America's Strongest Viking
Motivation, inspiration, and reasoning tend to vary from one person to the next. Why would someonewant to compete in something like America’s Strongest Viking? For some, it was the lure of the ultimatechallenge, to desire to face odds so dire that most would shrink away rather forge ahead. Gregory Plourde was one such person, acknowledging to me prior to the show that the event weights were largely in excess of his maximums. Andria Shoemaker was another, as she opted to leapfrog the Novice class entirely and face the seasoned warriors of the Open class.
For others, it was about personal achievement – setting a goal to conquer a task and doing so for oneself. Sarah Ott nearly saw her entire division dissolve, but chose to stay at MW regardless because she had something to prove to herself. Others, like Quint Zambon, were fighting to extend a legacy, and continue a tradition of excellence. Quint told me that he had never failed to qualify for the Arnold Classic in his career, and he didn’t intend for that to change yet. Some were eyeing the opportunity tostart their own legacy of greatness, and Pennsylvania’s Craig Pfisterer had been on the cusp of doing soin years and competitions prior. This was his time to cross that threshold however, and take the next step toward his destiny.
Some found themselves in positions of leadership, and the chance to lead their troops into battle was fuel for the fire to compete. John Mouser competed alongside his clients, showing once again that after 12 years on the field, he is more willing to charge into the fray than ever. Some came hungry to shatter world records, and push the boundaries of what the world thinks is possible. Jessica Fithen had her eyes on the all-time women’s world record block press, and asked herself not if she would break the record, but by how much.
Whatever the reasons, the strongest athletes from 21 states converged on Sept. 1st of 2018 in the littletown of Fairmont, WV to compete for the title of America’s Strongest Viking. Our scenic venue overlooked a river, and was visually backed by a beautiful bridge that created a welcoming canvas for athletes to enjoy as they approached. An ample covered stage provided a platform to elevate our competitors (literally and figuratively), and allowed their achievements to receive proper notice. Awardsin the style of Thor’s Hammer and shimmering swords were positioned for all to see, and hopefully, toarouse competitive spirits even further.
The inaugural challenge was the Max Mouser Block Press presented by Impakt Media, and this was perhaps the most anticipated event of the five. Speculation about impending world record lifts had been running rampant amongst the strongman community, and that speculation would prove to be more truth than hearsay. As many may already know by the time you read this, both the men’s and women’sall-time world block press records (regardless of division or implement used) were shattered at the show. Jessica Fithen annihilated an official lift of 185.6 pounds, and defending record holder Steve Schmidt pushed his own record up to 346.4 pounds. These lifts were done under the jurisdiction of myself, as well esteemed officials Dave Waters of Strongman Corporation and Jerry Handley, and the implements were weighed on stage in view of all who cared see, including Strongest Woman in the World winner Brooke Sousa.
If the last bit seemed a little anticlimactic, it’s because I wanted to shine the spotlight on another world record that went down that day; the men’s 105kg/231lb class world record. The previous was set last year at ASV and stood at 270 pounds. The man who set that record may not be well known outside of Appalachia, and quite frankly he probably prefers it that way. Kenny Hacker is his name, and the first thing you may notice after a talk with Kenny is that he probably has his priorities set a little straighter
than most of us. He is a decorated strongman, but the hoisting of heavy objects is rarely the first thingon his mind. In fact, in order to make sure that he doesn’t allow training and competing to distract from his family and career, Kenny trains only during his lunch break, keeping sessions to 45min at a time to account for travel to and from work. Hacker had his work cut out for him on this day however, as Indiana’s Russell Mueller was on stage as well, leading a formidable pack of middleweights in the racefor the record. Russell knew the record was within his capabilities, and he was willing to take a gamble to get sole possession of it. With Kenny successful at 260 and 280, and Russell starting a little more conservatively with 240 and 260, Mueller knew that going for 280 would only tie him for the record, and result in second place points because Kenny would have done 280 on fewer attempts. This meant only one thing to Mueller: become the first middleweight ever to break 300 on the block press! Russell skipped 280 and called for 300. The Mouser Block was loaded and all eyes were on him as the other two groups had finished, and only he and Hacker remained. Russell approached the unforgiving steel box asan angry bull would approach his least favorite matador, and I’m fairly certain he left finger-shaped indentations in the steel when he ripped it off the ground. 300 pounds (later confirmed 302) launched up to his chest, and Mueller gave it a shrug and bounce to get it properly positioned. A heave, a shove, and then a crash commenced; back to his chest it went. The effort continued but to no avail – Hacker would do the same on his final attempt to push the record up higher, but it didn’t happen. No matter however, he didn’t need it. Kenny had pushed the middleweight world record up to an official weight of 282.0 pounds, and locked up the event win in the process.
The second challenge was perhaps the most common event in strongman sport over the last over the last ten years, the deadlift. In this particular version, our mighty competitors were charged with lifting as much weight as possible for a single lift (like the block press). National records were on the line here, and some of them had stood for quite a few years. Records were smashed in the LW women’s Open, the HW women’s Open, the HW men’s Masters, and the LW men’s Open. Three middleweight menexceeded 700 pounds in their pulls, but none were able to surpass the 730 pound record set in April. Perhaps the most exciting class here was the HW women, as personal records were running rampant. Gigi Boyd went 3 for 3 en route to a new PR at 315; Teen National Champion Kaitlyn Tennant broke the 400 pound barrier in her first appearance in the Open classes with 415; Stephanie Hines hammered out a tremendous 435 pound lift; and WV State Champion Tiffany Drake eclipsed the previous nationalrecord by hefting an official deadlift of 504.6 pounds... and did so rather easily! The people were calling for Tiffany to go for another 40-60 pounds, but Drake had done enough, and needed to conserve energy and protect her injured knee for the challenges to come.
The Deep Waters Hercules Hold was featured in this competition as well, and the object here is to hold on as long as possible as this diabolic machine tries to pull you apart. Please do not underestimate the significance of what I am about to state: I witnessed on this day the most impressive performance collectively by a group of athletes on this event that I ever had the privilege to see. It is impractical to compare performances on different devices used for this event, and foolish to even try. Having used this particular brand of implement extensively in many competitions, in other athletes’ training, and in myown training, I know intimately the difficulty (remember it is the difficulty that matters much more sothan a “weight”) of this apparatus at each increment used for the various classes. I will stand by thestatement that the collective caliber of performance that occurred on this day, Sept. 1st 2018, was the most impressive I have ever seen in person. 32 athletes broke the one minute barrier, with three of them going beyond 90sec, which was previously the longest mark of anyone in any division that I could
recall. Kristine Mathews, Ashlyn Harlan, and John Mouser all surpassed a minute thirty, with Harlan nearly making a minute forty. Perhaps no other event exercises the mental toughness as well as the Hercules Hold, because the discomfort becomes extreme as the lactic acid builds up, the bones in the digits are pushed to the breaking point, and the torso feels like it may just rip in half.
*As an aside, this particular Deep Waters Hercules Hold was the exact same one used at the Arnold ProWomen’s World Championships, as well as the Strongman Corporation Teen National Championships 6weeks prior.
The Farmers and Keg Medley was a punishing endeavor for many, as 29 of our total roster were unable to finish the course. This demanding task began with a farmer’s walk with two giant I-beams down a 40ft course. After finishing the initial portion, the athletes then had to immediately approach a loaded keg and heave it over a 48in high yoke bar. After completing the keg lift, the athletes would then return tothe farmer handles and carry them back to the start... only now they had been loaded even heavier byour speedy staff!
In some classes simply finishing was good enough for a solid placing, and anyone doing so in under 30sec was almost guaranteed a bounty of points. Incredibly, a handful of athletes completed the course in under 20sec: Quint Zambon at 19:27, Josh Kowlewski at 18:81, Robert Hughes at 18:09, Russell Mueller at 19:03, and defending 231 class champion Josh Eisele at 17:87, the fastest time of the day regardless of division. Hacker, Mueller, and Eisele had separated themselves from the pack as the contest had progressed, and the win by Eisele here made up for points lost in the press. Could Eiseleretain his title against a field of 231’s even tougher than last year? With one event left, 231 was still anyone’s ball game.
The Mouser Block Carry is the final event we will examine, and this version was for maximum distance.We chose a max distance carry because we didn’t need to know who was the fastest, and we didn’t care who had the best transitions. We didn’t want an early slip from a botched rush to determine the winner, nor risk decimals separating the winning times on hand operated stopwatches. We wanted to know the answer to two questions: who was the strongest, and who wanted it more. In all of strongman there is truly nothing quite like a max distance carry; in the hold for time events you endure the same pain, but not the same sheer exhaustion. In the timed races, you must be strong, but if you finish quickly you can avoid the extreme discomfort. A max distance carry first determines who is strongest, but if two athletes are evenly matched, it comes down to who can will themselves to take those extra steps in the face of total fatigue and overwhelming discomfort.
Quint Zambon set the mark to beat in the Open 175’s with a phenomenal distance of 232’ 6” with the 270 pound chunk of steel. To put this in perspective, stalwart powerhouses Nate Elmond and Tim Gay did not come within 50 ft that mark, so Josh Kowlewski and Robert Hughes had their work cut out for them. Kowlewski shot out of the gate and pushed until his legs, arms, hips, and back could function nolonger, and when the official distance of 236’ 11” was announced, he was ecstatic. It all came down to Hughes, the man from Idaho, who flew solo across the country to chase a dream. His dream was now at his feet in front of him, trapped inside a devilish black steel tomb. 30sec were allotted to get set, and Robert used them to make sure that everything was positioned exactly as he wished. Once the hands, arms, and back were set, he stood up and made his charge. Step after step, and foot and after foot hestormed down the course. 100ft... 150... 200. His legs were on fire, his hands were starting to slip, and he was leaning back to keep the block as high as possible. The weight of the indestructible block crushed down on his chest restricting his air. 210... 220... vision was now blurry. The body was screaming as hepassed 230, the block now sagging much lower than when he began. One step, another step, and it wasdown. Was it enough? The announcement was made... 237’ 7” – Hughes had taken the win!
America’s Strongest Viking had drawn the best from around the country to go head to head for anincreasingly prestigious championship. Though their motivations may have each been different, the result was the same; each athlete pushed themselves to their limits and beyond, and stood against the doubt, the fear, and the anxiety to prove their might. Thank you all for being a part of it all.
Happy resting, -Paul Mouser
Ps. Thanks to my lovely wife Nicole for working in the heat all day while pregnant!
Pps. Most of the “thank you’s” got their own posts, but thanks again to all who made this possible!