The Saga of Wendell G. Hobby

By Ellington Darden, PhD

The date was October 8, 1975. It was 7:00 pm and I was in my office at Nautilus Sports/Medical Industries in Lake Helen, Florida, working on a project. My office was next to one end of the strength-training area that housed a dozen Nautilus machines.

Arthur Jones, who invented Nautilus machines, was explaining to one of our employees from the assembly division that these machines, named Omni, could be applied in a negative-accentuated manner. The Omni machines had been tested with Army football players during the West Point Study earlier that year.

As I ambled into the gym, I noticed that the assembly worker had a large basket slung over his shoulder. The basket contained what appeared to be a child covered by a blanket.

I soon realized that the child was actually a young man, his son. He had been in a violent car crash in Worcester, Massachusetts. He suffered a traumatic brain injury that caused significant disabilities. He could not walk or speak and weighed approximately 100 pounds. His name was Wendell Hobby.

He said Wendell was 32, married, and the father of two children. His wife could no longer cope with Wendell’s condition nor the enormous amount of care he required. Thus, Wendell was transported to Florida from Massachusetts to live with his father.

Arthur suggested that we try to fasten him into some of the Nautilus machines and stabilize him into proper positions with a couple of belts. After several attempts, we got the hang of getting Wendell into and out of the machines. It took two sessions before he was able to resist the lowering part of two machines.

Three Times Per Week

Our goal was to move Wendell in and out of six Nautilus machines. He gradually learned how to emphasize the lowering phase of the movement.

With each workout, Wendell progressed and became stronger. He began to speak understandably. He asked questions and he learned. He began to move around the gym with the aid of a walker. His muscle mass increased by 5, 10, and 15 pounds.

After nine months, Wendell was able to drive a customized car equipped especially for him. He never missed a workout. His form was precise and he trained intensely. His once severely atrophied, limp body morphed into a strong, somewhat normal physique.

Strength-Training Principles

In 1978, I published Strength-Training Principles, a small book that contained 84 pages. Strength-Training Principles was written for Nautilus Club owners and users of Nautilus equipment, which had now spread throughout the United States and Canada.

To meet the Nautilus educational demand, we held seminars in Lake Helen on a monthly basis. Wendell always attended these seminars and observed closely and participated.

The State of Florida had a unique program for those with reading disabilities that involved getting written books audio recorded. Wendell had Strength-Training Principles put on tape. He listened to the entire book repeatedly – until he could recite each paragraph and page from memory.

During our fitness seminars, Wendell recorded my presentations and slide shows. Soon, he became a mini-Ellington Darden. According to Arthur Jones, “Sometimes he sounded more like Ell Darden than Ell Darden.”

By this time, Wendell had been through three years of rehabilitation. I had pushed him the first year through negative-accentuated repetitions on all the Nautilus upper-body machines. Then, we moved into the lower-body equipment. He was now fairly strong and his body was in reasonable shape.

A College Nearby

Wendell had never attended college in Massachusetts. But now he had a desire to learn and help others. Near Lake Helen, Daytona Beach opened a small community college annex for students in central Florida. Wendell enrolled and was motivated to get an associate degree. It took him three years to finish the requirements.

Wendell never missed a class and his continued Nautilus workouts were achieved with 100-percent consistency.

Wendell then enrolled at the University of Central Florida (UCF) in Orlando. He needed a major and I suggested trying some Speech Communication courses, especially since he had mastered many of my presentations during the Nautilus Seminars.

Wendell jumped into public speaking with enthusiasm. Within a couple of semesters, his presentations were the talk of the department.

Again, because of Wendell’s traumatic brain injury eight years earlier, he required extra time and additional study for his college courses. It took Wendell twice as long to get his Bachelor of Arts degree from UCF in Communications. He approached all his requirements with eagerness. I never saw Wendell discouraged. He just chipped away at his classes and goals.

The year was 1986 and a lot was changing with Nautilus Sports/Medical Industries. Arthur Jones decided to sell Nautilus to a group in Dallas, Texas. Since I was originally from Texas, I decided to relocate to Dallas and I moved there, with my family, in 1987.

The Lincoln Fitness Center and Beyond

Before leaving Florida, I reached out to Jim Randell. Jim owned and operated the Lincoln Fitness Center in a large hotel in Orlando. I introduced Jim to Wendell and suggested that he allow Wendell to train people on a volunteer basis in his club.

Jim agreed. Wendell subsequently was on duty at the Lincoln Fitness Center for 18 years, from 1987 through 2005. Most mornings, Wendell opened the club at 5:00 am and instructed members until noon.

Eager for a new challenge, Wendell became interested in scuba diving and became certified. There were many natural springs throughout central Florida that Wendell visited and dove regularly.

Nautilus was sold several additional times in the 1990s. I relocated to Gainesville, Florida, in 1991, where I worked with Joe Cirulli and his large fitness club doing research in strength training and fat loss. I moved to Orlando in 1998.

In 2007, Wendell left Florida and moved in with his daughter, Brandi, who was an executive in New York. They visited me in 2008 and we had a great reunion and discussed the old days in Lake Helen and what Wendell had accomplished. That was the last time I saw Wendell in person.

On January 29, 2024, Wendell contacted me through my HIT Coaching Forum on the T-Nation website. I replied by writing: “Wendell Hobby was a one-of-a-kind trainee. I have never seen a man more disciplined and devoted to proper strength training.”

Some of my forum readers wanted to know more about this remarkable man. Wendell himself even noted that his memory was fading. He didn’t want to forget his time in Florida. Could I jot down some details for him?

Yes, of course: What you are reading is The Saga of Wendell Hobby.

He was carried into the Nautilus Lake Helen gym in 1975 in a basket. He could not walk or talk. He suffered a traumatic brain injury and was disabled in various ways.

But he was not disabled in his motivation and his desire to learn, improve, get stronger, help others, and become a productive citizen.

An Extra-Ordinary, Exceptional Person

Throughout my career, I’ve been to three Olympic Games and three Super Bowls. I’ve trained athletes from the Miami Dolphins, Cincinnati Bengals, Green Bay Packers, Atlanta Falcons, Tampa Bay Bucs, Chicago White Sox, and New York Yankees. I’ve worked with dozens of bodybuilding champions, including Casey Viator, Sergio Oliva, Boyer Coe, Mike Mentzer, Joe Means, and Scott Wilson.

Plus, I’ve trained more than 10,000 people who just wanted to get in shape.

I’ve visited fitness centers and gyms all over the world: in Canada, Mexico, Great Britain, Germany, Switzerland, Sweden, France, Argentina, Australia, and throughout the United States.

I’ve helped many individuals make dramatic comebacks, with proper rehabilitation, from injuries to their knees, hips, lower backs, shoulders, elbows, and necks.

Believe me: After more than 65 years, I’ve seen strength training at its best, its worst, and at everything in between.

But I’ve never witnessed a male or female overcome such adversity as I observed Wendell Hobby achieve. And it’s not even close.

Wendell, with his relentless perseverance, dedication, and commitment toward overcoming the seemingly insurmountable tribulations he faced in his life, has unknowingly influenced hundreds and hundreds of people who are fortunate enough to cross his path.

Wendell G. Hobby forever occupies a unique and extra-ordinary place in my memories.


Wow! Thanks for writing this up. Incredible.

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Amazing! Many thanks for this inspiring story! Something to keep in mind when you believe your life is hard, or even when hesitating going to the gym.

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Thanks Dr. Darden for sharing a very inspirational story. Overcoming adversity is one of the traits coaches preach to their athletes all the time. Wendell’s story is certainly one worth telling and reading. Sounds like he overcame more than most people could even imagine. And kudos to you for all the people you’ve helped and influenced over all those years, both the ordinary and the extraordinary.

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What a great story.
To think i have been moaning lately as my tennis elbow has been playing up again and disrupting my training a little bit.


this is one the most inspirational stories I have ever read

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@Ellington_Darden You’re speaking of @milanozoo? Damn, what a legend.

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Hi Dr. Darden. Thank you. It took me many days to read and process this. I have read it many times since. It was very emotional. Those early details are raw and a reminder of the progress we made using negatives. You, Arthur Jones and Nautilus saved my life! Wendell G. Hobby



Yes, we all shared a part of the story. But you, Wendell, did the majority of the work. You awakened and activated old and new muscle and exceeded goals that only a few people have ever achieved.

Stand tall, Wendell Hobby. You walk among the giants.


Dear Dr. Darden,

On behalf of my family and me, we would like to express our sincere gratitude for your unwavering dedication to Wendell’s rehabilitation following his automobile accident in the 70s. While our grandparents didn’t often speak of the challenges involved in his rehab, we were delighted to get more details on those early years.

We fondly remember visiting the Lake Helen complex as children, as Wendell would run us through workouts teaching us the proper technique. “Two up, four back” still rings through our ears.

Your encouragement and guidance to attend college was pivotal. Then connecting Wendell with Jim Randell, to whom he remained fiercely loyal and who reciprocated that loyalty, allowed him to continue being a part of Nautilus for many years.

During the past decade, Wendell has faced numerous health issues, predominantly physical in nature. Yet, time and again, he approached rehabilitation with the same tenacity and commitment he learned in his early years at Nautilus. There were times we overheard him correcting the techniques of physical therapists, drawing from the knowledge that’s embedded in his sole.

Wendell’s reverence for you, Dr. Darden, is profound and enduring, mirrored by the deep respect you hold for him. His life is a testament to your lasting impact and your legacy lives on in every Dr. Ellington Darden publication he surrounds himself with.

Your impact on Wendell’s life, and by extension, ours, is immeasurable. Your dedication to his rehabilitation journey has left an indelible mark, and for that, we are profoundly grateful.

Warm wishes,
Brandi Milano and family


Was that the reptempo used in Wendell’s rehabilitation @Ellington_Darden? Can you recall whether you tried anything different from the HIT norm, considering Wendell was such a special trainee?

I’m sure it should be two up and four back. Thus, I changed it.


What an inspiring read, very moving too.