The former Franklin firefighter had his right arm crushed by a fire truck in 2015. Now the 40-year father of two is a frequent finalist – and sometimes winner – in international disabled strong man competitions.
“Life is going to knock you down and you have to be strong enough to get back up and keep going,” said Diehl.
Carmela Cotter, principal of Middletown High School, is among his many admirers.
“Mike Diehl is one of the most positive men you could ever meet,” she said. “He has taken the most difficult of circumstances and turned it into a point of connection with students by not allowing it to set him back in any way.
“One of our students who has a similar physical challenge has especially bonded with him. Mike’s presence and personality has brought a brightness to that young man’s life that only he could bring.”
Before his accident and after, Mike played semi-pro football and for years has coached youth football for area leagues in Warren and Butler counties.
In 2016, as a member of the Ohio Crush Semi Pro Football Team, he helped his team to an undefeated season en route to a berth in a national championship game. The season earned Diehl a spot on the Ohio Football League All Star Team.
But the biggest showcase for his athleticism and grit are national and international strong man competitions. Whether it be in the classroom or on stage, at 6′2″ and almost 300 pounds, Diehl cuts a striking figure.
Among his many honors, in 2019 he won first place in an Indiana power-lifting competition and later that year finished second in the World’s Strongest Disabled Man in Smith’s Falls, Ontario, Canada.
In 2020 he battled to second place in the Arnold Classic Disabled Strongman in Columbus, Ohio. And in November, he’s headed to Iceland’s capital city Reykjavík to compete against similar athletes from around the globe.
“We are all behind Mike and are very proud to have him in our Middie family,” said Cotter.
But he doesn’t do it for the accolades.
“The whole reason I continue to compete, is because, as a firefighter, a coach, and a father, people look up to those positions and I have a responsibility to my community to never give up,” said Diehl.
“I want someone, even if it’s just one kid, to look at me one day and say: ‘I saw what you did and because of you, I didn’t give up,’”