Josh Elias | July 19th, 2019
David Randall Jenkins was a competitive powerlifter for a grand total of eight months and twenty days. Which makes it all the more impressive that on Monday, July 14, Jenkins etched his name into the sport’s world record books for the third time. Three days later, he unexpectedly passed away, leaving behind a legacy that far outweighs the limited results that come up when you google his name.
As you would expect for someone whose sports career lasted for approximately 1% of his life, that legacy has little to do with his athletic feats, records notwithstanding.
When I first met Jenkins, it was for possibly the furthest thing from sports. Six years ago, he became my family’s tax consultant.
And I have to say, if I knew then what I now know about his past life, we never would have hired him. But I don’t regret it in the slightest.
I’d argue that he’s perhaps the most interesting person I’ve gotten to know personally and would certainly be worth writing an article in memory of on some platform even without his powerlifting feats.
Was he perfect? No, far from it. But let’s be honest, perfect people are boring. And liars.
First off, I never knew what to call him.
Sometimes he’d sign off his emails with David Randall.
Sometimes just David.
Sometimes David R.
Randall. Randy. Dr. Jenkins, PhD.
He was a smart guy. In many ways, a genius, honestly.
Probably too smart for his own good. Too ambitious for his own good too.
Straight out of college, he worked as an intelligence officer for the United States Air Force during the Vietnam War. Once President Gerald Ford triggered the end of U.S. involvement in the conflict, he quickly found his footing teaching accounting at the University of Arizona as a visiting professor, while still in his twenties.
And then he tried his hand at the business world and things got out of hand. 1979 was the humble beginning, with a real estate investment into a local oil-change shop in Yuma, Arizona. That quickly turned into what could only be described as a real estate empire, with his company, Jentel National Corporation (JNC), amassing as much as $162 million worth of assets, including a notable horse racing track called Rillito Race Track.
I suppose you could call that his first venture into the sports world, in a way, although it was far from the hands-on athletic experience that he took on in the last year of his life.
But as fast as his rise was, his crash came even faster. With his company’s greatest fortune coming in 1986, it was all gone by 1987. JNC was bankrupt, and it was sketchy business.
In the next two years, JNC officials would face 1,127 charges. More than a quarter of those were against Jenkins himself. He was accused of just about every white-collar crime possible.
Fraud. Racketeering. Bribery. Misrepresentation. Running a pyramid scheme.
Just about everything.
All in all, Jenkins was convicted of 58 counts, including five counts of fraud. JNC was found to be over $100 million in debt, he himself was sentenced to fourteen years in prison, eleven of his employees pleaded guilty to other charges, and there was a high-profile name victim who testified against him in court.
Lute Olson coached the Arizona Wildcats basketball team for 25 years. He made the Final Four five times, is in the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame and was so important to college basketball that he was inducted into the National Collegiate Basketball Hall of Fame twice, and his time in Tucson is responsible for producing Gilbert Arenas, Mike Bibby, Jason Terry, Andre Iguodala, Steve Kerr, Damon Stoudamire, Michael Dickerson, Sean Elliott, Bison Dele, and 24 other players who had an impact on the NBA. He was also defrauded by Jenkins to the tune of $25,000.
I suppose you could consider that Jenkins’ second venture into the sports world, in… inopportune circumstances.
Despite all that, I have nothing bad to say about him as a person. He sent cards to everyone. Mothers’ Day cards, Christmas cards, birthday cards, all to dozens – perhaps hundreds – of his friends. He was extremely involved in local philanthropy. And, as I knew him, he had a love of life that few could match.
He credits that to love and to God. He wrote in one of his books that those were the two things that convinced him to leave his “cheating, conniving, lyin’-ass ways” behind.
Point being, the man I knew was so far removed from the man that defrauded people out of literally hundreds of millions of dollars.
That doesn’t excuse what he did by any means. I was shellshocked when I first learned it. I couldn’t believe it, it seemed too surreal.
To his credit, he was successful in his appeal process and didn’t serve anywhere near the full fourteen years he was sentenced to. How much of that was due to true innocence and how much is due to a largely two-tiered justice system is up to interpretation, but he did truly put the work in to figure out how to make the appeal process happen, and work out in his favor.
And he did truly put the work in to regain respect in the Tucson community, in a large way.
He supported and funded local businesses, he donated money to cancer funds, child hunger, and religious groups. He utilized his higher educated to get various papers, essays, and books published.
And on a purely human level, he became really involved in social dancing, skiing, and traveling to see concerts.
Just reaching the level of being seen as a normal human being after what he’d done and what he’d been through thanks to what he’d done was an accomplishment.
Then last September he made an announcement on Facebook, to very little fanfare. His post had nine likes, out of his 1,240 friends on the platform. On October 28, 2018, he would participate in his first weightlifting tournament.
But the thing is, he wouldn’t just participate, he would dominate.
That day, in his very first USPA competition, he deadlifted 353 pounds. An Arizona state record for his age group and weight class. In his first competitive lift.
And then he beat his own state record.
And then the California state record.
And the world record.
And then his own world record.
For his last competition, three days before his death, he decided trying to beat his own records again wasn’t enough. He purposely missed weight in order to go up a weight class. Because he wanted to beat that record too.
And he did.
Not too bad for a former white-collar criminal who picked up competitive weightlifting at 68.
And with that, I’m going to leave you with some parting words he himself invoked six months ago in Russian.
“Доброе утро!!! Иду к небеса!!!”
Follow Josh Elias on Twitter @thejelias
Main Credit Image: United States Powerlifting Association National Championships