This journey all began with me on the plane with my family getting ready for vacation in early August, when I received a text from Willie asking if wanted a spot for 105kg team worlds. I was a little shocked as I was down the list and also really excited. The first thing I wanted to know is what the events were and to make sure I could contribute in a respectable manner. After looking I decided I have to capitalize on the opportunity. Willie introduces me to the rest of the team on messenger: Andrew Jiminez, Joey Szatmary and Matt Cooney. Instantly we discuss our strengths and weaknesses as it relates to the events, then Andrew Jimenez writes up a rough draft game plan, which was easily agreed upon. From day 1 with these guys I’m proud to say it was all about our team and our country! We had the game plan pretty much instantly, then specified our training. Like the next day Andy Deck informs me I’m the captain and provides me with contact information for the promoter. As you can imagine everybody had a lot of questions and we tried to keep it the most relevant for Valerii Gazaiev. While I’m certain the Americans were the largest pains in the ass Valerii continually maintained his patience and hospitality. Valerii Gazaiev not only runs the greatest 105kg team events in the world, but is also an incredible competitor. Long story short he’s the real deal. Kind of like a younger Ukranian version of Willie.
The trip began with a drive from West Virginia to JFK(8hrs) where I was meeting the rest of the competitors. I enjoyed a 340 cal egg white omlete, then said goodbye to food for the next about 36 hrs, followed by about 3hrs cardio and 2hrs in the bathtub putting me within a few pounds over before about a 24 hr trip to Ukraine. I don’t recommend this by the way. Once we got there we waited on team Poland for another 45 min or so and had a 3 hr trip to Melitopol, to get settled in our hotel and for weighins. I was a little concerned that we’d have to pull a Burt and Ernie, however, we each had a bed. During the process we met the rest of the competitors from: Canada, Ukraine, UK, and Czech Republic. Everybody was super cool and I have to say this is the strongest comradery I have ever seen between competitors. We were thoroughly greeted. It was awesome! Leading up to weighin was a bit of grind, but after was glorious. We were absolutely loaded with Ukrainian and Georgian food. We rehydrated like champs-definitely first place here. Both Joey and I made under 231, then over 256.
Day 1 We competed in Nova Kakhovka. Prior to the competition we had pictures and were
introduced to a crowd of several hundred by name and accomplishments. The 1st event included 60ft: 800ish yoke, 660 frame carry, truck pull, and arm over arm truck pull. I was on the arm over arm where I have always felt confident. I’ve gotten 1st here at nats and after seeing everyone else warm up I felt even more confident, however, it was light and the placing was more dictated on the other events. We had some jitters here and overall was one of our worst events, by the time I was up UK was almost halfway down and we were edged by them. Next was the 90kg(200lb) db. Joey, Andrew, and Matt faired off pretty well here. Joey knocked out 8 reps, Matt 2, and Andrew had a few near misses, but couldn’t quite find the proper placement/technique. The 3rd event was our best event of the day: 600lb axle deadlift 11in pick, 550lb axle squat to boxes, and 352lb atlas stone. We all really crushed this event. I got 11 reps on the deadlift, which was the highest number by 1, Joey also had either the highest or tied the guy from Poland with 9 reps-insane and Andrew grinded out 7 reps. Ukraine had a monster squatter who somehow pulled off 20 reps even though we got them on the other events all together we were able to match total reps. This same guy front squatted 440lb for 12 reps to depth in a competition prior. After the contest we had lines of people who wanted their picture taken with us. Kids were looking at us like I would look at Jerry Rice when I was a kid. It was really something.
The next day was a rest day. We got to enjoy Melitopol and finished the day with a ceremony in a soccer stadium accommodating roughly 6 to 8 thousand spectators? We were once again addressed by our names, countries, and bombarded by people who wanted photos with us. The 28th was our final competition day. The first event included: log, axle, keg clean and press. Log and axle were 284lbs and the keg weighed in at 90kg I think 220. Joey was on the Log, Matt on the Axle and I was on the keg. Joey crushed the log I believe with 7 or 8. It was also a 10in log that he hasn’t trained. I did well with 9 reps and Matt with 3. The next event included 2 farmers(309lbs) 60ft and 2 tires(8-900lbs) 5 flips each. These farmers were thick, slick, and off of tanks about 8-9in diameter-tough to deal with. Both Andrew and I have handled heavier for farther without drops, however, these were different. Andrew was making good speed, but had one drop and at the end the farmers fell to the side and again when we tried to fix. I picked them all uneven and while walking about half way probably gave the appearance that I had a 2x4 up my ass while bouncing the tanks on my knees. Dropped it, again, again, and it was just awful. Unfortunate, because Joey and Matt crushed the tire flip. The final event included a frame carry 660lbs x3 60ft each way. I had originally planned to do this, however, I wanted to make sure it was the right decision. My grip was pretty fried from the mishaps with the farmers and the short time period between events. I thought it would be a good idea to compare myself with Joey. We couldn’t really tell with 465lbs up to 600lbs, but then we loaded to 640lbs. It didn’t feel that bad. It felt better than what I had done in training, however, Joey’s grip was fresh and his speed looked better than mine. So, I decided Joey was probably a better decision than myself. Joey being a gamer had zero hesitation. Andrew had an awesome carry, then Joey moved very quickly with a drop in the middle, but he was so fast it didn’t matter. Then out of the dark when he is needed the most the Coon came out and smoked the frame to tie Canada to the hundredth and seal the deal for 3rd place. Given our experience with these events and the level of the other competition, and knowing we had all given our best for our country we couldn’t been any happier with the result. Personally, I think an international opportunity is one of the best things that can happen to you in the sport of strongman. The overall all environment displayed more love and support for the sport x10 at least than anything I’ve seen in the US including World Strongest Man 06. I’m not sure why this is. I think maybe because strongman is just a bigger deal to them, where they don’t have the development of other sports like we do in the US. Either way I don’t think you’ll find the crowd support for strongman in the US, that we were lucky enough to enjoy in Ukraine. Thank You Willie Wessels for this opportunity and continued international opportunities for other athletes!