A little over 6 years ago, I walked into Slater’s Hardware to buy a log. It didn’t seem like a life altering decision at the time. My shoulders were beat up from years of shitty benching technique, but I still wanted to press. I’d read that neutral grip presses were easier on the shoulders. At the time, the Slater logs were about the same price as a good Swiss bar and obviously WAY cooler looking. Upon seeing the maker of the logs was only 30 minutes away from my house, I realized I could get the much more awesome option without paying for shipping. I’m a quarter Jewish…the cheapness runs deep.
When I paid the deposit on the log, Steve says to me “Hey, we train events every Saturday at our warehouse if you’d like to come out and train with us.” That sounded fun, so I joined the Slater crew for a workout a couple of weeks later. Having spent most of my training life around bodybuilders and powerlifters, I was expecting the same sort of ego-filled, dick-swinging match crap I had known in that world. I had no idea what I was really in for.
It was obvious I was destined for greatness in the sport from day one. Max log was the first event and I topped out at a beastly 180. Pounds…not kilos. A teenager out pressed me by 20 pounds or so. He was not a heavyweight teen, either. I got 2…maybe even 3 feet with 250 pound farmers handles. My performance prompted Steve Slater to say “You know, I have never seen anyone pick them up so easily and then drop them that fast.” I nearly puked on the truck pull. I barely loaded a 240 pound stone. That chattering noise you heard was Brian Shaw’s teeth rattling in fear at my arrival in the sport.
What shocked me was how much everyone went out of their way to help me. It was almost irritating and confusing because 10 people are yelling different things at you in an effort to help you do better. High fives and fist bumps all around when you got it right. I’d never seen an environment quite like it. That welcoming atmosphere is what brought me back weekend after weekend from there on out. Well, that and not being able to live with the fact that some snot-nosed, scrawny teen could press more than me. No offense, Tyler…
Even with all the camaraderie with the Slater crew, I was still a little wary of the sport and the other people. I thought maybe this was an aberration and the other people in the sport were twats. I’m suddenly thankful I didn’t meet Johnston until later…but I digress. That all changed upon watching my first local contest. I helped out a little, being part of Steve’s training crew and the contest being his contest. I noticed how the athletes acted towards each other, how everyone was cheering for everyone else. Everyone celebrated their personal victories together and offered consolation on the failures.
After watching that, I decided to enter my first contest. Even though I came in dead last, I saw that same dynamic at play. I did a faceplant on the truck pull, went 3 feet, 9 inches with the Conan’s wheel, smashed my finger on the odd object load, and saw my “straps are for pussies” mantra die a painful death. Through all those stellar moments, guys I had never met were coming up and congratulating me or encouraging me. Several people I met that day are still good friends to this day.
In the years since, I have made a lot of gains. The area where I have gained the most mass is in friendships. At every contest, every gathering, there are people genuinely happy to see you. You meet new people and are instant friends. There is always someone to help you out with whatever. Tons of friends cheering you on every event, the people in your own class competing against you are the ones cheering the loudest. It’s unlike anything else. As another friend put it, it’s like finding family you haven’t met.
The friendship doesn’t stop when the contests are over and everyone goes home. Life kicks you in the gut sometimes, as we all know. Time and again, I have seen my strongman brothers and sisters have rally around a person or a cause because they genuinely cared and because it was the right thing to do. Recently life kicked me in the guy…hard. The day before Thanksgiving, I learned that my oldest son committed suicide. Like I had seen so many times before, my strongman family rallied around me. The support from the strongman community has been truly overwhelming. Phone calls, texts, messages, and emails of support and encouragement came flooding in from competitors, promoters, and fans near and far. People have sent gifts and cards (and food). People drove long distances just to be there at the funeral and the wake.
A little over 6 years ago, I walked into Slater’s Hardware to buy a log. Though I didn’t know it at the time, I walked out with a family. I purchased a piece of equipment and discovered the one place I really fit in, a place to call home. It’s hard to put into words just how much that means to me. You see, most of my life, I’ve felt like I was on the outside looking in. I was “with the group”, but never truly part of the group, if that makes sense. Always there, but always an outsider. That’s not the case anymore, and it’s an amazing feeling. Those of you that are part of the family, I love you more than words can adequately say. To those of you that aren’t, you should try it. Maybe you’ll find home like I did.
Chris is a strongman promoter and passable masters competitor, having spent his formative years training with Steve Slater. Chris was voted "Whitest Man in South Columbus" for three straight years and was recently named in an injury lawsuit by several Greenpeace volunteers who suffered multiple contusions after trying to drag Chris back into the ocean after he laid down on the beach.