What It Was Like Competing At My First Ontario's Strongest Man
It’s a Japanese ritual purification typically performed once a year that's been adapted to refer to doing something so hard one day per year that the effect lasts the rest of the 364 days. While most of the strongman competitions I do each year could classify as such, competing in Ontario’s Strongest Man epitomizes misogi.
While CNSM may be the ultimate destination for my competitive season, the athletes competing at OSM are without a doubt the best of the best in Ontario, and Canada as well. To top it all off, this test of titans was performed in the sweltering heat of Canada Day, where the mercury skyrocketed and the blazing sun with the humidity reached into the 40s.
Each event was a challenge beyond my absolute limits and I’m proud to have competed despite my training being focused on other competitions and dealing with some injuries that had me questioning the risk in competing.
Event 1 - Dump Truck Pull
The first event of the day was an arm-over-arm dump truck pull. The truck was heavy and the pavement was sloped on an incline making this an extremely tough challenge to get past the humps that had the truck rolling backwards. Going into this event I had actually thought we were doing a harness truck pull for the first event so I was a little surprised when the first athlete sat down on the platform to row the truck towards himself.
Pulling a dump truck from a seated position is as heavy as it sounds. When you add in a slope in the parking lot it becomes much harder. When it was my time up I prepared myself as much as I could - warming up wasn’t much of an issue in the heat we were dealing with - and pulled with everything I had. Trying to keep the tires rolling was crucial to not getting stuck in the same area that a few of the other athletes had already stalled at. When you’re pulling a 30,000 lb. truck even if it is rolling with good speed, it looks like it has barely budged as it comes crawling towards you. When I hit my stalling point I had to hold on even tighter to keep it from rolling back too far and losing valuable distance on the pull. I stopped it from creeping back but couldn’t get it to roll forward any further. After a few more attempts to get it moving again, my grip on the rope had enough and I gave the signal that I was done so they would stop the truck from rolling any further. I had managed 28’6’’ which was good for somewhere around 7th place in the event once all the athletes had gone.
Event 2 - Wheelbarrow / Frame Medley
The wheelbarrow and frame medley was the carry and grip test for this competition. Each implement was to be carried for 60 feet, starting with the wheelbarrow weighing 1800 lb. and followed by a 720 lb. frame. I hadn't done either of these events in a competition before - the closest thing was a wheelbarrow deadlift I did last year. Either way, these objects were far heavier than anything I had previously carried and I wasn’t even sure I would budge it. While I thought that we would be starting with the frame carry, which has a low pick and very wide grip on the handles, we actually started with the wheelbarrow carry.
I lined myself up and prepared for this ultimate grip challenge, with my hips in line with my hands and ready to hold on with everything I had to give. When the whistle blew I was up and the wheelbarrow was off, inching forward with every little step I took. I definitely didn’t follow a straight line as I walked more towards the crowd than the finish line. I hadn’t gotten far but every inch counts when you’re trying to gain points. I didn’t want to leave anything on the table despite the relative ease that other athletes were completing the wheelbarrow with. I started to feel an odd slipping sensation in my left hand and knew it was more than just the usual grip giving out. As I dropped the wheelbarrow I quickly reset and kept moving it forward a few steps at a time. When I realized I wasn’t getting much further with the implement I stopped, which was at about 22 feet. I had taken a flap of skin off my left hand along with a callous -- but a minor inconvenience for the rest of the day.
Event 3 - Car Deadlift - Rising Bar
The car deadlift was not only the heaviest car I have ever attempted to lift but also 60 lb. more than my best ever conventional deadlift. Being that a car deadlift uses more leverage than on a standard barbell, I was hoping to get the opening weight which was recorded as 692 lb.
I strapped in and pulled with all my might. I was seeing stars and the rear end of the car lifted up a little, but it wasn’t enough to get through the sticking point and I was earthbound again. I gave it another attempt and rested for a few seconds. After trying a few more times I knew it wasn’t going up today.
It was very impressive to see Karl blast through all of the reps as they loaded more and more kegs into the trunk of the car. He’s one of the best deadlifters in Canada and showed his skill and strength with his performance in this event.
Event 4 - Press Medley
The press medley consisted of a 280 lb. axle, 203 lb. circus dumbbell, 310 lb. log, and 203 lb. circus dumbbell again.
Before starting this one I knew that it was unlikely I would get through the axle as it was 50 lb. more than I’ve done on an axle before I was dealing with two sprained wrists going into this competition so I was unable to practice any axle pressing. I gave it the ol’ college try but couldn’t get the axle past waist height to even attempt to clean it.
Max and Ben and some of the other extremely powerful pressers put on a great show with battling for first place in this event and blasting through each object like they were throwing up warm-up weights.
Event 5 - Keg Toss - 14.5’
The keg toss was one of the few events I was looking forward to going into OSM this year. It’s one of my favourite events to watch and to take part in. This was definitely a level-up challenge for me though. In the past, I’ve done keg tosses two feet lower than the 14.5-foot height at OSM. The weight range was also another upgrade from what I’ve done previously. By this point in the competition the lower back injury that I’ve been dealing with since Eastern Canada’s was distracting and I was trying to keep the muscles from seizing up too much. The dynamic movement of a keg toss requires a lot of posterior chain recruitment like an explosive kettlebell swing. You want every muscle from your feet to the back of your neck to draw tight like a bowstring and then fire off as you throw the keg up and behind you as if shooting an arrow.
I had never managed to throw a keg over this height before and so I was happy when I got the first two 40-pound kegs over. My first attempt at 45 pounds didn’t go. I rested for a few seconds and tried two more times before stopping because once you’ve lost the explosiveness to clear the height with the keg, you won’t be able to regain it within the time limit.
Seeing Karl and Ben send the kegs skywards like satellites being launched into space was awesome and I plan to work on my strength and explosiveness in this event to be able to do the same.
Event 6 - Atlas Stones to 56”
The classic finisher to a strongman show is the atlas stones. This competition had a series of stones from 312 lb. to somewhere over 400 lb. being loaded onto a platform on the back of a flatbed truck to a height of 56”. With the temperature outside cooking everything, everyone's tacky was soupy and spread on like butter. I learned too late that the tacky I had was not suitable for such hot temperatures and that combined with the stones being dusty had me pinned to the ground. I couldn’t get the 312 lb. stone budged from the ground which was surprising and disappointing as I would have liked to get at least the first, if not the second stone loaded as well.
Karl, being a master of stone loading put on a great show by loading all five stones in under 25 seconds. Each stone looked as easy as the last one for him.
I left Ontario’s Strongest Man relatively unscathed which was one of my primary objectives, given that I didn’t have the time to prepare specifically for this competition. It’s been a goal of mine for seven years to compete in OSM and so that checkbox has been ticked off and I can now decide whether I want to set a higher mark to beat next time or whether different horizons will be in sight for me for the time being.