The sun was shining down on 46 fierce competitors as they pitted themselves against inconceivable feats of strength in the Valhalla’s Mightiest 2022 Strongman competition on May 7 at Rebel Gym in Sault Ste. Marie.
Eleven local competitors did not disappoint spectators, as they farmers carried away wins in four categories of the competition. Of note, Nathan Edwards had the competition’s top results in four of the five events and won the men’s heavyweight division, Jorden Graham-West was first in the men’s novice heavyweight, Nicole Vansteeland won the women’s novice class while Chelsea Frazier took second, and in the men’s under 105kg category Scott Dinter placed second.
The balance of the competitors at the Strongman Corporation Canada sanctioned event came from Thunder Bay and as far away as Quebec.
Muscles flexed, and veins bulged as competitors strained through five events, including: log press, deadlift, yoke and farmer-carry medley, the sandbag toss, and Atlas stones.
“Basically, it’s a combination of strength, technique, and determination as competitors lift, carry, and toss ridiculously heavy and sometimes oddly-shaped objects,” said Gary Knox, the host of this year’s competition. “This is not a comfortable sport. In the yoke and farmer carry, the weight tears at your hand and you need to be able to push through it. For the 130 to 315 pound concrete Atlas stones, competitors use tack on their forearms and hands that allow them to better grip the boulder, but it’s not uncommon that some skin and hair comes off in the process. Fortunately, Cerberus provided a tack removal station to help minimize the damage.”
Also in attendance and judging, were Maxime Boudreault, who placed third at the World’s Strongest Man competition, and his fiancé Sam Belliveau who is the middleweight women’s champion. Together they run Strongman Corporation Canada, the sport’s governing body in Canada, and they were onsite to make sure that the event ran smoothly. Boudreault has also been coaching Edwards, including providing him with a nutrition plan.
Edwards’ trained five days a week in the gym for three plus hours a session, and also worked on strongman technique with Gary’s Valhalla Power Strongman club one day a week. This in addition to a full-time job at Algoma Steel, Edwards said it didn’t leave him time for much else.
“I felt very confident going in, because I’ve been putting the work in,” said Edwards. “Having Max as a coach definitely helped. But, two weeks before the event I got sick, and that triggered my asthma. It was bad timing, but I still did okay. I look forward to the next competition when I can breathe properly and compete at 100 percent.”
The next step for the category winners is a trip to the nationals or the provincials. Edwards, however, may skip the usual process as he’s been invited to a pro-qualifier show. At that show, it is even possible that he’d be competing against his mentor Max.
Edwards came to the sport through weightlifting, boxing, mixed martial arts, and professional football. The 6 foot 3 inch, 295 pound titan says his favourite events are the sandbag toss and deadlift. In the sandbag toss, Edwards threw the 20lb, 30, 35, and 40lb bags over the 15 foot bar in 11 seconds. His closest competitor finished in 16 seconds. In the deadlift, Edwards completed 12 reps of 570 lbs, while the next in his category only completed 10 reps. “Deadlift is a real challenge because it pushes your limits with cardio and strength,” said Edwards.
The only event that Edwards didn’t dominate was the Atlas stones, but the event was stopped when his stone broke after his fourth rep. “I’m stubborn and competitive, so I was annoyed that they stopped it, but my fingers were ripped open, and I guess I’d already won my division based on points, so I could take second in this one and still win.”
Edwards also log-pressed 265 pounds for the most reps, and had 265 pounds per hand for the farmer’s carry for 35 feet, then 700 lbs carrying the yoke across his shoulders for 35 feet in the fastest time.
When asked whether being a hometown favourite worked to his advantage or not, Edwards said: “Some people doubted me, but that just pushed me harder. My family and training team have been very supportive, so I was happy to show them that their faith wasn’t misplaced.”
Approximately 20 of the competitors were women, and between men and women there were a total of 15 categories.
For the men’s categories, the event results, as provided by Knox, were as follows: men’s heavyweight – 1st Nate Edwards (SSM), 2nd Matt Gibson, 3rd Cody Fownes; men’s novice heavyweight – 1st Jordan Graham-West (SSM), 2nd Adam Jeffrey, 3rd Thorold Palsson; men’s novice lightweight – 1st Mike Latvinen; men’s masters heavyweight – 1st Andre Gregoire, 2nd Ryan Campbell; men’s masters lightweight – 1st Emmanuel Poitras, 2nd Dave Gardner; men’s U80 – 1st Roman Kondrachov; men’s U105 – 1st Chris Murray, 2nd Scott Dinter (SSM), 3rd Colum Hanlon; men’s U90 – 1st Jeff Nason, 2nd Shawn Pope, 3rd Sylvain Paradis.
For the women’s divisions, the results were: women’s teen – 1st Kate Whatley, 2nd Makenzy Canham; women’s novice – 1st Nicole Vansteeland (SSM), 2nd Chelsea Frazier (SSM), 3rd Abby Ball; women’s U63 – 1st Payton Day; women’s U73 – 1st Chelsea Boyce, 2nd Jesse Stewart; women’s U82 – 1st Michelle Tinsley, 2nd Stephanie Canham; women’s open – 1st Ann Rousselle; women’s masters – 1st Carrie-Ann Poole, 2nd Kymm Ducknicky, 3rd Carolyn Torresan.
Competitors who qualified for the nationals in Thunder Bay in September include Nathan Edwards, Scott Dinter, and Lance Gingras.
Knox plans to make Valhalla’s Mightiest an annual event. “We had a number of amazing volunteers and sponsors at the event,” said Knox. “Having Max and Sam there was a big help, allowing me to learn from their experience on the world stage.”
That said, Knox said that he’ll be looking to have a few more volunteers on hand for future events, but competitors lent a hand making sure that everything ran smoothly.
“It’s a tight knit community and every competitor is cheering on the others,” said Knox. “No one wants to win because someone had a bad day. Everyone wants you to bring your best.”