blue-and-cream walls dented by the occasional fist or head hitting drywall, Snell is the calm, squeaky-clean alter ego of the more flamboyant shoot-from-the-lip Baltz.

Snell has never had a cup of coffee or taken as much as a puff of a cigarette.

He doesn't do drugs and has been tested or given polygraphs a dozen times over the years at meets to prove that point.

People trust him. With a gym full of men, it's Snell who gets called back to the women's locker room to help a female lifter stuck in a too-snug suit.

On his home turf, where friends go by nicknames like Junk Yard Dogg, Big Dew and Superman, Snell is simply known as Ken and Kenny by close relatives.

"He's not an ego guy," McFarlane said, "As a matter of fact, if you look at Ken - if someone doesn't tell you he's a weight lifter - you wouldn't believe it. He doesn't go around with cutoff sleeves and spandex saying, `Look at me.''

"He has a very kind heart. He'll do whatever he can for you in the gym and outside the gym, too. The bottom line is he's just a kind-hearted guy."


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Last modified on Tuesday, 02-Nov-2021 08:20:02 MST