By Christie Melhorn, October 16 2017 —
Before learning about Calgary’s strongman community, I was indifferent to the sport. My only exposure to it was through in the Guinness Book of World Records. The photos of bulky, bearded guys covered in tattoos dragging semis or hauling kegs with bulging veins and clenched teeth kind of freaked me out. I didn’t understand the triumph of lifting random heavy objects and the imminent risk of snapping your spine.
But after attending an information session at the The Strength Edge — a strength training facility in Calgary’s northeast — this September, my judgments were shattered and I now understand why so many people get involved with strongman. Challenging your strength and perseverance is incredibly rewarding and a great physical release. The community itself is very humble and welcoming, which is especially notable as strength sports require such intense physical prowess.
The Alberta Strongman Association (ASA) and The Strength Edge — both helped created by strongman competitor and advocate Andrew Bolinger — cultivate Calgary’s budding strongman community by hosting a range of strongman events. On Oct. 14, I witnessed the hard work and passion of many newcomers to the sport in an ASA amateur competition at The Strength Edge.
Women’s division first-place winner Amanda Tafelmeyer only started training for strongman six weeks ago. Tafelmeyer carries an extensive athletic background as a former student athlete with the University of Regina Cougars and defensive lineman with the Regina Riot. While basketball and football prepared her for strongman’s physical intensity, she says its supportive nature distinguishes it from other sports.
“You’re always cheering each other on. Even though you’re behind or ahead of someone, you want to see them be successful,” Tafelmeyer said. “That’s certainly different than other sports where you’re always watching your competitor and hoping they slip up.”
Fellow competitor and retired roller derby player Crystal Kowalyk said that strongman has brought her great personal fulfilment.
“When I was going to a regular gym, training felt like a chore. It wasn’t as fun as this,” she said. “I’ve been doing it for about nine months and have zero background in weightlifting. I’m pretty proud of myself.”
Tafelmeyer and Kowalyk agree that strongman training offers great a physical outlet that can enhance student life.
“You do different activities all the time. You’re not stuck in the gym doing the same lift over and over,” Tafelmeyer said. “This is great for students because you can take your mind off studying and be successful at it without taking too much time away from school work.”
“[Strongman] is confidence building, which you need sometimes in university because you can get a little beat down. You can use it to build yourself up and find a sense of reward outside of school,” Kowalyk added.
Strongman competitor Josh Cloherty volunteered at the event to support The Strength Edge and newcomers to the sport. He says Calgary’s strongman community thrives on the values of inclusiveness and self-improvement.
“[Bolinger] is super welcoming to everyone. Our massage therapist [at The Strength Edge] trains kids and helps build their foundation of strength,” Cloherty said. “There are seniors working out here who compete in masters divisions. It’s for everyone and what you learn here can be applied everywhere in life. I like going to the gym regardless but the vibe here makes it more enjoyable.”
Cohlerty says the casual tone of ASA and The Strength Edge helps trainers feel comfortable, encouraging them to work harder. He recalled a comical scenario to illustrate this.
“You walk in and instantly there’s a sense of comfort,” he said. “One time these powerlifter dudes were laughing, joking and singing along to the Alvin and the Chipmunks Christmas carols album. You probably wouldn’t experience that at a commercial gym. Of course there’s bickering and bantering here but it’s all playful. It feels like a family and is the only sport I’ve competed in where literally everyone wants to see you do well.”
ASA and The Strength Edge’s next event is an eating contest this Saturday, Oct. 21 at 3 p.m. at Uncle Moe’s Donairs and Falafels on Edmonton trail to see who can finish the T-Rex — a one kilogram donair.