Late 2004 / Early 2005 I went with a friend, Eric Michielutti, to “try out” some strongman implements: An 8” log and a 250# stone. I lifted them both. I was hooked. I did my first show in April of 2005 in Chicago, IL.
Since that time I have had a growing addiction to not just this sport, but the community. At the first show I met Willie Wessels, who I had learned about through hearsay mostly. We had a good first competitor / president interaction at that time. Over the next two years I kept showing up to compete and Willie kept being there to judge, load, whatever was needed. We got to know each other a little bit better each time. I also had the opportunity to meet MJ (Mike Johsnton) and Chad Coy over that time. My first impressions of those two guys was nothing but intensity –now I understand why!
Willie, Mike and Chad are some of the biggest and best advocates for this silly sport we adore – it is because of them that the Inaugural United States Strongman Nationals were what they were.
The Start of USS and Nats Prep:
After my second year coaching track in 2014, I planned on setting down strongman outside of competing. I got a call from Willie, “John, if you decide you want to come back to being a State Rep, Indiana is yours. You’ll have a Co-Rep too.” We talked, and talked, and talked… And after two and a half months I agreed. The premise had changed, the commitment had gotten easier, the strongman family was growing and I had the blessing from my wife, Amanda, under these newer circumstances.
One of the things we discussed was Nationals. I wanted it as soon as I could have it. We started talking a lot. I found the venue, signed on the dotted line, and was granted the FIRST ever United States Strongman Nationals!
Ideas began to pour. Willie, Mike and I talked for hours on end over the days and weeks and months leading up to this event. Chad Coy entered the conversation about the US qualifier to MWSM. Mike secured a Giants Live qualifier and called upon me for help, just as I had with him. EVERYTHING was coming together…
Venue secured – CHECK!
Events decided – CHECK!
Shirts – CHECK!
Banquet – CHECK!
Staff – CHECK!
Athletes – CHECK!
EVERYTHING was coming together…
The last few days, 21 to be exact, leading up to the contest were full of non-stop action and stressful. Track had ended and I was off with my kids and second job – and the real contest prep madness was beginning. I picked up the equipment, finalized the banquet, the awards, and numerous other details that I cannot even think of at this time. Willie arrived a few days early to help make the platforms, load the equipment and help with check-ins. EVERYTHING was coming together…
Check-in day arrived and except for a few athletes that were cutting weight, everything went smooth. The shirt provider and sponsor, Fine Designs, did a hell of a job on site. We had the rules meeting, checked in a few more and called it a night… so we thought! I and my crew headed to the venue at 11pm June 26th, an hour before we took control of the site.
The grounds let us in and we unloaded, never mind the flood! As we drove through two feet of water, waded in eight inches of muddy water to move equipment from our staging site to the event site the 10-12 of us loaded in all of the equipment in less than an hour. Stellar! EVERYTHING was coming together…
Day of the show:
I returned home, did some back of house work for the show and hit the sack about 3am. Up before 6, loading in the back of house items and staging the cars (Barkley and I thought it best to have the women in our lives drive the Cadillacs!). By 8am the rest of the staff arrived and we started setting up the lanes, and placing equipment now that it was dry! EVERYTHING was coming together…
The countdown was REAL! Setting up the PA, handling staff questions, directing, and God knows what else. Mike handled the staff prep, Willie got people going and before I knew it we were playing the National Anthem and bowing our heads. EVERYTHING was coming together… And then, IT DID! The Inaugural United States Strongman Nationals had begun!
Once we started, I was not sure what to do. The staff had taken over. I felt lost, out of control and very sleepy. I tried to speak to our sponsors and find something else to help with. There was virtually nothing I could do at this point. I started getting water and snacks for the staff. I spoke to some athletes and other promoters to see if there was anything we could do better or I could fix, “right now” – they gave me nothing… Absolutely worthless, they were! Just kidding!
I was watching the clock and saw we were behind schedule despite minimum lulls between events so I called the caterer of the banquet and made the adjustment for eat time. I think I passed out a few more waters, helped move score sheets and such. As the stones were loaded I handled some equipment sales and started loading the truck. Then, the contest was over…
The next phase began, getting ready for dinner and awards. I just wanted a nap! My staff again stepped up in a way that amazed me. They were superb all day. The tables were ready, the music was plaing, and the people started coming back in. Food was served.
We began giving out the awards after a few announcements, some heart felt words and a few laughs. It was surreal at that moment – we had reached the apex of the day!
I wish I could explain all of my emotions reflection on this day and those leading up to it but I do not think I can. They ran the gambit. But now I can say I feel relieved and happy to pass the torch to Kentucky and Rob McCann and Davey McCann. I know they will do a wonderful job.
Of course there are still many thanks:
Thanks to God, our creator, and his son Jesus Christ for sacrificing his own life for ours and teaching us the meaning of LOVE – may we all pass that lesson to our loved ones, our children and all others that cross our paths. It is contagious and we all need it.
Thanks to my wife, Amanda Albrecht. Her support day in and day out was unwavering. She also kept me inline as a father and a husband during this process. Without her blessing this would have never happened anyway. She did a great job scoring her lane and worked well with the entire staff all day. She smiled and told me she was proud of me for eating Saturday. I love you, honey. You are my God Send.
To Willie Wessels, thank you for the life lessons in this sport and out, for your trust in me and encouraging words throughout the year. Thank you for the opportunity to host the first Nationals, to work with you and grow this organization as your VP. You are my brother.
To Mike Johnston, thank you for your insights and “driving” lessons on this road of promotions. You were at your best on the mic and the “warm” drinks were as calming as they were delicious. Thank you, brother.
And the list goes on, for a while, so grab a coke and as smile or a warm cup of Joe and get comfy.
Aaron West – Thank you for your expertise on the stones, your presence with the athletes and helping with the PA. You are a true advocate for this sport.
Anna Soucie – Thank you for adjusting your schedule to be here and take the pictures. I can’t wait to see them all. I have missed seeing you and Tony as often as used to.
Ashmon Lucas – You are a special young man. One of integrity and spirit and as much as I enjoyed coaching you these past few years, I enjoyed having you heling on my staff. Thank you.
Barkley – You were my on floor presence all day. Thank you for judging and keeping things moving as we packed up. Thank you for the company of you and your family at these events. It really makes things light.
Bob Murray – Thank you for your “wise” words and humor, your thought and effort. It is always a pleasure having you here. I trust what you do for me when you are in attendance.
Codye McCann – Thank you for helping at our USS booth. I know it was appreciated by Willie as well. And thanks to you and your Hubby for being here. Your decision to come was one of the kindest gestures I have seen knowing what you did to get here.
Crystal Barkley – you were amazing all day. This show ran as smooth as any because of you ability to work quickly and accurately. There is no one I trust to do what you did. Thank you. And thanks for bringing that little bundle of Joy, Drew. The Barkley Family IS Family.
Dan McCarron – Despite some challenges on time and physically, you made it. And you did not let down. Your work horse attitude is outstanding and is always appreciated. Thank you.
Eric Michielutti – You got me into this sport… It is ALL you fault! Well, I guess I can credit you for this as much as anyone else. You and I have been through much together and I don’t think we are done! Thank you for your commitment to me as a friend and taking a lead at this event. You experience and help during and after were beyond what I could have asked for. I hope the ride home was not, “too bad”.
Eryn Epeley – Thank you for you offer to help and supply equipment transportation. Your work on the lane signs was wonderful. Your speed in loading an unloading was extremely appreciated. Best of luck to you and your continued strongman involvement.
Ian Darr – After some time in the shadows you emerged in wonderful fashion. Thank you for your offer to help, judge, and your kind words after. They were perfect. Your energy during the unload was greatly appreciated as well.
Jeff Pentzien – Your offer to help was not a surprise, but you making it was a surprise, considering all things. Thank you for your time, your efforts and I hope to see you out on the field soon enough. Get some rest my friend.
Jim and Linda Brandon – thank you for your Daughter, Amanda. Oh, and thank you for your time at the door and all your help with the kids. You are wonderful people and I am proud to be part of your family.
John Tabarlet – Maybe the surprise of the event for me was John. The offer to help was a complete surprise. The gratitude from John was beyond what I expected –and he was the one doing the heavy lifting! Louisiana Is lucky to have you at the helm. Thank you.
Joshua Stubbs – this young man offers to work nearly every show and does a great job at all times. His words through prayer at the beginning were inspiring and calming. You are a fine young man and I am honored to know you.
Lance Darr – Thank you for all your help form organizing athletes with Aaron West to moving equipment in your truck , to loading in the lake with me, Ian and Barkley. It is always smiles with you.
Michelle Holder-Walden – On your second time at a show you did a tremendous job. All in the midst of some big life moments! Wow! You are a wonderful advocate to the world of iron sports! Thank you for your time and efforts. I will see you at the Gym!
Regina Coughlin-Castillo – Thank you for volunteering to help with this show. I knew that you were cool when you agreed to come here with Lance and Ian! What I didn’t know what how well you would perform for this event… You nailed it! Thank you.
Rob McCann – I think it only fitting that you changed your plans to be here, all things considered! You did one hell of a job on the field and judging. You helped keep the show rolling. Congratulations on hosting SS Nats 2016 and Thank you for all your help.
Russell Mueller – You are a work horse as well as anyone. Thank you for your time and help this day. I am happy for you and your career advancement. And, no, I will not add 100# to any of the events! Thanks again, Russell.
Sarah Cooper – Thank yo for your patience and efforts in your first strongman comp! You did a wonderful job and I appreciate your time and offer to help at the next one. I will see you at the Gym!
Stacey West – You are one heck of a lady! You have been around this sport for many years and still came with a smile on! Not only that but you took a load off of my shoulders that I didn’t realize I even had. Thank you for everything from support to medical aid.
Tammy Savage – Not only a pleasure to make your acquaintance, but thank you for your help at the USS Booth. I hope to see you at more USS shows!
Tony Soucie – A constant in the sport, Tony offered his help at the show. Of course I accepted. You were easy to work with and very thorough, as you always have been. Thank you for your time and I look forward to seeing you more frequently. Thank you, Tony.
Chad Coy – Thank you for the opportunity to continue the US qualifier for MWSM. It was an honor. And thanks for your constant input and advice as well.
Chad Robison – he didn’t “Help out” in terms of being on staff, but he sure did help out over the course of the year as I prepared, bouncing ideas, testing some equipment, etc. Thank you for your time and input and offers to help in a pinch. Thanks neighbor!
Nanci Albrecht – thanks for watching the kids this day and for cutting me some slack in my “cooking of the books”. I love you, Mom.
Jim Albrecht – Thanks for making sure I was set up for the PA and for having a drink with me to calm me down a few days out. It is always fun spending time with my old man. I love you, Pop.
To the Athletes:
Of course, if you do not compete, there is no show. You came out in groves this first year. My promise to you is to keep it about the athletes. If you felt like I did not do that, then please talk to me so I can fix it. My door is always open. Thank you for competing and helping to kick off United States Stongman properly!
To my sponsors:
Thank you for your donations and time! To the Booth sponsors, thank you for supporting this event!
A Special thanks to Dr. Todd McDougal – You have been here so many times to help the athletes. Your results are beyond what anyone would think until they have experienced the SMACKDOWN! And you have done all of this on your own dime, most all of the time. I do not think there is another promoter that can truly attest to how special and wonderful you are as not just a DC, but as a friend and supporter of our sport. Thank you from the bottom of my heart. WE ALL APPRECIATE WHAT YOU DO FOR US!
Here is the sponsor contact information:
Sponsor: McDougle Chiropractic Methods
Sponsor: ProAm Belts
Sponsor: Monster Rings and Cages
Sponsor: Force Barbell
Sponsor: 84 Lumber
Sponsor: Indiana Strongman
Sponsor: Fine Designs
Sponsor: Hare Chevrolet
Sponsor: Lockhart Cadillac
Sponsor: Play Again
Sponsor: Pro Body Solutions