Ivan Boniaszczuk

Have you ever had the opportunity to watch the competition for the World’s Strongest Man? It is totally insane! We are not talking about official Olympic lifting or anything with weight categories. They do not look too closely at your training regime or even any ‘legal’ supplements you may be taking; it is simply about who the most powerful human being on the planet is, in terms of raw physical strength.

The contenders look like something out of an animated gladiator movie. Do people really get that big? The smallest competitor in 2021, was Kevin Fairies, weighing in at a tetchy 130 kgs (Beast Mtawarira clocks 120). Most of the giants that participate in this event top 150 kgs, a third of the field reaching 200+.

The events in which they compete are similarly ludicrous. The vehicle pull is one of the more notorious. Since its inception in 1977, the competition has used buses, trams (one filled with passengers), aircraft and even a firetruck. A special harness that cancels out bodyweight, ensures that pure muscle power, fitness and stamina form the core of this challenge. There has been great variation in this event, but the weight pulled over the 100ft course is usually around 4500kgs. That is easily more than every boy in Grade 7 combined!

One of the most dreaded events is the Atlas Stones. 5 stones, weighing between 100 and 160 kgs, must be placed on pedestals, across a short course. The stones are about the size of a beachball and therefore incredibly dense and hard to handle. The event uses every joule of power and every scrap of the men’s coordination and grit, often bringing these Goliaths to tears.

There are many other backbreaking and crazy events and a few that are more recognizable and if you would like to check them out, visit The World’s Strongest Man’s website below. About WSM – The World’s Strongest Man www.theworldsstrongestman.com

The current champion is a Scotsman called Tom Stoltman. 28 years old, he stands at 6 feet and eight inches and weighs in at 176 kgs. He is the strongest man in the world, and he has a superpower, but it is not his muscles or his strength. Tom Stoltman is autistic.

As a young man he struggled to make friends and was awkward in social situations, lacking the inherent ability most of us have, to read a room and the mood of others. Tom also struggled to deal with the external world, in terms of the daily challenges of organization and having to respond organically to anything unexpected.
He required routine and felt safe and happy when he

knew exactly what was expected of him and could apply reliable and repetitive solutions to problems.

He is also an incredibly determined person with the heart of a lion. Let us go back a line though, “exactly what was expected” and “reliable and repetitive.” Does that not sound just like a gym programme? Perform these sets, with these weights, in this exact way (good form!) and repeat.

Tom’s older brother is a powerlifter (and he too competed in the WSM) and introduced him to weight training. Tom was instantly hooked. His autism allowed him to block out everything else and just get through each set that was in front of him. He never got bored, certainly has the genes, and was used to having to work hard and apply himself through every minute of the day. This was a doddle!

Tom Stoltman credits his autism as his superpower, which gave him the edge over the other athletes. He does not have the biggest biceps, he is not the tallest or the heaviest, and he is still noticeably young and inexperienced, but between his courage and his focus – he is officially the world’s strongest man.

Tom still struggles in other areas with autism and this article is no twee attempt at saying that every person with barriers can just shrug them off and turn them around; we all have our unique crosses to bear, but it is a message that we must be thankful for what we have and make the most of it and our gifts, even those hidden in struggle.

And we can look for positives where they lie. We must after 2 years of universal hardships.

Children with ADD are often highly creative and innovative, those with ADHD have inspiring energy and can be particularly charismatic. People with dyslexia have been known to find expression in music and visual art. Anxiety sufferers can be very empathetic and compassionate: and you know that when you are planning that camping trip, or preparing for the zombie apocalypse, you will be calling your friend with OCD, right? Call me, I have a 17-point plan…

I want to reiterate that I do not wish to be insensitive to the peculiar battle that anyone out there may be fighting but there is a chance, just a chance, that what you thought was your greatest weakness, your kryptonite, might actually be your superpower. It was for Tom Stoltman.

Stay strong.

 Ivan Boniaszczuk