What a genuinely great thread topic and first post. No surprise that it’s drawn some excellent responses already.
Like others, I have a combination of “my dad” and some larger than life folks (in my case, football players & WSM competitors that I saw on reruns). I’ve also had two “lifting lives” so there’s a second layer to this for me.
My dad and his best friend were casually into Masters powerlifting in their 40’s. I was already into football and wrestling so naturally I started lifting with them (on and off at first around ages 10-11, for good at age 12) and we did a couple meets.
As I’ve mentioned in my log, I took awhile to fuck around with endurance sports from age 22-28 or so.
The WSM events remained a lingering fascination and once I came back to strength training at 28, I found myself gravitating toward the exploits of Shaw, Bjornsson, as well as some folks here like flip, Punisher and Alpha.
Another one: CrossFit athletes. When I got back into lifting, I was working out in a CrossFit gym (not taking the classes, just in open gym - place was more welcoming to doing squats and deadlifts than the commercial gym I started going to first). But I got into watching the CrossFit games videos on YouTube and was impressed by the athletes. That also was an inspiration to my wife as she got into barbell training - like many women, I think she was afraid that weightlifting would make her feel less feminine, but seeing athletes like Katrin Davidsdottir helped her get over that.