What would you expect if you were invited to film some of Tassie's strongest men and women?
Walking into Artgym in Hobart’s CBD, I was ready for heavy metal, grunting and zero social interaction.
Tasmania’s strongest man, Will Rogers, suggested I come down to chat to the team ahead of their upcoming Australian Arnold Strongman competition.
While the competition has since been cancelled due to COVID-19, my first impressions couldn’t be further from the initial expectations.
Immediately I could tell that this was a supportive place, filled with high fives and athletes cheering each other on - all while carrying boulders, lifting bars and throwing whatever heavy shit they could.
“Artgym isn’t like any other gym," says Camilla Fogagnolo, a personal trainer here.
“It’s not about what you do, but about who you are and what you contribute to those around you.”
"I’ve been competing in sports all my life, at a range of levels from local to international competitions, so I’ve been about and seen a lot; it was the environment Artgym creates that drew me in.”
And it’s clearly worked wonders.
Camilla and fellow strongman athlete Carl Sherry were literally hours off the plane from Ohio, USA - having not only competed, but winning the World Arnold International Amateur Strongman Competition.
Having met the team, I first sat down with Will and thought it would be interesting to give him 15-seconds to tell me, someone new to Strongman, about it .
“Ah, okay - it's lots of really, really ridiculously heavy objects, very awkward objects, lifted in repetition or for one rep max at a weight.”
“It’s lifting truck axels above your head, big concrete balls - anything you can lift as a feat of strength is in Strongman and no competition is the same… ever.”
Glancing over the camera at those training in the gym behind him - I see it's a great summary.
I was curious how does one get into this type of lifting...
"Through childhood I was always stronger than average,” says Will. “My friends started joining gyms and a lot went down body building route. Me, I was fat. When I decided I wanted to do something about it, I found cross fit and really fell in love with the weight loss side."
“I eventually made my way to Strongman, which ties all other aspects together from weight lifting and cross fit. I think that’s what I like, it was a mix of all - I instantly took to it like a duck to water, starting with one competition and going from there. Since then it’s been foot flat to the floor.”
On a slightly different path from Will, Ben Summers got into the sport after watching his wife in one of her first competitions.
“I saw the training she went through in order to get to where she wanted to be at. I thought to myself, this is amazing, the atmosphere is so cool - and have never really looked back.”
The transition from other traditional lifting events to Strongman also seems to be a common trend, particularly for Carl Sherry who was originally based in the UK.
“As a kid, the World Strongest Man was a big thing at home - like a yearly ritual. We always watched it, but it’s never something I expected to be a part of as an adult.”
“I got started with some general powerlifting, but had a friend who was into Strongman and he’d said about a competition that was on. I did a few competitions without training at all and then decided to do it more seriously - since then it’s gone pretty well.”
“I like the test - seeing what’s possible,” continues Carl.
“When you lift a lot of weight on a traditional bar, you know how heavy it is, but doing something that’s kinda crazy, whether pulling truck or lifting car - it looks amazing."
"Then you start questioning where the limit is - not only for myself but for us all as humans."
“It's like using yourself to the limit, you don’t know how strong you are until you can do it,” shares fellow Strongman Kale Skerke. “I think you see things like the massive atlas stones or a big dead lift and think - ‘yeah, that's pretty heavy’.”
“But once you start doing it, you want to max yourself out and see just how far you can push.”
“Strongman is different, there’s so many things you can be good at, so many different aspects.”
“For me it was the people originally, it’s a different approach to sport,” says Camilla. “I’m not exactly sure why but it’s very inclusive and friendly.”
“When I first got into it, it was a real shock coming from a serious sporting background to a really inclusive atmosphere, a friendly one where everyone wants to better not only themselves, but each other."
Fellow female athlete Coorinna Burgess agrees.
“The thing I enjoy most is the atmosphere. Everyone cheers everyone on - even at competitions, if it’s people you're competing against, they’re cheering you on.”
I asked Coorinna about how it feels as a female, training and competing in what’s traditionally a male dominated sport - it’s even in the name.
“It is obviously has been a male dominant sport, particularly when I first started I was only competing against one or two other girls.”
“Now though, I’m preparing to go to Arnolds where I’ll be competing against twenty other girls. It’s grown heaps and I’m not sure what it is or why."
"...but it’s great to not only be a part of this sport but to also be kicking ass.”
Coorinna continues, “Preparation has been really intense!”
“It’s my first experience I’ve had to train this hard, for this long. I’m feeling it in the body and looking for a break, but looking forward to the experience and meeting the people you see on social media who are all going through the same thing."
As an experienced competitor, preparing for the Australian Arnolds looked different to Will than general training.
“It’s been a different style of programming to what we’ve had previously, a lot of low repetition and maxing out in the last seven weeks.”
“The 'one rep max’s’ have been pretty draining on the crew, but I’ve hit all my weights and now it’s just ironing out the kinks.”
Although the competition was cancelled due to coronavirus, and from his social media presence Will has migrated to his home gym, it’s fitting to hear him talk about why being a Strongman in Tasmania is a unique thing.
“Honestly, I’m getting goosebumps thinking about it.”
"I love my state and the people here. I love that we’re isolated and don’t really get as much exposure as an athlete.”
"We get to hop across the pond, excuse my language, but we get to fuck shit up and then just go back home.”
"We appear and then disappear and have a bit of a reputation for that."
“I literally just said to one of the athletes before, the Tassie Athlete is an awesome way to improve the profile of a sport.”
“Even on an intimate level, talking to Dom and the cameras - it means you have to lift your game a bit and present as an athlete.”
“I think it’s the professionalism though that TA (the Tassie Athlete) brings - it’s high quality production irrespective if they’re dealing with an olympian all the way through to a local athlete."
"The Tassie Athlete is a unique way to represent sport, and all sports-people, in Tasmania.”
“We’re a great example, Strongman and Artgym are pretty small. Articles like this give us a little bit of spotlight, which we appreciate.”
We appreciate the heads up too Will, and are looking forward to seeing you and the crew on the national stage soon.