‘I feel like a gladiator’ – disabled strongman competitor Gary Clarke

A guest post by Gary Clarke, who has cerebral palsy and is a support worker for people with learning difficulties. He is holding the UK’s first Disabled Strongman Competition in Stoke on Trent this weekend. 

Since taking part in my first strongman competition back in 2011, I’ve had ambitions to set up a Britain’s strongest disabled man competition.

This Saturday (29 July) my dream is set to become reality as 10 disabled competitors take part in Britain’s Disabled Strongman 2015 in Stoke on Trent.

I’ve always wanted to bring the event to the UK. My inspiration is Arnar Már Jónsson, who started the disabled strongman movement in Iceland, where it has been running for 15 years. He was a pioneer and has made all subsequent events possible.

The movement is growing worldwide now with competitions being held in America, Hungary and of course the UK this year.

The UK event consists of:
• The truck pull – stationed at the top of a hill in a harnessed down wheelchair competitors have to pull a 4×4 up the hill
• The Hercules hold – holding 80kg in each hand on a pulley system, you have to hold on as long as you can.
• The crucifix hold – 7.5kg sledgehammers held in each hand for the maximum time possible
• The giant dumbbell press
• Atlas stones ranging from 40 to 90kg in weight have to be transferred between oil drums
• A log lift of 75kg on an incline bench

At the moment all the disabled athletes compete together, but eventually I’d like to implement standing and sitting categories.

We’ve got about 100 spectators due to come along on Saturday and we’re expecting more on the day. There’s always a great atmosphere at these events, the athletes are really supportive of each other and the audience really gets behind the competitors. Everyone spurs each other on. Everyone understands how difficult it is.

I feel like a gladiator

Disabled strongman competitor Gary Clarke
Disabled strongman competitor Gary Clarke

It’s been a long time in the planning, but I always knew it would happen. You’ve got to make things happen, just because it hasn’t been done before, doesn’t mean you can’t be the first to do it.

I’m not sure what appeals so much about strongman competitions, but I’ve always loved them. I’ve been a fan of strongman since the days of Geoff Capes and Jón Páll Sigmarsson. I can still hear cries of “I am a Viking” to this day. I remember saying to my grandmother at the time: “One day I’ll be doing this.”

It’s just quite a bizarre concept and I’m quite eccentric. I think everyone involved is a bit mad. It’s not a sport for people who want to sit indoors. It’s a real do-er, warrior-type sport. I feel like a gladiator!

I’ve competed in five World’s Strongest Disabled Man events in Iceland. They’re great events and I push myself further in what I can achieve each year. I’ve also had the opportunity to meet Magnus ver Magnusson – the four-time winner of the World’s Strongest Man competition and strongman icon.

There is definitely an aspect of challenging attitudes to disability. We are doing these competitions to a high standard; there is nothing light about them. It’s about pushing the boundaries of what can be achieved.

My hope is that the UK competition will be annual event and that it continues to grow.

Gary is supporting Scope’s fitness fundraising challenge Steptember. Participants are challenged to take at least 10,000 steps a day for the month of September. A huge range of activities, including swimming, cycling, wheeling and weight-lifting, can be converted into ‘steps’ via the event website. There still time to sign up on the Steptember website and get active while raising money for a great cause.