On July 26th, Scotland’s own Fergus Crawley became just the second athlete in history to back squat 500lbs and run a sub 5 minute mile all in the same day. (Well, at least the second athlete in history to record and document it.) The 24 year-old Crawley rounded out his endurance showcase by running a full marathon mere hours later.
However, even more impressive than his physical accomplishments is how he overcame his own issues with mental health. After struggling with depression for a number of years, Crawley attempted suicide in May of 2016.
“I didn’t want to reveal the fact that I was suffering as I feared it would expose me as weak or overly vulnerable or let down people’s expectations of me,” said Crawley, in a recent podcast with BarBend, which you can listen to below.
Now, Fergus is lifting and running for a cause much bigger than personal glory, and the work he’s doing to raise awareness for mental health issues is the true highlight of our conversation.
If you or anyone you know are struggling with depression or thoughts of suicide, the National Suicide Prevention Hotline is available 24 hours a day at 1-800-273-8255 as well as online.
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On this episode of The BarBend Podcast, host David Tao talks to Fergus Crawley about:
- The inspiration behind Fergus’ back squat/mile run challenge (2:10)
- Fergus’ training leading up to the challenge (6:10)
- Fergus’ existence across strength and endurance sports, training for a powerlifting competition and ultra-triathlon in the same year (12:30)
- His personal battle with depression that included a suicide attempt (15:40)
- Attempting to squat 500,000 kilos in 24 hours (17:30)
- Opening up about his own personal struggles and challenges in order to help others (18:10)
- Responses from within the strength community (22:01)
- The community aspect and support that comes from strength training (27:00)
- “The Western world is so grey in terms of measures of success” (28:00)
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Relevant links and further reading:
Fergus Crawley’s Strength Journey
Crawley began his athletic career as a rugby player but was sidelined by a series of concussions right before he had a chance to play professionally. Once rugby was off the table, he knew he would need to find a new way to fuel his competitive spirit.
“I immediately just found myself sort of trying to improve my running times, trying to get a little bit leaner,” said Crawley. “Then I got into competitive powerlifting.”
As a powerlifter, Crawley was roundly successful. He took first place in 5 of the 8 events he entered, including a Gold medal in the Junior division at the 2016 Global Powerlifting Committee (GPC) European Championships with a 600kg/1,322.7lb total.
“Powerlifting was always an anchor for me throughout that period of time.”
After surviving the suicide attempt, Crawley committed to combine his love of strength training with suicide awareness. The result was a 2018 event where he attempted to squat 460,000kg in 24 hours in an effort to raise money for the Harlequins and Movember foundations.
“About 128,000 kilos and 5 hours in my knee snapped,” said Crawley. “I raised about 25,000 pounds in the process and ended up sharing my story publicly. Got a load of positive messages from people saying thank you for doing this because I’d always seen you as this figure of strength, but you saying this has made me more comfortable with my own situation. Which was really amazing and that’s kind of what’s carried me through.”
Despite the injury, Crawley wasted no time planning his next move. He began biking and swimming again almost immediately and by May of 2019 he was competing at an Ironman event in Lanzarote, Spain.
“I basically just found myself in this big mix of training for lots of different things but just really enjoying the variety.”
Crawley said he had been aware of the infamous 500lb squat / sub 5 minute mile challenge for some time but didn’t feel compelled to take a shot at it until a powerlifting meet he was training for fell through. In fact, he was gearing up to train for an ultra triathlon when he decided to pivot.
“I didn’t drastically reinvent the wheel, I just kind of adjusted a few things,” said Crawley. “A lot of those sessions didn’t go as planned because I was balancing so much fatigue. On my Saturdays, I was still spending four to 8 to 10 hours in the Scottish mountains. So, there was a lot of volume to deal with.”
Crawley admitted that seeing American CrossFit athlete Adam Klink complete the challenge first was a bit discouraging. However, he credits his success with making constant adjustments to his training on a daily basis.
“Completely honestly – I did not expect to get the squat done on the day when I did it,” said Crawley. “I probably had another 15 kilos in me – based on how I’ve been able to grind things out in the past. But I’d failed 220 a few weeks beforehand because I was under a lot of fatigue.”
But Crawley is quick to point out that the weight on the barbell and the time on the stopwatch are all secondary to emotional well being.
“The Western world is so gray in terms of metrics for success. Metrics for wealth, standing – basically the components of day to day life,” said Crawley. “It’s all a massive gray area. And strength, fitness training, how fast you can run a mile, how much you can lift with a barbell on your back, etc. is a very, very black and white metric. And black and white metrics help give people sort of really obvious moments of success, moments of achievement. Which is really important for us all in our lives, and I think that’s why strength training was such a pivotal component of me getting well.”