Maryland's Strongest Man: Alsruhe raised to 'be the best'

South Carroll graduate and Carroll County resident Brian Alsruhe recently lifted his way to the title of Maryland's Strongest Man at the Maryland Strongest Man Competition.
South Carroll graduate and Carroll County resident Brian Alsruhe recently lifted his way to the title of Maryland's Strongest Man at the Maryland Strongest Man Competition. (DAVE MUNCH/STAFF PHOTO / Carroll County Times)

Brian Alsruhe hadn't gotten the start he wanted last month during the Maryland's Strongest Man competition at Colosseum Gym in Columbia.

He was the reigning champion and expectations were high, but after he was able to lift only 675 pounds in the 18-inch deadlift to start the competition — he had lifted 765 in training — Alsruhe was in fifth place with four events to go.


It was a significant margin to make up, and he realized he would have to be nearly perfect the rest of the way.

Alsruhe walked over to his father Dave and started complaining.


"It's raining. I'm doing horrible," Alsruhe said. "I just lost it."

Father's response was one that son should have expected. Alsruhe knew he'd worked for everything up this point, and nothing had ever been handed to him. At 35 years old, that wasn't going to change.

"Deal with it," Dave said.

Alsruhe regrouped. The South Carroll graduate swept the final four events of the competition to defend his title. The championship was the product of an ethos that Alsruhe has carried his whole life: No matter what he's going to do, he's going to dive headfirst into it.


And though he's been competing in strongman competitions for less than two years, he's already emerged as an up-and-comer and finished 18th overall at nationals in October.

"I was raised to be very mentally tough," Alsruhe said. "You don't call in sick. You show up, you do your job to the best of your ability. If you're going to do something, you do it 100 percent. If you're going to do something, you be the best. That's what you do."

It's a path that Alsruhe never thought he'd take. He never imagined he would end up as Maryland's strongest man or competing in strongman. But when given opportunities, he's charged into them.

• • •

Alsruhe wasn't really quite sure what to make of strongman at first. He knew the stereotypes of bulging 400-pound men yelling and screaming and throwing heavy things. And as a focused and quietly intense former high school baseball player, he didn't really feel like he fit into that community.

But Mike Jenkins, a friend and classmate from South Carroll, was making waves in strongman. A former football player at James Madison, Jenkins was placing at nationals and earned his pro strongman card in 2010. He qualified for the finals of the World's Strongest Man contest in 2011 and placed eighth.

In high school, Jenkins and Alsruhe were workout partners and often pushed each other in the weight room. They were personal trainers at the same gym, and later on, Jenkins tried to get Alsruhe to do strongman. But he never thought it was for him.

In 2013, Jenkins' sponsor, David Lee, invited Alsruhe to a Christmas party in order to reconnect with Jenkins and to meet some of other people from strongman and try to get Alsruhe to give it a try.

But on Thanksgiving, Jenkins died in his sleep from a heart condition.

"And instead of going to the Christmas party," Alsruhe said, "we had to go to a funeral."

Strongmen from all over the world flew in for Jenkins' funeral. Alsruhe, who stands 6 feet and weighs 230 pounds, was one of the smallest people in the room, and he was taken with the combination and kindness that was exuded by Jenkins' competitors and friends. So he figured it was time for him to do what Jenkins and Lee had urged him to do and give strongman a try.

In April 2014, Alsruhe participated in his first competition and won.

"At his funeral, I said I always told Mike I would eventually do one, and now Mike's never going to get to see it," Alsruhe said. "So I was like, come springtime, I will 100 percent do a contest. So I did my first contest, was fortunate enough to win it and then went on from there."

• • •

When Alsruhe was 5 years old, he noticed how hard his parents worked at their professions. He had started helping Dave, a carpenter, on his construction jobs. His mother Connie worked as an accountant at construction firms. So he asked them how someone could get that good at their job.

They told him that it wasn't innate. The number of people born with the talent to immediately be great is small, so others must work hard and put in effort in order to reach their peak performance. That conversation stuck with Alsruhe for his entire life.

He started kickboxing as a teenager while starring for South Carroll on the baseball diamond. His fighting experience, which moved toward mixed martial arts over time, gave him quick feet and enabled him to make plays at shortstop. North Carolina offered him a scholarship to play collegiate baseball, he said, but a severe left knee injury — "tore every single ligament except for my ACL: my PCL, MCL, patellar tendon, my knee cap was over here, knee cap shattered," Alsruhe said — derailed those plans.

So he enrolled at Mount St. Mary's, where he could commute for his first two years of college, to study sociology, criminology and philosophy while running his own karate school on the side, where he could work on rounding out his fighting skills.

And after college, he was recruited by the government to do counterterrorism work, which sent him around the world for the past 10 years.

All the while, he remembered the lessons from his parents and attacked every task he had with the same fervor.

So he decided to open his own gym on a plot of land owned by Lee in Westminster. He quit working for the government to run his business, NEVERsate, full time.

"I'm going to try to do this and see if this will work out," Alsruhe said. "I figure, no risk no reward. I'd rather do something I love. If you love something, go for it. What do you have to lose? Worst case scenario, you end up getting a job that you may not really enjoy to pay the bills but at least you went for it. You can't look back on it and say I always wish I would have tried that."

• • •

It's in the gym, a humble structure which appears to be a simple garage on the exterior, that Alsruhe is in his element.

He's been running NEVERsate — the name means "never satisfied" and he got it from the name of a friend's band — for a little more than a year, and has a group of 50 dedicate members that come regularly. He designs the workouts himself and posts everyone's personal bests on a whiteboard so they can constantly see them and get motivated by them.

"He has a way of having you challenge yourself," said Lee, who trains at NEVERsate with Alsruhe and participated in his first strongman competition last month at 50 years old. "His workouts that he designs himself are extremely challenging. They're very hard. They're very difficult to get through. But he coaches you through it and he motivates you to the point where you don't want to fail because you don't want to let yourself down. It's not about letting him down. You don't want to let yourself down.

"He has a very unique way of forcing you to push yourself beyond your limits. You want to stop, but in your head, you know you have more work to do and you just don't want to quit because you don't want to let yourself down. You don't want to cut yourself short. He has a way of really inspiring you to push to your absolute maximum effort."

All Alsruhe wants from his clients is for them to leave being able to do something they couldn't do when they joined. It doesn't matter if it's becoming one of the state's strongest people or if it's making it easier to carry groceries out of a store. He thrives on people overcoming their mental barriers and reaching new heights in their improvement.


When someone enters the gym at NEVERsate, he or she will place her cell phone on a shelf in the corner and dedicate themselves to a workout. There's no TVs to watch while working on a treadmill, Alsruhe pointed out. It's all in the mind of whoever's working out.


"If you're always negatively self-talking or verbally talking negatively, that's stuff kind of manifests itself," Alsruhe said. "You know people who are like Eeyore. Good things don't typically happen to those people a lot. So I always try to stay positive. I'm a very sincere guy, so what you see is what you get. I want people to get better and I believe people have a lot of greatness inside them, and they need to realize it so they can bring it out."

• • •

In a sport filled with large men lifting cars and moving stones that weight hundreds of pounds, Alsruhe knows that it's easy for people's minds to jump directly to performance enhancing drugs. Alsruhe said he has never done steroids, and the thought has never really crossed his mind. He isn't even really sure how it would work, he said, since he hasn't looked into it.

But he knows the reality of his sport, and he sees the use of performance enhancing drugs as doubting the ability to win without them.

"What people don't realize is that I've been lifting weights literally since I was 13 years old," Alsruhe said. "Now I'm 35. You're talking about over 20 years of four times a week. If you read two hours a day every week for 25 years, you'd be in a different place, right? ... That whole idea of 10,000 hours towards mastering, well, I've spent 10,000 hours, you know what I mean? So when people are like, oh he's on steroids. I'm like, no, I'm a little obsessive."

Instead, Alsruhe strengthens his mind through reading. He called himself a "voracious reader," and he's about to achieve his goal of reading 100 books this year. On Dec. 17, he finished his 99th book, "What Is The What" by Dave Eggers, and he credits Steven Pressfield's "The War of Art: Break Through the Blocks and Win Your Inner Creative Battles" and Mason Currey's "Daily Rituals: How Artists Work" as two of the most influential in his life.

Alsruhe said he doesn't watch much TV, so in his spare time he reads to see how other people's minds work and to see how he can use philosophies that have worked for other successful people and apply them to his own life and to his clients at NEVERsate. He knows it's something that flies against the stereotype of a strongman, but it's a habit he's held his whole life, especially when he worked for the government and would have lengthy flights around the globe.

"If you read 100 books in a year, at the end of the year, you're going to be smarter, you're going to have more experience through someone else's experience," Alsruhe said. "I think people who don't read are missing out on a lot of mistakes that others have made."

Alsruhe wants to be his best, and he wants to see the same out of those around him. At strongman competitions, he's been known to cheer on his competitors to beat his own marks.

If he loses, he wants to lose to someone who's going above and beyond.

If he wins, he wants to beat everyone else's best.

"He doesn't want anything given to him," Lee said.

And so Alsruhe continues to work to get stronger. His next goal is to get his pro card so he can compete in international competitions and represent the United States.

Alsruhe's path hasn't been the straightest, from his decision to try strongman competitions to his decision to quit his job and move back to Carroll County fulltime to run NEVERsate.

But Alsruhe wouldn't have had it happen any other way.

"You're trying it," Alsruhe said. "That's the whole thing. You get one shot at life, you know?"



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