At the end of June, I won the 220 lb weight class and overall middle weight division at United States Strongman nationals in New York. This was the achievement of multiple long-time goals I have had including earning me an invite to compete in 105kg World’s Strongest Man in Liperi, Finland. I had only had 1 month to train for this competition, but I was perfectly fine with that since I am also in the middle of my final clinical to finish up PT school and putting together a long-term training program for world’s would have been made much more challenging due to the current demands on my time with everything else I have going on. Travel to Finland was hell, but tha
t was my own fault for trying to save money on my flights and for being in a situation where I was not able to get there several days early to catch up on rest and acclimate to the changes in time, temperature, amount of daylight, etc. Finland itself was nice and I would definitely go back again since I really did not get to see much of the country or do anything touristy on this trip. With all that said, I was at world’s for the first time so of course I’m still gonna send it.
Qualifying Round Event 1: Frame Carry
This event was supposed to be 40 meters/131 feet with a 260 kg/573 lb frame. The weight wasn’t bad, but I was not used to anywhere near that long of a distance. The first time I trained for this event, I did it indoors with drop and repick at 40 foot intervals because it was raining. After 120 feet I realized I had ripped open a callous on my right hand so I stopped training that event for the day and subsequent week while my hand was healing. The reason I had torn open my hand with only 250 lbs per hand on the smooth, unknurled farmer’s handles I was using was because I rushed my picks and didn’t get my grip set tightly. Because of the rip and other factors, the only other time I was able to train this event was the weekend before worlds and I hit it for 120 feet straight to practice the feel of having that much distance to get up to top speed and work on my control and acceleration.
Fast forward to the qualifying round of worlds and as happens so often in the sport of strongman, the rules changed the day of the competition. Now instead of a set distance, we had to take the 260 kg frame for max distance with a drop and repick every 15 meters. This was run three at a time and all lanes had to alternate between going diagonally uphill first and then back downhill. The weight wasn’t heavy, but max distance always sucks more than going for a set distance and the slope definitely made the odd numbered lengths a lot rougher. My hands had just healed up enough to train this again a week ago and I did not want to repeat my training error of ripping them open so I was more deliberate on my picks to make sure I had a solid grip since I had already seen a few of the other athletes come away with or even have to stop early due to ripped up hands when they were finished. The first and second lengths didn’t feel bad, but were definitely wobbly, probably from the slant of the course. The 3rd length felt much worse going back uphill and then coming back down on the 4th length I took a misstep to the side and felt like I was going to trip and/or drop the frame coming back downhill. I turned to go back uphill for my 5th length, but before I could get it started the whistle blew and time was up. I finished with a distance of 60 meters/196 feet which put me in a tie for 6th place on the event with 5 other athletes. This is a classic example of why you never stop at a turn on a max distance event. Just one more foot would have given me a lot more points. On the positive side, I didn’t choose to stop there, it just happened that time was up when I was at a turn, but it still cost me for not going faster.
Qualifying Round Event 2: Viking Press
The weight for the Viking press was 140 kg/308 lb and it was for max reps in 60 seconds. This was the event I was most worried about crapping the bed on due to the design of the actual Viking press itself and the rules, which did not allow for rebending the knees after the initial leg drive – i.e. push press was allowed, but push jerks were not. I have done Viking press a few times in competition before and actually owned one for several years until I traded it for the stone platform I have now, but the setup here in the USA is always a low central anchor point with the weight hanging from the arm, which makes it much easier than having the pivot point high (above the heads of most of the athletes in this case) with the weight sitting on top all the way out near the handles. I trained for this with several different setups to try to mimic it as close to the contest setup as possible. The closest I got was at Iron Athletics training with owner and my good friend and long-time training partner, Steve Mattheu. We setup the axle in the highest position on his wall-mounted landmine with the EliteFTS Viking press handle on the end and the weights resting on plyo boxes. I wish I had been able to train it with this setup every time, but I made due with similar setups when I was training at work at Healthy Baller or when I was back home at Iron Strong CF, thanks to the fact that both of those places also have Viking press handles. I got some good advice from Coach G regarding keeping tight through my trunk and not losing all my air and I’m pretty sure this played a big part in helping me to not bomb this event. Sadly, I still only managed a single rep. After the first one, my feet got staggered so I reset them before attempting a second rep, but I was too far behind the handles/weight and almost got ejected backward when I missed my second attempt. Subsequent attempts were also pretty awful because I was rushing it instead of stopping to rest like I had planned, which probably would have allowed me to get at least one more rep, if not two. Despite being very happy that I did not zero the event, my 1 rep was only good enough to tie me for 14th place on this event, which dropped me down a lot on points. I definitely need to put more work into my strict and push pressing at some point in the future if I am ever going to be competing on an apparatus like this again.
Qualifying Round Event 3: Box Carry & Load
We had four wooden crates loaded with different weight sandbags that were setup with the carry distance decreasing as the weight increased, so it was something like 8m x 80kg, 6m x 80kg, 4m x 90kg, 2m x 90kg, but I’m not 100% sure about the weights and they may have gone as heavy ass 110kg. This is not at all heavy, but the crates were one of the more awkward things I have ever tried to pick up and carry. It also didn’t help that we were not able to warmup with them at all and we didn’t find out that we would be using crates until a couple weeks out from the competition, so all my training for this event was done with atlas stones, which are immensely easier to pickup and carry than the boxes were. I knew I needed to be fast here if I wanted to make up enough points to get through to the finals the next day, but I also had no idea what to do as far as a plan to pick them up since no one who had gone before me had really looked like they had an easy time with them and I was up early in the order because of my poor placing on the prior event. I completely bobbled the first crate when I went to pick it, but once it was up I felt pretty good about the carry and load. As I said, I do not know what the weights of the boxes were, but it felt like each one got progressively heavier and my picks got slower each time. The last pick I actually felt my left hamstring start to cramp up and/or pull because I was having to lift the box up in such a crooked position, but I still managed to get it up on the platform in one go, which gave me the second fastest time up to that point, and hope for making the finals. Unfortunately, after I went the guys got a lot faster and my time ended up only good enough for 12th place out of 23.
Thanks to repeatedly not quite doing a good enough job on all three events in the qualifying round, I ended up in 13th place overall out of 23 athletes, one slot out of getting to compete in the finals the following day. I could blame this on a whole bunch of different factors, and while each may have played a role in my final placing at world’s, in the end I did not do a good enough job that day. As an athlete, this sucks to have to admit and even when I win, even when I won the national championship, I can always evaluate my performance and find places where I could have or should have done better. So objective self-criticism aside, I am extremely happy to have finally made it to world’s after 12 years of training for and competing in strongman all over the country and around the world. I obviously wanted to place better, but 13th out of 23 in the world is not the worst I could have done and I know that next time I go to world’s I will do better thanks to this experience. By comparison, at my first nationals in 2007 I placed 12th, then 8th the next year, 3rd the year after that, and then a few months later I won my pro card in April of 2010. So I know I can learn from both the positives and negatives and take this information and use it to train better and smarter and make myself strong(er) the next time around. And seriously, walking around complaining about being 13th in the world at something you love to do is about as first world problems as you can get.
Congrats to my fellow Americans Darin Heltemes for finishing in 4th place in the 105s and Mike Lusby for finishing in 15th place in the 90s. Both did solid work and I had a great time hanging out and competing with them. I have a lot of people to thank for helping me achieve my goal of making it to 105kg World’s Strongest Man. Thank you to everyone who made this possible including Dave Tate and everyone at EliteFTS, Willie, John, Todd, United States Strongman, Michelle, Coach G, Steve Mattheu, the Meat Head Dream Team, Teddy Willsey, Kristy Boarts, Dave & Lisa, Iron Strong CrossFit, Healthy Baller, Iron Athletics, Brute Strength Gym, Nick O’Brien, Dave Terry, Kevin Dickhut, Brendan Curry, Andrew Pepiot, Stella, Mike Lusby, Caroline Lusby, Darin Heltemes, Ilkka Kinnunen, Marcel Mostert, Strongman Champions League, Jason Menges, Healthbridge Chiropractic, Gregg Inocencio, Jeff Kryglik, the town of Liperi, Finland, all the athletes and spectators, judges, timers, scorekeepers, loaders, setup and cleanup crew, and everyone else who has helped me along the way.