IN January of 2002, an elderly giant walked into Club Fit Pembroke Pines in south Florida and turned nearly every head in the facility. He had a shoulder-length ponytail and the complexion of Ovaltine. I was working as the fitness manager, and he told me he recently celebrated his 60th birthday. After having been a professional bodybuilder back in the day, he was ready to fulfill another dream: becoming a personal trainer. I asked him to come do a workout with me as an informal interview.
It turns out, I was in the presence of greatness. Harold Poole is a member of the IFBB Hall of Fame and still holds the record for being the youngest athlete to compete in a Mr. Olympia. He won Mr. Universe when he was 19 years old and became the first African-American to be crowned Mr. America. (Harold was half African-American and half German—a combination he credited for his great genetics.) In 1965, at the age of 21, he competed in the very first Mr. Olympia. Harold was the only bodybuilder to compete in the first three Mr. Os, placing second all three times. He lost twice to Larry Scott, and then to the legendary Sergio Oliva. He’s still considered to be the best teenage bodybuilder of all time.
In his prime, Harold had the kind of physique that has come back in style today. If a 22-year-old Harold Poole entered a Classic Physique competition in 2017, nobody could touch him.
During our introductory workout, it was obvious Harold knew his stuff. We traded ideas and switched back and forth on who called the next exercise. He loved the Olympic military press while I added the dumbbells. It was old school meets new school, at least for that time.