OSHKOSH - Dave Doan of Berlin has been a power-lifter for close to thirty years. He has earned a spot in the world championships seventeen times. He recently claimed his seventh gold medal with a bench press of 630 pounds. The lift set a new world record in the Masters division of the 264 pound weight class.
"This one is very special, probably the most special one I've had," Doan said with a wry smile. Special, because there were times when Doan wondered if he would ever return to the lifting platform.
"In February of 2010 I was training for the Arnold Classic. I ended up having a loss of strength in my right arm due to a neck injury. I ended up having an MRI and one of the things they discovered that was totally unrelated was a lump in my throat."
That lump turned out to be thyroid cancer. After spending more than a year receiving treatment and recovering he was diagnosed with cancer a second time. This time having his lymph nodes removed.
His daughter, Devan Curley, followed her father into power lifting and still trains with him. Having to watch her father and training partner struggle took a toll. "You feel so helpless. He's the one in the hospital bed or he's the one getting the treatment and you can't do anything to fix it," Curley said.
Life had one more unexpected setback for Doan. Two weeks before Devan’s wedding, Dave suffered a heart attack. Being a very physically fit and health conscious person, Doan and his family were beyond surprised.
“I've never had high blood pressure. I've never had high cholesterol. I just kind of out of the blue had a heart attack," Doan said.
Curley said watch someone who at times could seem invulnerable deal with setback after setback is difficult. "You know it's a true, why me, why us, but at the same time we now as a family stand united and show everyone that we got through it together," Curley said.
Getting through it and being able to live a normal life may have been the first priority but Doan couldn’t help but wonder if his time as a world champion caliber athlete were done. "I often contemplated whether I'd be able to get up on the platform again. Even if I was able to would I be able to get my strength back, would I be able to get that edge back," Doan said.
Eventually though Dave was cleared to begin lifting. He began a steady climb back to his pre cancer form. "I was pretty weak to start. It actually came back surprisingly quick. I kind of got ribbed for a while by my daughter that she could bench more than I could and that kind of got me going a little bit," Doan joked.
His daughter may have good naturedly teased him about his lifting but she admitted his return to the gym was an emotional day.” I just remember having tears in my eyes and just so emotional that he finally did it."
Finally, five years after his last international competition Doan, with his wife watching in person and daughter watching on the internet back in Wisconsin, Doan made his record lift, completing his comeback.
"Knowing all he's been through and to see him coming back on top it just reaffirmed that he's the most inspirational and amazing guy that I know and I'm just so proud of him," his daughter said proudly.
Through his ordeal Doan showed the ability to lift something even heavier than weights, people's spirits.