SPRINGFIELD – Rob Kearney is a pretty normal graduate student. He has a full schedule as he works two jobs as he completes his master’s degree in advanced athletic training at Springfield College. He has a social life.
And he is one of the strongest men in the world.
On weekends, Kearney travels to locations such as Las Vegas, NV, and Columbus, OH, to compete. There is little prize money involved – so far he has won only $2,000 – so he competes for the love of the sport.
Kearney is a celebrated competitor in strongmen competitions; sanctioned organized events conducted throughout this country and in foreign counties. Participants compete in various timed events that test strength, strategy and stamina.
Kearney explained to Reminder Publications, that some people confuse his sport with bodybuilding. It is more closely aligned to weightlifting, but as he talked it was clear that are also significant differences.
Strongmen face challenges, such as a timed event in which they must flip immense tires. They are asked to lift over their heads huge logs – sometimes made out of wood, sometimes out of metal.
Kearney came to the sport in high school in Norwich, CT, where a substitute teacher spotted him working out. The teacher suggested he work out at his gym and at the age of 17 in June 2009 he entered his first competition.
“I was the youngest guy there,” he recalled. “I came in 14th out of 28 and had an absolute blast doing it.”
He came to the Springfield College for his undergraduate degree and continuing training, joining the college’s lifting team.
“Everyone in strongmen agree you have to be strong in the gym on barbells,” he said. The events in the strongmen competition demand additional skills.
“You develop your own techniques based on your body size,” he said.
Like all sports, the statistics speak to Kearney’s accomplishments. He holds a world record in the log lift of 425 pounds. He was squatted more than 700 pounds and dead lifted 800 pounds.
What makes Kearny’s record so impressive is that he is 5 feet 10 inches in height, relatively small in the sport. He competes against men much taller and heavier than him.
He noted the strongmen competitions are basically for young men, he said competitors usually reach “the top of their game” when reaching their late 20s and early 30s.
“There are a few anomalies in their mid-40s,” he added.
His goal is to “stick with it as long as my body holds up underneath me.”
Kearney believes the sport could be more popular and prominent if it had more television exposure and sponsorship.
“It just comes down to endorsements and the leadership of the organization,” he added. Right now only one competition is aired annually by CBS.
He compared strongmen competitions with Crossfit. He said that sport has “exploded.” Strongmen competitions have been around since the 1970, while Crossfit is only the last three or four years old. The top prize for competitors in the strongmen games is $40,000 while the Crossfit champion received more than $200,000.
Aside from his athletic feats, Kearney received national attention when last fall he came out, being the only openly gay man in strongmen competition. When asked if the announcement made any impact on his career he said, “Only in a positive way. Coming out was an exciting time for me.”
He said the overall reaction was so overwhelming that he had to start an additional Facebook page for his competing.
He added that despite the perception of it being a “hyper masculine” sport, his acceptance by other athletes proves “the sport really is for everyone.”
Kearney noted his boyfriend is now interested in training for the sport.
Do any of the events intimidate one of the world’s strongest men? Kearney didn’t hesitate with the answer: “car lifting.” He said that one of the thrills of competing is “the unknown factor.” Because the competitions are not standardized, the management will let competitors know 12 weeks before of what they will face so they can train. Car lifting remains a mystery as Kearney said the competitors aren’t told what they will have to lift: a Volkswagen Bug or a SUV.
He explained this event involves mounting a car to a frame with handles at the truck end. The goal is to life the car up lengthwise. “It’s never my best event,” he said. “It can make or break me when I go to a contest.”
To see Kearney in action go to https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_FdnaZUGo0Q&t=28.