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America's Strongest Man - 2001-08-01

Pulling two huge 18-wheeler trucks across an arena or lifting a 174 kilo boulder may sound like the feats of a super hero, but they are perfectly ordinary events in Strongman competitions. The international sport includes more than 20 events, all geared towards extreme lifting.

Often the athlete is judged on how far or how fast he can move objects like cars, giant logs and 400-kilo tires. The strongest American in these competitions is 30-year-old Phil Pfister of Charleston, West Virginia.

As Phil Pfister's 24-hour shift at Firestation 2 comes to a close, he switches his mind set from fire fighter, to strongman. Three years ago, the brawny, blue eyed, blond entered a strongman weight-lifting competition. He easily won and never looked back.

"I was watching ESPN and I'd seen some of the events the guys do and knew I could do some of those events at least as well as some of the guys I was watching, if not better," he says.

Mr. Pfister trains in a vacant school for about an hour every day. Today he's concentrating on carrying a massive 136 kilo, concrete block up a flight of stairs.

"The sport of strongman has evolved from brutish feats of strength that require little to no technique such as pulling trucks, to lifting rocks to pressing bar bells over head to a more technique intensive sport that not only requires brute strength but conditioning, stamina and a very refined technique," he says.

The sport also requires a little ingenuity. The things he lifts in competition are a bit unusual, often looking more like debris from a construction site than regulation weights. For instance, one piece of equipment looks like a yoke with a concrete block attached to either end, another, like a large metal log. Therefore Mr. Pfister has to make most of his training equipment himself. The strongman even keeps an old car at his house to practice flipping over heavy objects. He uses these 180 kilo stone balls for a variety of exercises involving lifting and walking.

"Being a strongman is like developing the discipline of 20 different sports. It's very dynamic. Fortunately it's very entertaining. I've got a lot of hope that Strongman will be the next great sport in our culture," Mr. Pfister says.

Phil Pfister is the only American to be named one of the World's top five Strong Men since 1990. Though he's placed well in numerous contests, including winning the American Hercules 2000, and coming in second at this year's "Beauty and the Beast" contest, he isn't getting rich off the prize money. His winnings have averaged about $15,000 a year.

"It's a little bit of a conflict to have these lofty goals of trying to dominate the sport and win the World's Strongest Man and then also being a regular guy who has to bring home the bacon everyday," Mr. Pfister notices.

He hopes to someday become a full time professional athlete but says even if that doesn't happen, his sport has given him a great deal.

"My sport not only helps me as a fire fighter but in all aspects of my life. When you lift and deal with heavy objects it's not only a physical enterprise, it's a mental one. Perhaps more so then physical. You have to develop a close connection with God because you're dealing with very scary things on a daily basis, so you have to be able to turn that element of your life to God, at least I do personally," Mr. Pfister says.

"It helps me to focus on what's important in my life. Sometimes I have to back off and say, 'This is ridiculous. This is crazy. I shouldn't take it so seriously, it's just a sport. What's really important in my life?" he says.

What is really important to Phil Pfister is being a positive role model. He says he'd like to set up a mentoring program for West Virginia's youngsters. He has two messages for them: "take time to enjoy being a kid" and "stay drug-free."

"I don't use steroids, never have used steroids, never will use steroids. I'm a life-time drug-free athlete. I believe strongly in that. I don't slight my competitors if they choose to use them, but I'm not sure we'll ever get to know the true limits of man's strength if we're relying on this stuff. The anti-drug message is at the forefront of what I wish to convey," Mr. Pfister says.

Mr. Pfister plans to compete in Strongman for at least another ten years. During that time he hopes to give a boost to West Virginia'S economy by bringing a Strongman contest to his state. "West Virginia doesn't have much of a lime light. That's ok, but it's nice to be able to give my fellow West Virginians another reason to be proud of their state," he says.

West Virginians and people all across the country can proudly watch the American Strongman when he again competes in the World's Strongest Man Contest, being held this October in Zimbabwe.