Opinion

Strongman Corporation Nationals 2020 — A Tale of Resilience and Grit

Together, the event promoters and athletes put on a show that they won't soon forget.

Logan Pragovich was two weeks into auto stem cell therapy for his second battle against cancer when he decided to compete in Strongman Corporation Nationals. No stranger to training, Pragovich had dabbled in bodybuilding and powerlifting. However, he wanted something uniquely motivating and challenging for him, and “powerlifting “felt boring compared to [strongman],” he told BarBend.

This was Pragovich’s first Strongman Corporation National — and it was an unusual one. Due to the COVID-19 outbreak and ensuing lock-downs, Strongman Corporation opened an online qualifier for the first time, and Logan went for it. He had eight weeks to train. 

“I had a stationary bike in my hospital room, and so I did five to 10 miles a day [depending on my] platelet levels,” Pragovich tells BarBend.” I would do mobility work with light bands. Out of the hospital, I was so hungry for nationals; it was insane. I’ve always believed the power of positive thinking does wonders.”

Logan pragovich and ben claridad
Logan Pragovich (right) with teammate Ben Claridad (left). Photo by Cara Brennan.

In the past, earning your way to strongman nationals demanded different challenges than putting up a qualifying total, unlike the standardized iron sports. Paul Mouser, experienced strongman promoter and Strongman Corporation’s recurring emcee, noted: “It’s not just about ‘I’m strong, I can qualify.’ You might show up to a meet, and the baddest dudes you’ve ever seen are there. Even though you’re really good, you find yourself in third or fourth place, and then you’ve gotta go do another meet.” 

To qualify for this year’s Nationals competitors had to either do so online or at an in-person competition between late October 2019 and Spring 2020, when competitions started getting canceled due to lockdowns (this is how I qualified).

Strongman Corporation Nationals 2020 was held at the Renaissance Montgomery Hotel in Montgomery AL, on Friday, Oct. 16, 2020, and Saturday, Oct. 17, 2020. As for the event itself, things went off without a hitch according to Dione Masters, CEO of Strongman Corporation. 

I felt everything went very smoothly considering the type of year we’ve all had,” Masters says. “I truly believe this was one of the top five nationals for everyone and one of the most competitive nationals we’ve had in a long time. My favorite moment was the max deadlift. To see six women pull over five-hundred pounds on a stiff bar, without suits, was very impressive.”

The contest itself was organized and well run, but for athletes like Lauren Wells, a women’s 200 pounds-plus competitor, Nationals posed a different type of challenge.

“In February, I left my boyfriend of 5 years, and by leaving him, I also lost my house,” Wells says. “Just as quarantine was going into effect, I was moving all my possessions into storage and sleeping in my mom’s spare room on an air mattress. After about one and a half months, I purchased my first home.”

Then, a week later, Well’s father died.

“My dad was an alcoholic who drank, ate, and smoked himself into a massive heart attack,” Wells says. “My brother and I found him in the bathroom. I wasn’t super close to my dad, but it still hit hard.”

This was Well’s first nationals, and she trains strongman and competes to cope with depression, anxiety, and OCD.  

“I needed exercise to keep me from falling into a black hole, and so I dove in. I also decided to hire my first coach around this time,” says Wells, who hired the well-known strongman community figure and coach Kalle Beck to help get her ready. “I felt like I was at a point in my athletic career in which I needed a second, more experienced set of eyes. I also needed someone to take the burden from me because mentally, I was exhausted.”

Lauren Wells Max Deadlift event
Lauren Wells competing in the Max Deadlift event. Photo by Lauren Wells.

Anthony San Lorenzo, a 231-pound competitor, noted, “Going into this contest, I knew this was going to be a tough year. This was the largest class I’ve ever competed [in]… I was nervous. Some incredible athletes were competing this year, and I knew every point was going to be earned.” Two hundred and thirty-eight athletes were lined up for two days of a back-to-back heavy, explosive, grueling lifting session. Here’s a breakdown of each event.

Yoke Walk

Strongman Corporation Nationals consists of five events — three on day one and two on day two. Day one kicked off with the yoke walk. Historically, the first event is often an overhead press. Personally, starting with overhead is sometimes a nice way to ease in, as it’s comparably lighter on average than your other events. (For what it’s worth, I’m also not the person winning overhead, so it likely takes more out of the higher level pressers). 

The point is: Starting with the Yoke Wal was hardcore, as it is often one of the most fatiguing events in a strongman competition. The yoke is usually carried for just fifty feet, but this year athletes had to walk 60 feet down and 60 feet back. It was a test of grit and endurance. Watching some of the two-hundred-thirty-one pounds men’s class athletes re-pick 700 pounds over and over as they worked on finishing the run was as impressive as watching the event winners’ flawless, fast runs. Strongman nationals feature top tier athletes dominating certain events, but it also showcases a broad range of mental fortitude and commitment from athletes of different skill and experience levels.

The down and back run necessitates placing it down without it sliding too far and re-picking it as fast as possible. There is much more at play than just being strong enough to walk; you have to move fast and precisely. Despite the yoke being a brutal event in general, let alone being done first thing in the morning this year, 200+ class champion Victoria Long made it look like a warm-up. Long finished her run 18.18 seconds with 500 pounds.

 

 
 
 
 
 
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Women’s Yoke Walk Winners

  • Lightweight 120 pounds: Cynthia Martinez
  • Lightweight 140 pounds: Rebecca Yu
  • Middleweight 160 pounds: Linden Reed
  • Middleweight 180 pounds: Erin Walklet
  • Heavyweight 200 pounds: Erin Murray
  • Heavyweight 200+ pounds: Victoria Long

Men’s Yoke Walk Winners

  • Lightweight 150 pounds: Paul Hartigan
  • Lightweight 175 pounds: Nicholas Gagnon
  • Middleweight 200 pounds: Charles Pierce
  • Middleweight 231 pounds: Justin Loy
  • Heavyweight 265 pounds: Clayton Desilva
  • Heavyweight 300 pounds: Alexander Kopp
  • Heavyweight 300+ pounds: Josh Hatfield

Sandbag Toss

Next up was the sandbag toss. A Highland Games influenced event, the sandbag toss has become popular in strongman shows in the last few years. Compared to events like heavy loaded carries or max deadlifts, the sandbag toss demands a different set of skills. The throw is a test of explosive capacity and technical precision

The event winners largely secured their wins by significant margins over most of their field and in tight competition with the other top athletes. Carlee Olivera and Tasha Whelan were the only two 120- and 140-pound athletes to complete all four bags. They finished in 25.05 seconds and 26.14 seconds, respectively. 

 

 
 
 
 
 
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The men’s heavyweight classes absolutely scorched this event with some radical displays of power, with 22 men out of 74 finishing all four bags. The event winner for the 300-pound-plus class Matt Webb finished his run in an astonishing 9.72 seconds (Webb finished 11th place in the combined heavyweight divisions and secured his invite to the Arnold Classic Strongman Corporation Amateur World Championships). Victoria Long cleaned up again, with a 12.36-second run. The next fastest time for all four bags in the 200+ class was 26.49 seconds by Ashley Crawford (Crawford had a solid showing and took second in the 200+ pound division).

Women’s Sandbag Toss Winners

  • Lightweight 120 pounds: Cynthia Martinez
  • Lightweight 140 pounds: Carlee Olivera
  • Middleweight 160 pounds: Cara Brennan
  • Middleweight 180 pounds: Erin Walklet
  • Heavyweight 200 pounds: Erin Murray
  • Heavyweight 200+ pounds: Victoria Long

Men’s Sandbag Toss Winners

  • Lightweight 150 pounds: Richard Stecker
  • Lightweight 175 pounds: Andrew Hanus
  • Middleweight 200 pounds: Tyler Davis
  • Middleweight 231 pounds: Blake Dedas
  • Heavyweight 265 pounds: Anthony Pernice
  • Heavyweight 300 pounds: Nicholas Saccente
  • Heavyweight 300+ pounds: Matt Webb

Husafell Carry

Day one closed with the max distance Húsafell Carry.  This event is a personal favorite, and a real crowd-pleaser in general. Most athletes, however, dread it.The husafell was picked off a two-foot-high block, which allowed a slightly heavier carry on average than would be possible from the floor. The athletes then have to walk with the stone for as far as possible. A personal judge measures Their distance. The judges offered tremendous moral support. Personally, I can attest that having someone tell you, “You can do this, one more step,” as you lug 250 pounds on your chest  helps.

The 180-pound women’s winner Erin Walklet and 231-pound men’s 12th place finisher Joshua Eisele both had standout performances on the Husafell Carry, carrying it 450 and 363 feet, respectively. Another notable moment: Andrew Hanus, who took second place in the 175-pound men’s class, also dominated his class with a 360-foot run, which he then placed back on the box at the start line when he was confident he had done enough to win the event. Trust me when I say that probably no one else did this because no one could, or wanted, to carry that thing one inch farther than they absolutely had to. When you’re done, you drop it. 

Women’s Husafell Carry Winners

  • Lightweight 120 pounds: Cynthia Martinez
  • Lightweight 140 pounds: Heather Cerkan
  • Middleweight 160 pounds: Cara Brennan
  • Middleweight 180 pounds: Erin Walklet
  • Heavyweight 200 pounds: Erin Murray
  • Heavyweight 200+ pounds: Victoria Long

Men’s Husafell Carry Winners

  • Lightweight 150 pounds: Paul Hartigan
  • Lightweight 175 pounds: Andrew Hanus
  • Middleweight 200 pounds: Chris Insko
  • Middleweight 231 pounds: Joshua Eisele
  • Heavyweight 265 pounds: Clayton Desilva
  • Heavyweight 300 pounds: Alexander Kopp
  • Heavyweight 300+ pounds: Shawn Schellenger

Log Clean and Press

Day two opened with log clean and press for reps (Most athletes typically jerk or push press the weight up as it’s easier to get more reps). The log had to be returned to the floor between every successful rep. Josh Silvas (300 pounds) and Alexander Kopp (300 pounds +) won the Log Clean and Press with seven reps each in their divisions. The 175-pounds men’s winner Nicholas Gagnon won by a large margin with eight reps; no one else got more than five reps in his division. Nadia Stowers showed her impressive raw strength with eight reps to clinch the event win in the women’s 180-pounds class. 

Women’s Log Clean and Press Winners

  • Lightweight 120 pounds: Nicole Recchia
  • Lightweight 140 pounds: Carlee Olivera
  • Middleweight 160 pounds: Linden Reed
  • Middleweight 180 pounds: Nadia Stowers
  • Heavyweight 200 pounds: No athlete got a rep
  • Heavyweight 200+ pounds: Victoria Long

Men’s Log Clean and Press Winners

  • Lightweight 150 pounds: No athlete got a rep
  • Lightweight 175 pounds: Nicholas Gagnon
  • Middleweight 200 pounds: Charles Pierce
  • Middleweight 231pounds: Alex Bromley
  • Heavyweight 265 pounds: Garrett Payne
  • Heavyweight 300 pounds: Alexander Kopp
  • Heavyweight 300+ pounds: Josh Silvas

Max Deadlift

Equipment changes had to be made due to logistical issues, and so the max deadlift event on day two included a stiff bar and calibrated plates instead of Ohio deadlift bars. This definitely made a difference, but ultimately, the most dominant deadlifters won. Victoria Long finished her showing as strong as she started with a downright fast 251-kilogram (552-pound) deadlift. Long was also the only athlete of any division to win every single event. Fifth place finisher in the 300+ pound class, Josh Silvas, had the biggest one rep max of any athlete, with a 401-kilogram (882-pound) deadlift.

This year’s deadlift event was unique to strongman — each weight class had set attempts, and they could choose to take every attempt or skip and wait for the weight that would be most advantageous to them. Weight jumps were 10 kilograms for the women’s divisions and 15 kilograms for the men. 

Women’s Max Deadlift Winners

  • Lightweight 120 pounds: Cynthia Martinez
  • Lightweight 140 pounds: Tasha Whelan
  • Middleweight 160 pounds: Linden Reed
  • Middleweight 180 pounds: Nadia Stowers
  • Heavyweight 200 pounds: Erin Murray
  • Heavyweight 200+ pounds: Victoria Long

Men’s Max Deadlift Winners

  • Lightweight 150 pounds: Paul Hartigan
  • Lightweight 175 pounds: Andrew Hanus
  • Middleweight 200 pounds: Chris Insko
  • Middleweight 231 pounds: Anthony san Lorenzo/Frank Provenzano/Chad Kurian 
  • Heavyweight 265 pounds: Clayton Desilva
  • Heavyweight 300 pounds: Alexander Kopp
  • Heavyweight 300+ pounds: Shawn Schellenger

How Strongman is Scored

Strongman is scored by total points earned on each event. Winning one event, or even two, doesn’t guarantee a podium spot. The athlete must average a high points total across all events. Points are calculated based on the number of athletes per division. If there are 10 athletes, a first-place event win scores 10 points.

In the event of a tie, the possible points for both first and second place are added up and then divided by two (the number of athletes who tied). Sticking with the example above, each athlete would get 9.5 points. If three athletes tie, you would also add the points from third place and divide by three. So, each athlete would get nine points (27 divided by three).  Some competitions will run tie-breakers, but Anthony San Lorenzo and Justin Loy will share the 231-pound Men’s title this year. They each had one first-place win. 

The top three athletes in all the women’s combined divisions and the men’s combined Middleweight and Heavyweight divisions receive pro cards. For example, the 120-pound and 140-pound class are both lightweight classes. Those who receive pro cards can now compete at specific Strongman Corporation professional competitions that feature prize money and demanding high-level events.

The Winners — Podium-Placers and Beyond

All victories are personally meaningful, and there are victories beyond the podium as well. As Logan Pragovich’s friend and teammate, it was awesome to see him place 40th out of the 61 total 231-pound athletes and complete his goal of competing at Strongman Nationals after cancer-treatment. On the final event of the weekend, the deadlift, Pragovich injured his back slightly, but he took it in stride.

“I had fun regardless of the injury; meeting my coach and team; it was a great experience,” he says. Our coach, Alec Pagan, oversaw six athletes. (Personal bias aside, it is worth noting that no other team, to my knowledge, had as many top placings as Pagan’s RPE11 crew did). 

Lauren Wells’s training and competition victories were a group effort. 

“[Kalle Beck] really stepped in and stepped up for me…[and] about 3 months before nationals [I met] my boyfriend, David. The support from a true partner who only wants to see you succeed is invaluable…hearing his voice over the crowd as I’m slowly dying on the deadlift platform will always be one of my favorite memories.” 

She also enjoyed what felt like a big surprise; she placed third in the women’s 200-pound + class, receiving her Arnold invite and pro card.

When they called my name, I really couldn’t believe it,” Wells says. “I’ve honestly never been more proud of myself after a comp. To hear my name called and to stand up in front of my peers, alongside two of the strongest women in the world, is a feeling and experience I will always cherish.”

Rachael Bennett’s performance is also a reminder of the power of consistency, patience, and strong averages; her event wins were sixth, ninth, fourth, third, and fourth. Bennett, who has been competing for 11 years, took second in the 180-pound class and earned her pro card.

With the onslaught of life changes and event cancellations this year has caused so many, 2020Nationals felt stand-out in many ways. Most of us who travel and compete several times a year had gone a long time without seeing people from our extended strength community and weren’t sure when we would get that chance again.  Mouser summed up the feeling quite well.

“What’s special for me about it is reconnecting in person, and that feeling never stops being awesome.”

You can find the overall results below. 

2020 Strongman Corporation Nationals Overall Results 

All Women’s Divisions Winners:

  • Lightweight 120 pounds: Cynthia Martinez
  • Lightweight 140 pounds: Carlee Olivera
  • Middleweight 160 pounds: Linden Reed
  • Middleweight 180 pounds: Erin Walklet
  • Heavyweight 200 pounds: Erin Murray
  • Heavyweight 200+ pounds: Victoria Long

Women’s Combined Winners:

Lightweight 120/140 Pounds:

  • First: Carlee Olivera
  • Second: Cassandra Concepcion
  • Third: Heather Cerkan

Middleweight 160/180 Pounds:

  • First: Erin Walklet
  • Second: Rachael Bennett
  • Third: Samantha Gable

Heavyweight 200/200+ Pounds:

  • First: Victoria Long
  • Second: Ashley Crawford
  • Third: Lauren Wells

All Men’s Divisions Winners:

  • Lightweight 150 pounds: Paul Hartigan
  • Lightweight 175pounds: Nicholas Gagnon
  • Middleweight 200 pounds: Charles Pierce
  • Middleweight 231 pounds: Justin Loy
  • Heavyweight 265 pounds: Clayton Desilva
  • Heavyweight 300 pounds: Alexander Kopp
  • Heavyweight 300+ pounds: Josh Hatfield/Emanuel Frias (tie)

Men’ Combined Winners:

Lightweight 150/175 Pounds:

  • First: Nicholas Gagnon
  • Second: Andrew Hanus
  • Third: Dillion Thompson

Middleweight 200/231 Pounds:

  • First: Justin Loy / Anthony San Lorenzo (tie)
  • Second:
  • Third: Richard Moczygemba

Heavyweight 265/300/300+ Pounds:

  • First: Emanuel Frias / Josh Hatfield (tie)
  • Second:
  • Third: Trevor Siemonsma

Editor’s note: This article is an op-ed. The views expressed herein and in the video are the author’s and don’t necessarily reflect the views of BarBend. Claims, assertions, opinions, and quotes have been sourced exclusively by the author.

Featured image (right to left): Lauren Wells; Cara Brennan