Reinhard Swolana casts a knowing eye at the lifters at Keys Fitness in Marathon, nodding acknowledgement when he sees good form and offering help to those in need.
The trim and fit 77-year-old with a German accent stands out in the gym he has frequented more than 35 years.
He has instant credibility.
In 1958, at the age of 19, Reinhard won the Mr. Berlin competition. Two years later, he beat out 130 competitors to win the inaugural Mr. Germany bodybuilding competition in Munich.
An interviewer misspelled his last name as Smolana, which he maintained in bodybuilding and gym circles.
Reinhard had top finishes in a number of other events, including Mr. Universe-Europe. His last came in 1999, at the age of 60, when he won his third Mr. Germany title.
Inducted into the Deutsche Hall of Fame for bodybuilding in 2010, Reinhard still takes his weight training seriously. However, he greets and chats with everyone at Keys Fitness as he moves through his routine.
The 20-somethings are especially in awe.
“Man, look at him,” they say. “He’s in his 70s and he’s still cut!”
Reinhard got to Marathon accidentally in 1979 when he and his wife took a wrong turn at the Miami Airport and ended up at Golden Image—a new gym in town. He put on a demonstration at the grand opening in exchange for use of a condo.
Reinhard enjoyed the area so much he bought his own place and spends about five months every winter in the Keys. He lives in Munich the rest of the year.
Born and raised in Berlin, Reinhard was introduced to sports and fitness early in life. His father, an amateur boxer, had him doing 100 sit-ups a day when he was 5 years old. He played soccer and boxed in high school.
Reinhard discovered the world of bodybuilding at age 18 when he spotted an American soldier at a local swimming pool with “a good build, a really good build,” Reinhard says. “I asked him, ‘I’d like to be like you. What do I have to do?’”
The soldier told him he trained at a boxing studio and used dumbbells in a small room at that gym. The trainer turned out to be Austrian Leopold “Poldi” Merc, eventually a Mr. Universe winner.
It was only the second bodybuilding studio in Germany, and seemed to cater to American clients.
“No Germans knew about it,” Reinhard says, noting he was Merc’s first German student. “He trained me good.”
Reinhard trained at least six hours a day—typically in three two-hour sessions—and did 1,000 sit-ups every day.
He worked as a carpenter, “but I was thinking always that I’d like to be a trainer and have a gym,” Reinhard says.
After winning Mr. Germany, he became well-known and popular in Munich. He found a small space and set up a little gym.
Equipment was nonexistent.
“I got some help from a welder,” says Reinhard. “I had all the ideas to make benches and dumbbells.”
Reinhard continued to compete and rack up titles, including third place, Mr. Apollo, 1961; second place, Mr. Universe-Europe, 1962; class winner, Mr. Europe, 1963; third place, Mr. Universe-Europe, 1964 and 1965; and fifth place, World-Universe powerlifting competition for bodybuilders, 1966.
That marked the end of his career in open class competitions, although he returned to senior class events in the 1980s.
Steroids came on the scene about 1965, and a lot of bodybuilders used them.
“I saw it and I didn’t like it because my doctor told me it’s not healthy,” Reinhard says.
Instead of competing in the new world of bodybuilding, Reinhard focused on his gym—which became a mecca for bodybuilders—and a career training others.
He produced a number of champions, including 12 Mr. Germany winners and Franco Columbu, twice named Mr. Olympia and the winner of numerous bodybuilding and powerlifting honors.
His best-known protégé may be Arnold Schwarzenegger, who travelled from Austria as a teenager to meet Reinhard.
He wanted to compete, but had no support. Reinhard says he raised money to send him to London for a Mr. Universe amateur event, where he placed second.
Although Schwarzenegger worked at a competing gym, Reinhard says they often trained together and remain friends. When Reinhard opened the largest gym in Germany in 1972, Schwarzenegger—who had just launched his acting career in “Hercules in New York”—was his guest. Reinhard returned the favor, participating in a made-for-TV documentary on Schwarzenegger, “The Man behind the Muscle.”
Although retired from competitive bodybuilding, Reinhard retains a strong competitive spirit. He golfs, swims and plays tennis.
Reinhard says he will not golf without a small bet for something like chicken nuggets.
He also does a two-hour workout about four days a week with “light weights.”
“When you get older, you need a little caution,” Reinhard says.
Reinhard says he has not eaten red meat in 40 years, always controls his portions and considers weight control important.
“I help people work out the right way, and I am turning on the young people to stay healthy,” Reinhard says.
The young lifters he counsels today may not realize it, but when he was their age, Reinhard already was an international champion.