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Stampede showcases Calgary’s strongman community

By Christie Melhorn, July 20 2017 —

The Calgary Stampede boasted a new attraction this year alongside its world-renowned rodeo and deep-fried goods­ — the Strongman Competition. The competition took place from July 14–16 and was divided into amateur and professional divisions. Contestants lifted several heavy objects, including atlas stones, axle bars and even Stampede president David Sibbald’s GMC pickup truck.

For some, an event like this may conjure circus-like images of bulky men with curly mustaches and pinstriped spandex. However, Calgarian and current title-holder of Western Canada’s Strongest Man James Loach explains that anyone can become a “strongman.”

“If you’re 17 and just starting out in the weight room or if you’re 50 and want to be more active, it doesn’t mean you can’t try it,” Loach said.  “I have secured a guy with cerebral palsy to a bench so he could bench press without shaking too much. I’ve seen a blind guy squat 400 pounds. We’ve worked with kids with down syndrome and autism as well. Everyone can do it.”

Loach said the misperception of strongman as a one-dimensional sport deters many people from getting involved.

“It’s different and dynamic. There’s a variety of movements that you have to train differently for. It involves conditioning aspects. It involves sprinting and lifting. If you’re carrying an object to a platform, you’re sprinting back for the next one,” he said.

Training for strongman competitions demands access to large, cumbersome equipment, such as logs and kegs, as well as a space to store it. Loach said that a lack of accessibility to training facilities and few strongman competitions in Alberta prevented him from pursuing the sport sooner.

“Since I was a kid, I idolized strongman. I started training at 17 but I did not get into it until 25 because we didn’t have strongman in Calgary. Nobody really knew about it. Nobody had a gym with any equipment that we needed,” Loach said.

However, Loach said that the spread of strongman shows in Alberta and the opening of the Calgary Strength Edge training facility in February 2016 has nurtured the city’s strongman community and pushed him to higher levels of athleticism.

“I have a higher expectation for myself now. I just won Western Canada’s Strongest Man title this year. I went to Canada’s Strongest Man last year and am going back this year,” Loach said. “I want to be better and to keep beating people I’ve beaten before. But I go to have fun. What happens happens. If someone is better prepared or makes less mistakes than me that day, then so be it. I’m not going to be heartbroken about it.”

Loach said that strongman has improved his health despite the sport’s high risk of injury.

“Being involved with strongman makes you care about how you’re sleeping, what you put into your body and stress levels,” Loach said. “Obviously I’m not going to feel 100 per cent any day of the week, but when I know something is wrong, I address it right away.”

The heaviest items Loach has lifted are wooden beams and truck tires ranging from 800–900 pounds. He said that proper nutrition is key to fueling these feats.

“I can come home with a pint of Ben & Jerry’s and don’t have to think twice about eating it. But I don’t do that every day or every week — only every couple of months.” Loach said. “I just eat a lot of food and try to keep it real food”.

Loach finished in eighth place in the Stampede Strongman Competition. The second strongest man in Canada, Quebec’s Jimmy Paquet, came in first.

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