Barr Sets National Powerlifting Records

Col. Dan Barr ’74 displays his awards from the United States Powerlifting Coalition.

Col. Dan Barr ’74 displays his awards from the United States Powerlifting Coalition. –VMI Photo by Kelly Nye.

LEXINGTON, Va. Feb. 22, 2024 — The late Harry Emerson Fosdick, renowned minister and author, said, “Don’t simply retire from something; have something to retire to.” Col. Dan Barr ’74, professor emeritus of electrical and computer engineering at Virginia Military Institute, has retired to setting multiple national powerlifting records.  

Barr has always been mindful of exercise and staying in shape. As a VMI cadet, he participated in cross country, track, and wrestling. As an U.S. Army officer, he maintained physical fitness which continued into his years teaching at VMI and emeritus status. Within the last few years, his sister Sharon Spalding, who is an athlete in her own right, invited Barr to run 5K races with her, which introduced him to new athletic competitions, and the joy of victories in retirement. “Dan always followed my racing. During COVID, I told him when races started up again, we should do some together. So, we did. He finished great in his age bracket, which ramped up his competitive spirit. It was fun to race with Dan!” shared Spalding. 

Barr became interested in powerlifting last summer, after watching a young relative compete and excel as a collegiate athlete. “I started probing around and looked at the state records for the bench-press, and I thought, my golly I do that in my workout for repetitions. Maybe I should compete in a meet,” said Barr.  

Last fall, Barr connected with VMI’s powerlifting club coach, Capt. Dave Henson, who serves in the VMI police department. “He informed me of a United States Powerlifting Coalition meet to be held in early February, here on post in Cocke Hall, in which the VMI club was competing, and that there were open spots. He was very encouraging, so I decided to enter and compete in my bracket, men 70 to 74 years old,” Barr stated.  

Being an engineer, Barr is proficient with mathematical data and statistics, so prior to competing, he went online and found a mega database on powerlifting. He discovered there are about 353,000 male competitive powerlifters worldwide, and of those, less than 1% are over 70 years old. “It’s a very limited group, so I knew my chances were good,” he said. 

Just three months prior to the meet, Barr began his weight training, specifically deadlifts, squats, and bench press weightlifting, one designated day per week for each exercise. He would supplement his workouts with jogging around the track in the Corps Physical Training Facility.  

The day of the meet, athletes were asked if they were going to attempt a state record prior to competing. “The coach told me, ‘you can take your first lifts, and we will call your next lifts and add weights, based on what we think you're able to do.’ So, for each of those lifts, I really thought I was only attempting a state record. It never crossed my mind that it was for a national record. It was only early the next morning that I learned of my achievement, and I was amazed! I set national records in squat with 249.1 pounds, bench press with 238 pounds, and deadlift with 319.6 pounds, for a total of 806.7 pounds. It was a very nice surprise,” revealed Barr. He plans to compete in meets this spring, and believes he can increase his weightlifting by 50 to 100 pounds. Col. Dan Barr ’74 and the VMI powerlifting club display their awards following the meet.

From VMI, Barr graduated with distinction, with a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering. He received his Master of Science and Ph.D. degrees in electrical engineering from the University of Virginia. He retired from the Army reserve after 30 years of service in 2004, then was rapidly recalled to active duty for Operation Nobel Eagle, where he served as a modeling and simulation expert and as Chief of Weapons Technical Intelligence. He received the Legion of Merit for his contributions in countering the Improvised Explosive Device threat in Iraq and Afghanistan. He currently works in the science and technology communities for the Department of Defense as a civilian consultant for the Army. Barr’s late wife, Dr. Susan Hignite Barr was VMI’s first woman dean, and as the secretary to the Academic Board, the only woman to sign VMI diplomas. She also held the chief information officer position at VMI before assuming duties at the University of Virginia, where she retired as an academic dean. Barr lives in Fairfield with his cat, Zeta. 

Marianne Hause
Communications & Marketing


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