Jan. 2, 1971 – Sept. 22, 2023
Paul J. Childress, who set world records as a professional powerlifter, died Sept. 22 in Greater Niagara General Hospital, Niagara Falls, Ont., 10 months after he was diagnosed with colon cancer. He was 52.
He was the second champion Western New York powerlifter to die within the past three months. Don Reinhoudt, 78, of Fredonia, winner of the World’s Strongest Man competition in 1979, died July 3 in a one-vehicle crash. Reinhoudt had inspired Mr. Childress to begin lifting weights.
“I got my first weight set when I was 8 years old, and I saw Don Reinhoudt in the World’s Strongest Man when I was 8,” he told Buffalo News sportswriter Bob DiCesare in 2003. “Just seeing him pulling a bus, lifting kegs, throwing tires, I thought it was the coolest thing. I thought if he can do it, I can do it.”
Mr. Childress did better. He surpassed Reinhoudt’s mark of 934.5 pounds in the squat with a world record 1,147.5 in 2007. He also set a world record with his powerlifting total of 2,700 in three events – the squat, the bench press and deadlift – in 2011 at the Ohio State Powerlifting and Bench Press Championship.
“To think that somebody can do that kind of weight,” Tom Haney, owner of the Village Glen in Amherst, remarked to DiCesare in 2003 after they watched Mr. Childress perform a 925-pound squat in practice. “You read about it. You see it on TV. But to actually see it done. … I doubt there’s a handful of men in the world who’ve ever done that. And we just watched one of them train.”
Born in the Town of Tonawanda, he was a standout offensive lineman and a captain on the football team at Tonawanda High School, where he graduated in 1989. He also was a captain and catcher on the baseball team. He was listed among choices for Western New York all-star teams in both sports.
After a redshirt season at Edinboro University, he came to what was then Buffalo State College and, as a defensive tackle, helped the Bengals to three straight appearances in the NCAA playoffs and their first Eastern College Athletic Conference Division III bowl victory. A defensive captain for two years and an All-American, he compiled a total of 17.5 sacks and 21.5 tackles that resulted in a loss.
He was inducted into the Buffalo State Sports Hall of Fame and the Tonawanda High School Wall of Fame.
After he graduated from Buffalo State with a bachelor’s degree in health science and nutrition, he completed a master’s degree in exercise science and physical education at Canisius College, now Canisius University.
He began competing in weightlifting meets in high school. In 1989, he won his weight class in the Teen-Age Buffalo Powerlifting Championships sponsored by the Buffalo Police Athletic Club. As an amateur in 1997, he won the New York State AAU championship. He turned professional two years later.
In 2004, he became the first man in the 308-pound weight class to squat more than 1,100 pounds. His overall victories included the World Powerlifting Organization finals in 2004, the New York State powerlifting championship in 2013 and the Grand Prix National powerlifting championship in 2015. He stepped aside from high-level competition two years later.
Mr. Childress was director of facilities and fitness management at Total Health and Fitness, then sold powerlifting gear and was a consultant on fitness systems. He began visiting the University at Buffalo’s weight training facility after renowned strength coach Buddy Morris was hired as director of sports performance.
When Morris left in 2007, he was hired as an assistant strength and conditioning coach. He became head strength coach in 2009 and, in addition to football, directed the strength training for UB’s track and field, baseball and softball programs.
After leaving UB, he became a licensed massage therapist and in 2014 founded Childress Performance Therapy PC, offering therapeutic and deep tissue massage for athletes and medical purposes. He went on to establish Childress Performance Center at Eastern Hills Mall in Clarence and opened a gym on Grand Island late last year. He worked with dozens of professional football, baseball and hockey players, as well as Olympic athletes.
He was married Nov. 14, 2014, to Canadian powerlifter Alicia Good, whom he met while weight training, and they lived in Niagara Falls, Ont. Considered an essential worker, he was able to commute to his therapy and training sessions during the pandemic.
In addition to his wife, survivors include a son, Lucas J.; a daughter, Libby M.; his parents, John and Linda Childress; and two sisters, Michelle Conley and Amy Berardinelli.
The Buffalo State Bengals will observe a moment of silence in his memory prior to the homecoming game on Coyer Field at 5 p.m. Saturday. A celebration of his life will be held in October.