Nicolai Myers said Strongman is as much an individual sport as it is a team sport, one where fellow competitors offer support for the next person more than they hope for themselves.
For Myers, a Finksburg resident and Westminster High School graduate, being a Strongman is a test of character.
Myers competed in, and won, the North American Strongman National Championships in Las Vegas in November. The two-day competition featured three events on the first day and two on the second day. Twenty-four athletes participated in the Men’s Middleweights weight class (176-200 pounds), including Myers.
“I’ve invested so much in it, it’s a self test…” Myers said. “It makes you find out who you want to be when it comes down to those last couple reps. You can either walk away or get another rep in. It helps you figure out who you really are to test your character and you can see a lot of how much someone is.”
Myers’ victory qualified him for the annual Arnold Amateur Strongman Classic, a prestigous event named after famed bodybuilder and actor Arnold Schwarzenegger. The 2018 competition is set for March 1-4 in Columbus, Ohio.
On Day 1 at the North American nationals, Myers successfully cleared a 280-pound log clean and press, deadlifted a 720-pound frame and a 350-pound tombstone. He ran with a 720-pound yoke for 60 feet and lifted a 310-pound powder-covered metal Atlas stone of steel on the second day.
The competition came down to a 1-point spread between the first, second, and third lifters, Myers said, and the winner was not named until the banquet that followed the competition. Myers said he was hoping to finish in the top 10, but certainly did not expect to come away with first place.
It was only his second year competing in Strongman competitions, after all.
“When they announced it at the banquet, I thought ‘Holy [crap],’ Myers said. “It was a surreal experience to be up there on that podium and have all my close friends and family around, to be a national champion. I’ve never been a national champion before.”
Myers said he “stumbled upon” Strongman while enlisted in the Army. One of his high school friends posted videos to social media, and Myers said he became curious about what it took to become such a strong weightlifter. Myers played lacrosse and hockey in high school, but Strongman was a completely different form of athleticism for him.
“I was always into weightlifting,” Myers said. “I took to it like a fish out of water. I grew up working on farms, and picking up big, awkward things wasn’t out of the ordinary. I’m super competitive and depending on how hard you train, you get out what you put into it.”
Myers enlisted in the Army following his graduation from Westminster in 2011, and said he completed an 8-10 month deployment in Afghanistan in 2013 and 2014. When he started training at NEVERsate Athletics in Westminster, he learned to “embrace the suck,” a military term he adopted in the service.
“We embrace training the same way,” Myers said. “Training is fun and anti-miserable and sometimes you get all hyped up, but come [competition] day you get nauseous doing stuff for a minute and it feels like the longest minute of your life. It sucks the whole time but I just think ‘One more rep’ and after each one, I don’t focus on the next five, I only focus on the next one.”
Two years ago, Myers was approached by Brian Alshrue at NEVERsate, who asked if he wanted to coach and help other athletes with strength training. He went from occasionally helping out aside from his own training to working at the gym five days a week.
Coaching has helped Myers improve more than anything, he said. He records his lifts to see what went right versus what went wrong, and he uses the same method to help his athletes.
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“It’s an amazing thing when one of your athletes goes for a PR and you’re spun up just like they are, you’re learning with them,” Myers said. “It’s really rewarding seeing someone you coach succeed and see how happy they are. You know that feeling because you’re an athletes and you’ve been there and you’re excited for them.”