Battle in the Blizzard
Without risk comes no reward. To those that wish to attain legendary status in West Virginia strength history, the greatest opportunity to do so comes but once a year at an event known as the Battle in the Blizzard. This is our WV state championships, and is unlike any other meet in the country, possibly the world. Many of you know the story by now, but here is a refresher: blind events that are not announced until 1 hour prior to the start of the contest; contested outside regardless of weather in the middle of winter; and since it is indeed the state championships, everything is set to high level of difficulty.
Clearly this poses some risks, but likely not what you think. Some competitors risk losing any advantage they may have by virtue of owning tons of equipment because they cannot train specifically. Others risk disappointment because of the level of competition that tends to show up to this meet means it’s incredibly hard to win. I risk embarrassment if no one likes the events I have chosen. “But Paul, what about the injuries?” Interesting you should ask, because once again, for the 4th year in a row, this meet had zero injuries. I will spare you any further rants on the subject, but the numbers don’t lie. Now onto the rewards!
The Blizzard rules meeting is always my favorite of the year, and probably the only one that most competitors care to sit through. After some heartfelt thank you’s, and some announcements regarding next year (skip to bottom to find out, teaser: it relates to the Arnold in a way), it was time to announce event number 1. First event would be a Farmer’s Walk, but not just any farmer’s walk. I promised for months to deliver events that were rare or unheard of altogether, and a run of the mill farmer’s walk simply would not do. So, we would do the farmers walk up a hill. Still, however, this did not seem quite extreme enough when I was planning all this madness. Thus the final product was as follows: a farmers walk with giant I-beam handles, up a hill… while dragging a Viking Ship behind you!
Middleweight Pro Sarah Cogswell did us the honor of kicking off the madness, as she is still eligible to compete as an amateur as long as she competes as a heavyweight. With 172 pounds per hand on massive I-beam handles Sarah took off up the hill and blistered the 45ft course with the fastest time that we would see all day from anyone in any division! She clocked in at 12.38 seconds and left many a jaw hanging open in the process. We were spoiled early on this event because as the event would unfold, less than half the field would manage to finish this course.
The beams were loaded up to 222 for our 200 class men, and some extra weight was tossed into the Viking Ship as well. If you are having trouble visualizing this event, imagine pulling a boat with a big wood base on pavement (FRICTION) by a truck pull harness, while carrying a big, awkward set of farmers implements up a hill while trying to figure out why in the world you do this to yourself when you could be home having a bagel. Jordan Kyser was one of our two true rookies in the contest, and since this is the state championships, it is the only meet I host that offers no novice division. This meant Jordan was jumping directly into the Open class with the Open class weights and the Open class competitors, so hats off to Mr. Kyser (yes “mister”, much respect my friend). Jordan felt the full extent of the torture that was this event, as he fought valiantly for a full 60sec to achieve about 13ft, and he earned it without question. New Jersey’s Tyler Prata took the win here however, being the only 200 class athlete to complete the course, and setting the tone for what would be a tremendous day for him.
At 231, Matt Holbert (believe it or not at his first Blizzard!) and Sean Dougherty made impressive efforts on this most devilish trial, but neither was able to reach the top of the hill. Virginia’s Lucas McEliece was the only 231 to get the job done, but the effort certainly took its toll on him as he fought for nearly 41seconds to make that happen. For all the HW classes, the handles were bumped up to 272 apiece, and even more weight still was added to our Viking Ship. To illustrate the quality of our 265 class, 3 men here finished the course: Nate Pastrana, Tyler Cosner, and defending WV State Champion Adam Knotts. Knotts took the win with a phenomenal 17.26sec, and looked to be in great form. If anyone wanted to take his title, they were going to have their hands full.
In the 300 class Keith Froggatt took top honors, being the only one to finish, and making short work of the event. Interesting story about Keith, he doesn’t train specific events for contests anyway, so the Blizzard is the perfect contest for him. Keith simply trains to be as strong as possible, and if you’re not familiar with how effective that can be, keep reading, because Keith’s win here was the just the beginning of things to come. At SHW, true rookie Sam Bowman of WV fought his way to within 3 feet of the finish line, but time ran out before he could finish. Ryan Putzulu negotiated the course in under 25sec, but it was Andrew Presnell who secured the win with 16.63sec.
Event 2 was an homage to turn of the century strongmen featuring the primary tool in strength building and strength testing alike over the last nearly 150 years – this was the Old School Barbell Challenge. The bar would be loaded to a fixed weight, and competitors would have 60sec to do as much with it as possible. Every deadlift would be worth 1 point, every Hack Lift (deadlift behind the legs) worth 5 points, every Zercher Lift (crook of the elbows lift from the ground) worth 10 points, and every Steinborn Lift (upending a barbell off the ground and squatting it up) would be worth an enormous 20 points. The weights were set heavy enough that deadlifts would be reasonable, Hack lifts would be exceptional, Zerchers would be epic, and anyone who pulled off a Steinborn lift would become a legend.
Ladies’ bars were loaded to 325 and Katie O’Connor hit 4 deadlifts here to rack up 4 points. Tiffany Drake raised the bar figuratively and literally by nailing a Zercher lift and 5 deadlift reps to achieve 15 points. Cogswell took the win by gambling on 2 big Zercher lifts which paid off beautifully for 20 points. In the men’s 200 class, Stevie Owens’ gamble ended up costing him as he burned a lot of time on an unsuccessful Zercher attempt (the bar was now at 405!!!), but still garnered 4 points via deadlifts. Frank Oben decided to simply rep out as many deads as possible, hoping his otherworldly pulling power would be enough to win no matter what anyone else decided to go for. Frank put up 18 reps for 18 points! In his first Open class meet, teen powerhouse Luke Bonnett went berserk here and knocked out 5 full Hack lifts! Luke even Charlie horsed his calf a bit on one rep, but toughed it out and kept going! This put Luke at 25 points, but it was only enough for 2nd place as Tyler Prata once again took the lead by hitting 7 Hack lifts and 2 deadlifts for a terrific score of 37 points.
At 231, the barbell weight was now 455 pounds. Lucas McEliece piled up 20 points with 4 hack lifts, but this solid performance was overshadowed by amazing efforts from Matt Holbert and Sean Dougherty. Holbert, an extremely accomplished powerlifter as well as strongman, did a single deadlift to get on the board, and then went for the Steinborn Lift! Unfortunately, both sets of collars were not enough here, and the plates began to slide, so Holbert’s turn ended and he was given another go at the end (with tripled collars – dual ProLocs and Hi-Temps!). On his redo, Holbert once again went for the Steinborn Squat, and everyone was on the edge of their seats! The mighty reverend from WV wrestled the bar up vertically, and began positioning himself under it. Excitement was in the air because we knew if he could pull this off, it would be one of the most amazing moments in the career of a man who had decades of amazing moments. After a mighty struggle to get into position, he rocked the barbell towards the other side and… he lost it. There was no recovery at this point after such an extraordinary effort, so the mighty Holbert waved to people and went on to prepare for the next event. Not to be outdone, Delaware’s Sean Dougherty was apparently no stranger to the Hack lift, as he stood up with the barbell behind his legs for an incredible 14 reps (no typo) resulting in 70 huge points, the most of anyone in the contest regardless of division.
For our big boys in the HW classes, the bar was now loaded to 500 pounds. Would we see a 500 pound hack lift today? A 500 pound Zercher??? John Hoelscher was still fried from the Farmers and Viking Ship event, and had no luck with this 500 pound bar. Tyler Cosner took 2nd once again here, keeping himself in the running, but Knotts again won the 265 class knocking out a Hack lift and 8 deadlifts for 13 total points. At 300, James Griffin of MD put up 4 big deadlifts, but Jamie Bland edged by him with 5. Keith Froggatt continued his win streak here by not only hitting 7 deadlifts at 500 pounds, but also performing a full Zercher lift with the mammoth weight – that’s right yall, a 500 pound Zercher lift and then 7 deads for good measure! At SHW, it was a deadlift shoot out with 3 evenly matched individuals – Presnell hit 8 reps while Ryan Putzulu and Sam Bowman both tied on 9 reps for joint first places.
The 3rd challenge was points based as well, but the theme for this one went only back to the 1980’s rather than the 1880’s. This event was our 80’s Style Keg Press Medley! Competitors had 4 increasingly heavy kegs to negotiate overhead. The kicker here was that an “anyhow” style lift was worth only 1 point, but the “80’s Style” keg lift was worth 5 points (that being pressing the keg in front of the face with a non-staggered grip holding the bottom rim only). O’Connor, Cogswell, and Drake all whizzed through their first keg with the 80’s style lift, with the latter two also following suit on the 2nd keg. All 3 ladies got the 3rd keg overhead, but in the more modern “anyhow” style. This meant going into the final keg, Drake and Cogswell were neck and neck in points. Both made terrific efforts, but only Drake was able to complete the lift. Tiffany had the win with 12 points to Sarah’s 11, and all 4 kegs to her credit (73, 100, 125, and 150 were the weights).
In the 200 class, keg weights ballooned to 135, 150, 175, and 200. If you’ve never tried the 80’s Style “bottom rim” way to press a keg, imagine it something like a bottoms-up kettlebell press… but with a barrel full of who knows what! Oben and Kyser had all kinds of trouble here, with Owens and Prata faring better. It was Bonnett who took the win here however, by nailing the 1st two kegs with the 80’s Style press, and then hitting the 3rd with the modern style to grab 11 points. Holbert also secured 11 points in the 231’s, which normally would have been enough to get back in the game, but McEliece and Dougherty had other plans and both tied on 12 points!
At HW the kegs were now 183, 185, 200, and… 240! Nate Pastrana launched himself back into contention by hoisting the first 2 kegs in the more difficult style, the 3rd in the modern style, and nearly nailing the 4th keg as well! To understand just how difficult it is to press a water or scrap filled keg by the bottom rim… well… you just have to try it! Griffin and Bland both had success here completing 3 kegs and 4 kegs respectively in the modern style, but once again Keith Froggatt snatched the victory by employing the 80’s style lift on the 1st two kegs. The supers played a different strategy here, as they all opted for the modern style lift on each keg. Presnell and Putzulu both knew they could get multiple reps on the final keg, so it came do to who could hit more – Presnell conquered 2 reps on the final keg but was surpassed by Putzulu with 3!
The fourth event was where we introduced WV State Records. Every year at the Blizzard some sort of record is on the line it seems, and this year, there would be not one, not two, but three records up for grabs all in the same event! This event was called the Record Breakers Bonanza, and competitors were given 75sec to complete a double over hand (DOH) axle deadlift, a raw atlas stone load over bar, and (an event we hadn’t visited since 2014) the infamous “Bench Like a Viking” event where they had to lift a log from the ground, roll back on a bench, and press it upon command. The highest cumulative total would win, so it was crucial to pick weights on each portion that were certainties. Competitors were given a solid 15 minute warm-up period to determine their weight selections, and turned them into the score keeper (my lovely wife Nicole Mouser) without knowing what anyone else’s attempts would be.
Who would go for records? Who would play it safe? Would anyone risk it all and go for broke on PR weights? Also… would anyone choose the Mystery Stone as their stone option??? That’s right folks, we had a Mystery Stone for anyone that really wanted to try something outlandish. Our “normal” stones went up to 355 pounds (remember this is raw, no sticky substances of any kind and no rubberized clothing), and then the massive mini-planet which was cleverly decorated with question marks (thanks Chris Eloi haha). The competitors didn’t know it, but the Mystery Stone was a whopping 422 pounds! If anyone were to lift such a thing, raw, in the rain, this deep into a brutal contest, it would be without question one of the greatest feats of strength in WV history.
Pro strongwoman Sarah Cogswell came out like a house of fire and ripped through a 183 DOH axle dead, 190 raw stone load, and a 205 log bench, and in the process became the first female athlete to ever lift the Dream Crusher log in any fashion in official competition! Congrats Sarah! Katie went a little more conservative with a 163 DOH axle, an easy 175 stone load, but then had no luck at all on the log bench portion which she had really been looking forward to since it was announced – a heart breaker for sure, but she’ll have her revenge one day! When Tiffany Drake’s numbers were announced it caused quite a stir – a 223 DOH axle dead, a 190 raw stone, and… a 305 log bench! Tiffany did not disappoint, as she motored through each lift, finishing with the incredible 300+ press.
At 200, only Bonnett and Prata made all 3 of their lifts in the Record Breakers Bonanza, and only 10 pounds separated their totals. It went Prata and Bonnett as 1 and 2 respectively, with totals of 775 and 765. In the 231’s nothing went Holbert’s way here as his hands were just toasted, and Dougherty relegated himself to second by missing his stone attempt at 260, which was indeed a very smooth stone and probably the most difficult 260 you’ll ever find. McEliece locked up the win with a 765 total, and put himself into good position overall.
There was some major drama in the 265 class as the totals really skyrocketed here. Hoelscher ended up just shy of 800 pounds, Knotts was gunning for 855 but fell victim to that dastardly 260 stone, Mr. Consistency Tyler Cosner ended up with a huge 345 DOH axle dead en route to an 895 total, and Pastrana was the first to hit 900 even, with most notably a shockingly easy 330 log bench. At 300 Griffin went for the gamble because it was now or never if he wanted to move up the rankings, but unfortunately for him the axle and stone were just too stubborn and his total suffered terribly. Bland had great success on the axle at 255, and the log bench at 350, but the smooth 260 stone rained on his parade. With a 315 axle, a 240 stone, and a gigantic 390 log bench, Keith Froggatt took home a 945 total and the event win.
In the biggest of the big class, the super heavies, all 3 men made all three lifts, and each of them broke over 900 pounds. 315 was the magic number on the axle dead as they all had chosen and succeeded with that poundage. Bowman lobbed a 240 stone, Presnell almost fell victim to the cursed 260 but recovered and nailed it, and Putzulu tossed up the 285 rock. The log bench was where Pooch took a big risk. Presnell had opted for and succeeded with a 330 press, and Bowman had upped the ante with 355. If Pooch had chosen too highly here at 390, he would fall into last place on the event and be too far behind Presnell to catch up on the last event. The man they call “Pooch” took his time to get ready for the log bench after zipping through the first 2 legs of the event. He calmly applied his wrist wraps and took huge breaths staring at the log. The 6’4” nearly 400 pounder reached down and grasped the colossal tree trunk, raised it to his lap, wrestled it closer to his torso, and rolled back onto the bench. The log became steady, the press command was given, and with a mighty heave the log rocketed to arms’ length thus securing the win and the biggest total regardless of division with 990 pounds!
The last event may have never been contested before anywhere in the world. Inspired by the “bow hold” event from the Pure Strength competition in the late 80’s, this event had visual elements like no other. Competitors would sit down, brace their feet against a log wrapped in super thick, high tension bands, draw the bands back by pulling against them, and hold for time. What made this especially fun however, was that I would hold a flaming “arrow” or “bolt” in place for them while they held on, and once they were no longer able to hold on, WOOSH, they would let the bands loose and launch the flaming projectile into the hill side. We called this the Flaming Ballista of Death!
All our ladies had tremendous showing here, with O’Connor at 37.36 sec, Cogswell at 50sec, and Drake going to just over 54sec. Jordan Kyser had his best showing of the day on this event, grabbing second place in the Open 200’s, with Prata taking the win. Dougherty won the 231’s with 27.03 seconds, and Cosner won the 265’s with Knotts in second. Froggatt locked up his clean sweep in the 265’s here, and Presnell made a comeback by winning the supers, but would it be enough to trump Putzulu in the overall?
Final placings were as follows:
3rd Katie O’Connor
2nd Sarah Cogswell
1st and new WV State Champion, Tiffany Drake
200 Men –
3rd Stevie Owens
2nd Luke Bonnett
1st and new WV State Champion, Tyler Prata
231 Men –
3rd Matt Holbert
*2nd Sean Dougherty
*1st and new WV State Champion, Lucas McEliece
*= tie breaker event was held, 285 keg carry max distance
265 Men –
3rd Nate Pastrana
2nd Adam Knotts
1st and new WV State Champion, Tyler Cosner
300 Men –
3rd James Griffin
2nd Jamie Bland
1st and new WV State Champion, Keith Froggatt
SHW Men –
3rd Sam Bowman
2nd Andrew Presnell
1st and new WV State Champion, Ryan Putzulu
Congratulations to all our new state champions!
Thanks to everyone that was brave enough to show up for this, everyone who stuck it out for around 5 hours in the rain with us (only rained for maybe the last 90 minutes I think really but regardless), to all the helpers and volunteers that made this go so incredibly well and who worked so hard. Thank you all.
Thanks to Viking Performance Training our host location, Jared VanMeter for helping me design and test the Flaming Ballista of Death, the whole SCA crew who performed full contact, fully armored medieval battles for us between events, and thanks to competitors like Tiffany Drake, Jamie Bland, Stevie Owens, and Adam Knotts (just a few of many) who really went out of their way to hype up this contest and got more folks to give it a try. Thank you all!
Thanks to Strongman Corporation for continuing to be the standard bearer for the sport!
“So what were those announcements Paul?” Well, I’m glad you asked. Our plan for next is to add the Blizzard to our Test of the Einherjar Super Total event, and make it a whole weekend worth of insanity. The Test of the Einherjar will be Saturday Jan. 19th, and the Blizzard will be the following day on Sunday Jan. 20th. This means the Blizzard will no longer be our WV State Championships.
Here’s where the Arnold comes in (didn’t think I forgot did you?). Our plan is that the WV State Championships will become part of the Appalachian Regional Championships at Viking Performance Training. This would still be a level 2 meet, where we would crown Regional Champions, and the highest placings WV athletes would also be crowned WV State Champions. In order to prepare and accommodate all of our locals and regulars that qualify for the Arnold every year, this meet would take place Saturday Jan 5th (a full 8 weeks prior to the Arnold), and it would feature all of the Arnold amateur worlds events, at about 90% of the weight. This allows Arnold competitors the opportunity to still vie for the Regional and State titles without jeopardizing their bids for the Arnold world championships. It will also allow everyone a chance to compete in the Arnold events whether they are actually competing at the Arnold or not, and this will also give all Arnold competitors the chance to get a competition run through on the events prior to starting their peaking phase.
Next stop on the Mouser Train is the Norse Highlander on March 10th in Concord, NC!
From there we move onto Maidens of Might on March 24th, our all-ladies strength extravaganza!
In April, we head up to Strength for Autism in Washington, PA on the 7th , then in May it’s the Appalachian Team Championships on Memorial Day weekend!
Don’t forget in June we have the High School Power Combine at Braxton High, and that leads us into Strongman Corporation Teen Nationals at Palatine Park in Fairmont, WV!
Prior to Teen Nationals, we have our epic Summer Raid Weekend featuring USA Powerlifting on 7/7 and the Viking Highlander on 7/8!
All that summer fun leads up the grand daddy of them all, the biggest Plat Plus of the year, America’s Strongest Viking on Sept 1st! Don’t miss your chance for an Arnold invite, world block press records, and national deadlift records!
The last one I’ll plug here is our 12th annual Strongest Man/Woman in the Forest on the last Saturday of Sept, with some incredibly fun new events!
Happy training and I’ll see you at the Norse Highlander!