The World’s Strongest Dad

Walking the top rope between dedicated performer and parent.

After nearly 15 years as one of the top performers for World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE), Mark Henry has pretty much done it all. He has held international titles, winning the WWE European Championship and attaining the ECW World Title. He has performed in front of sell-out crowds in arenas spanning the globe, entertained the troops in the Middle East and stepped in the ring with just about every big name in the sports entertainment world over the past decade and a half. Henry is also one of the few people, if not the only WWE superstar, who has been a headliner for all three of the company’s major name brands: RAW, SmackDown and ECW.

But for the superstar known as “the World’s Strongest Man,” some of his greatest challenges these days come outside the ring. As the crowds file out of the arena each night, the lights go dark and most of the WWE roster is already packing up and preparing to move on to the next city. That is when Mark Henry WWE superstar takes a backseat to Mark Henry, loving husband and father. Aside from being one of the most recognized faces in sports entertainment, Henry, along with wife Jana, is the proud parent of 4-year-old son Jacob and infant daughter Joanna.

Being a devoted parent is a full-time job. It’s a job that’s consuming for anyone, let alone someone who is on the road nearly 300 days a year. The rough travel schedule and seemingly endless time away from one’s home and family is the biggest sacrifice in the life of a WWE superstar. “There is no offseason in this industry,” says Henry. “Missing weddings, birthdays and holidays, even funerals, is something you learn to live with.”

When speaking to the young superstars who are just breaking into the industry, Henry is always honest. The entertainer lets them know that being a WWE superstar is about a lot more than just collecting a paycheck. “You need to love what you do here, or don’t do it at all.”

Through many injuries and countless days away from his wife and young kids, is this still something that Mark Henry enjoys doing? “In a way” he says, “I love it even more now.”

Mark’s love of sports entertainment was instilled in him long before he was a member of the WWE industry. As a youngster attending a live event in Texas, a chance encounter with Andre The Giant, possibly the biggest and most recognized performer of them all, turned Henry into a forever fan. Some people grow up to be historians of everything from academics and music to popular culture. Henry possesses a vast knowledge of his own business as well as a respect for the performers of the past who have helped to carry the mantle into the modern era.

If he had not made such a splash as a WWE superstar, what does the World’s Strongest Man think he might be doing be today? According to Henry, he would probably be working close to home as a strength coach at the collegiate or professional level. “The same way that mechanics build cars or motorcycles, strength coaches build human beings,” Henry explains.

Before his days thrilling fans in the WWE ring, the entertainer found great success in the world of powerlifting. He began as a member of one of the top powerlifting programs in his home state of Texas at Silsbee High School. Henry later qualified for the Olympic team and earned a trip to the 1992 Olympics in Barcelona, Spain. After Barcelona, Henry won the United States Olympic Festival Championships in 1993 and 1994. In 1995, he recorded championships in both powerlifting and weightlifting. And at the Pan-American Games, he racked up gold, silver and bronze medals as well as the world championship, setting several world records in the process.

At the 2002 Arnold Classic in Ohio, Henry cemented his nickname as the World’s Strongest Man. The Classic was organized about 30 years ago by Arnold Schwarzenegger as an annual outlet to celebrate muscle and fitness. Competing against some of the best in the world, Henry out-muscled them all in jaw-dropping events like the dead lift, the Hummer push, the timber carry and the gruelling Apollon’s Wheel.

Performing on a big stage has always come relatively easy for Henry. But these days, if there is a plus that Henry’s busy schedule brings, it is that it makes him appreciate the rare time that the entertainer gets to spend out of the spotlight while at home with his family. Henry has learned to make the most out of every spare moment, watching his kids grow up as closely as possible. He and wife Jana believe in making family time sheer fun, with trips to places like the movies, the park and Chuck E. Cheese.

During the long periods when Henry is on the road, staying in contact with his family is a must. Raised with strong family values, Henry believes that a child’s development is a daily process. The entertainer says a child’s parents are responsible for teaching and leading him in the right direction. And the entertainer wouldn’t let a little thing like a few thousand miles and about a million other commitments stand in the way of being a devoted family man. Nightly phone calls home keep Henry aware of each day’s developments and involved in the family decision-making. Aside from being dedicated to his family, Henry maintains a close relationship with the people in his small hometown of Silsbee, Texas. “If towns could win medals,” he says, “Silsbee would take home the gold.” Henry currently splits time living there and in New York City.

Where does the World’s Strongest Man see himself when he decides to hang up his boots and call it a career? Probably working for the WWE in some capacity, he says, sticking close to the company and the business that Henry has grown to love. Whatever that new position might be, hopefully it will be close to home.