I had the privilege of spending July 26-29 with some of the best strength athletes in the world. This took place in St. Hyacinthe, Canada, where I participated in the most stacked strongman contest I have been a part of: Strongman Champions League (SCL) Canada. I knew going into the contest that it would be a great opportunity to showcase my abilities against some very seasoned international strongmen, 7 of which have World’s Strongest Man experience (Terry Hollands, Stefan Solvi Petursson, JF Caron, Matjaz Belzak to name a few). It was very humbling to be able to share a stage with them.
Going into the contest, 8 events were scheduled over 2 days. Day 1 would consist of a truck pull (harness and lead rope), Log clean and press, car deadlift, and atlas stones. Day 2 would consist of a 700 squat for reps, keg toss, power stairs, and farmers walk. The morning of Day 1 at the rules meeting, we were informed that due to the conditions of the floor of the arena, the truck pull was being switched to a seated arm over arm pull, and the squat was replaced with a 225 lb dumbbell for reps. I was okay with these changes, since I have plenty of experience with these events.
As we arrived at the arena (which was actually a hockey arena, not surprisingly) it became apparent that the surface was going to be an issue. The arena was filled with dirt, but had been wet down to keep dust down. I knew right away that this was going to be an adventure.
The first event was the arm over arm truck pull, using the same truck that we had planned on using for the harness pull. Needless to say, it was brutal. It was definitely not ideal to start a contest with an event that is very taxing on your grip and biceps, but it was an even playing field for everyone. After drawing our order out of a hat, I would be going 7th out of 11. I gave an all out effort in pulling the truck for the entire 75 second time limit, and managed to pull it 12.4 meters. This was actually the best distance at the time. The best distance overall was 18 meters, so no competitor finished the 20 meter course. I was happy with a 5th place finish in this event, especially considering that I finished higher than several competitors that I expected to dominate this event.
Next up was the car deadlift. It was a smaller car, but with 400 lbs added to the trunk. With a front handle and around a 15” pick, I knew that this would be a challenge for me since 15” is the absolute worst height I can pull from for some reason. I heard someone ask JF Caron what he thought it would weigh in hand and he said “It should be easy, somewhere around 365-375 kilos.” It was good to know that 805-825lbs was going to be considered an easy car deadlift. As the whistle blew, my first pull felt great, and I locked out my first rep, the same with the second. After the second rep, I reset my position and couldn’t manage another rep. I finished with 2 reps, with several competitors hitting 3, and a few going for 8 or more. The winning total was 16 from JF, not surprisingly. I actually finished last in this event, behind a massive tie for 5th. One more rep would have helped me tremendously, and it has haunted me ever since. I knew that it was time to make up some ground going into the log press.
The logs that we were using were slightly narrower than the standard 12”, and had handles that were around 2” in diameter, so cleaning the log was going to be a challenge. The weight that we used was approximately 325-330 lbs, which I had been hitting for 5 reps consistently in training. I managed to hit 4 in the competition, running out of time on my 5th rep. Given the events that I did before this, I was okay with 4 reps, and a 5th place finish to make up some ground from the car deadlift. The thick handles and uneven ground definitely were the difference between 4 reps and 5 or potentially 6, because physically I felt like I could have hit more, even with the fatigue that was starting to set in.
The final event on Day 1 was the atlas stone series. There were 6 stones of increasing weight loaded to decreasing height. This was definitely the most challenging stone run that I have done. We loaded the stones to cylinders that were essentially the diameter of a volleyball. Any poor alignment in going for the load meant that the stone would roll off the side, which happened to me on my first and second stone, which I was not happy about. The first stone was roughly 275, loaded to 68-70”, then increasing about 20 kilos each, and decreasing by about 6 inches. With the mishaps that I had in loading the first 2 stones, I finished with 3 out of the 6 stones before time ran out. This was good for 6th place, as several of the other guys failed to load a single stone.
After a day of a lot of relaxation, we headed back to the arena to start day 2. Day 2 began with the power stairs. At the beginning of day 2, I was in 8th place, when I felt that without the disaster of a car deadlift, I should have been in 5th. I knew that there would be plenty of opportunities to gain points. After loading the lightest power stair implement (425 to an 18” step) I knew that this event was going to come down to a total number of implements loaded, not a time. The implements were 425, 475, 525 for 5 steps each. The implement was on a handle that was not fixed, so there was a pretty aggressive swing to the implement. To make matters worse, the stairs were very narrow, so my heels weren’t totally on the stairs as I was loading the implement. I was able to complete the first implement, and 1 load of the second. This put me in 7th place in this event, and it became apparent that the seasoned WSM competitors that were there simply had a lot more experience with power stairs than I did.
The next event was the circus dumbbell. This event has been my nemesis since my strongman career started. In warmups, I cleaned the dumbbell and called it good. I didn’t want to waste a good rep in warmups and then zero the event. Knowing myself, I had to make sure that I didn’t waste any energy re-cleaning the dumbbell after a missed press, so I was very methodical in my setup. I made sure to be in perfect position every time I went to press. I was the first competitor to have a successful rep, and it felt like the crowd went crazy. I definitely fed off of this, and was able to manage 3 more reps with the 225 dumbbell, for a total of 4. This was good for 5th place in the event. With some of the guys who were ahead of me in overall points getting zero reps on the dumbbell, I was able to move up substantially. If you would have told me that the circus dumbbell was going to be the highlight of my contest before it happened, I would have laughed in your face.
The next event was the keg toss. There were 8 kegs to be tossed over a 5 meter crossbar. 5 meters seems ridiculously tall. Without having a ton of experience with keg tossing (I’ve done it once in a contest) I felt that If I were able to get 4 or more kegs over the bar, I could at least hold my position overall. I managed 4 kegs in 17 seconds, which gave me a 7th place finish, again ahead of some of the WSM level competitors that were ahead of me. This allowed me to gain more points going in to the last event, the farmers walk.
The farmers walk was a surreal event for me. I was tied in points with Terry Hollands, and we would be going head to head, the winner of the heat would finish ahead of the other. I was about to compete directly against Terry Hollands in an event, and if I beat him in the event, I would beat him in the contest. Those are some crazy thoughts to be going through the head of some guy from Iowa that grew up watching Terry on TV. Now to the fun part: The farmers implements were 10 foot long cylinders that had to be carried 20 meters down and back in the muddy surface of the arena we were in. This was the most miserable farmers walk I had ever done. The weight was 330 a hand, and was by far more challenging than any 400+ farmers I had ever done, regardless of distance. On the initial pick, I felt my feet sink into the mud, but it was time to go. Terry got out to an early lead, and I ended up dropping the farmers just short of the turn. I re-picked them, and got to the turning point. As I was getting ready to turn, I saw that Terry hadn’t re-picked his handles yet, which gave me the opportunity to turn back towards the finish line and gain about 15 more meters. I wasn’t able to finish the farmers walk, but I accomplished my goal of finishing ahead of a legend. It was a very surreal moment, one that you think about when you are training, even though you’ve worked a 10 hour shift that day and all you want to do is go home and lay on the couch. Moments like that make all the sacrifices worth it.
When the dust settled, I finished in 7th place out of 11 at SCL Canada. It was an experience that I’ll never forget. The contest definitely had its ups and downs, and I’m still kicking myself for some of the reps or meters that I missed out on, but that is how you grow as a competitor and a person. It was a very validating experience to spend a weekend with the caliber of athletes I was with, and reinforced to me that every time I wanted to stop doing what I was doing, I was right for pushing through.
I have a ton of people to thank for this experience. First, my wife Amber. She definitely puts up with more than she has to, especially as a contest gets closer. When we got married, I’m pretty sure she knew she was marrying a 320 pound toddler, and she did it anyway. Her unconditional support is something that I couldn’t do without. My parents and siblings have also been 100% supportive since my first contest over 6 years ago.
Willie and the United States Strongman Crew do a fantastic job of creating opportunities for deserving athletes, and this is a great example. I can’t thank them enough for the support that their athlete-oriented organization provides.
I also want to thank Team HMB for their continued support as not only a sponsor, but a great supplement company and resource for strength and fitness athletes everywhere.
Jon Haugen for allowing Amber and I to use a high level collegiate weight room on a regular basis, as well as Ken McClelland and the Anvil Gym Crew for their support and allowing me to occupy space and equipment on event days. I can’t thank you guys enough.
SCL Canada could have never happened without Marcel Mostert and Ilkka kinnunen. Although Ilkka was not at the Canada contest, Marcel showed how great of a representative he and the organization that they manage is for the presence of strongman around the world. All in all, this was an experience that I will never forget, and I can’t wait for the next opportunity.