Rob Kearney: Competing Against Giants and Being An Openly Gay Strongman

Rob Kearney is a multi-time World’s Strongest Man competitor and the 2019 Arnold Australia Strongman champion. He’s one of the rising stars in the sport, even while weighing up to 150 pounds less than other top competitors in his division. In addition, Rob is one of the most visible openly gay strength athletes in America. Rob joins us to discuss his training, career goals, and the impact he hopes his success can have on breaking stereotypes and increasing acceptance across sports.

Our conversation gets pretty heavy in some sections. Rob discusses his experiences facing hate for his sexual orientation. He also shares some stories of others in the LGBTQ+ community struggling with issues of identity and discrimination. For some, that includes thoughts regarding self-harm. 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.

In this episode of The BarBend Podcast, guest Rob Kearney and host David Thomas Tao discuss:

  • Rob’s current training and schedule in the strongman offseason (2:16)
  • The stress of extra bodyweight for strongman athletes, and whether athletes should lean out before competition (6:15)
  • Rob’s unconventional path to strongman and time in the CrossFit community (7:30)
  • Rob’s 8 year progression from starting in the sport to reaching the World’s Strongest Man stage (9:00)
  • “I’m not over 6 foot, and I don’t have the frame to be over 300 pounds, I’m never going to be able to do that” (11:20)
  • First time qualifying for World’s Strongest Man (12:40)
  • Competing in Botswana in 2017, when homosexuality was a criminal offense in that country (14:50)
  • The competitors who most surprised Rob (15:55)
  • The origins of Rob’s Instagram handle: @worlds_strongest_gay (17:35)
  • How being an openly gay athlete impacted Rob (18:30)
  • Dealing with social media hate, and what more than makes up for it (21:00)
  • Finding acceptance from other top strongman athletes (23:00)
  • Rob’s competition schedule for 2020 — over 12 competitions! (27:00)
  • Future career goals (28:50)
  • The strength athlete Rob most admires (31:30)

Relevant links and further reading:

Transcription

Rob KearneyRob Kearney

Until he found my profile, he was essentially on the verge of committing suicide, because he was so unhappy with himself and didn’t want to accept himself for his sexuality, and didn’t know how he would be taken by his family and his friends. He felt like he didn’t have anywhere to go until he saw me and what I was doing.

I tell people, I deal with a lot of bullshit on Instagram and social media on a daily basis. A lot of people hate on me all the time. But all of those messages don’t mean shit to me, compared to the one message that I get off the kid who’s struggling with themselves and can finally accept themselves for who they are.

David TaoDavid Tao

Welcome to the “BarBend Podcast,” where we talk to the smartest athletes, coaches and minds from around the world of strength. I’m your host David Thomas Tao and this podcast is presented by barbend.com.

Today I’m talking to elite strongman and multi-time world Strongest Man competitor, Rob Kearney. Rob is an interesting case in the sport of Strongman. He actually found strength training through CrossFit. His journey in strength is a testament to the power of steady work and consistency.

To be fair, Rob has also added nearly 100 pounds of mass to his frame since taking up Strongman. Which still makes him one of the lightest competitors in the World’s Strongest Man field, pretty crazy.

Rob also discusses his journey as an openly gay strength athlete, and challenging what something or conventional notions of what it means to be strong and masculine. We’ll also talk about how Rob is using his own experiences, to inspire and empower others in the LGBTQ+ community and beyond.

Rob gives his thoughts on the friendliest competitors in his field. We get the inside scoop on some real gentle giants. Also, we’re incredibly thankful that you listened to this podcast. If you haven’t already, be sure to leave a rating and review of the BarBend Podcast in your app of choice.

Every month, we give away a box full of BarBend swag to one of our listeners, who leaves a rating and review.

Rob Kearney, thank you so much for joining the podcast today. I know we’ve talked a little bit in the past for some BarBend videos, but this is the first time getting you on our podcast. How’s it going? How’s training been?

Rob KearneyRob Kearney

Things are good, kind of in the off-season right now, quote unquote. [laughs] If we do have one as a Strongman athlete. I feel good. This is arguably the strongest I’ve ever felt in an off-season. I’m pretty excited to get going and wrap up training heading into the Arnold coming up in a few months.

David TaoDavid Tao

Now, you’re known for your overhead strength. There’s no question there. I saw recently you post on Instagram. I believe it was a deadlift triple PR at over 800 pounds. Is that a lift as you’re pulling something you’ve been working on a lot this off-season?

Rob KearneyRob Kearney

Not even just in my off-season, but ever since I started working with Poundstone as my coach. My lockout’s always been weak. My doubles’ been decently good. It’s never been a strength of mine, but we’ve just hammered that.

That’s really been a big focus over the past year and a half with Derek is being able to hit some reps at some pretty high weight. My one arm max strength is good. At this level in strongman now we have to be able to pull reps in the mid eights.

What’s funny is about that pull, I pulled 815 for a triple just a couple of nights ago. We’re not even doing a strength portion of the program right now. We’re really just focusing on hypertrophy, work capacity, and volume.

To come out that training session with a PR was unexpected to say the least, but super-exciting seeing that’s not what we’re really training for.

 

David TaoDavid Tao

I mean unexpected PRs are just as good as planned PRs. You have PR to PR. I’ve heard people get mad when they PR out of a certain training cycle in an unplanned way. They get really frustrated. I’m just like, “What are you talking about? That’s just a PR is a PR.”

Rob KearneyRob Kearney

No. To me, it’s just like, I mean if anything, I was more excited about that. I know where my training is gone, and what we’re aiming for right now on this block. To come up with a PR when I’m really not training for “strength.” To me, that was actually exciting.

I was like, “Oh, shit.” It can only go up from here. When I’m really trying to train that lift and going for a big number like we have to in Ohio. For me, it just excited me more than anything. I don’t understand why somebody would get mad about a PR. That just seems dumb.

David TaoDavid Tao

Well, strength athletes of all types will find a way to get frustrated for no reason at certain points.

 

Rob KearneyRob Kearney

That’s true.

David TaoDavid Tao

It’s just the name of the game. Just to give folks a little bit of context. You say training for Ohio. You’re talking about the Arnold Strongman Classic in March 2020, which is the next big competition you have coming up, right?

Rob KearneyRob Kearney

Yes. I’ll be doing the Arnold Santa Monica as well in January. To put it loosely, I’m not essentially training for that competition. The big focus is on the one in Columbus, the Strongman Classic, but still going out to Santa Monica to have some fun.

The events are decently close to what we’re going to be doing in Ohio. That’s a little tune-up show and to get the body rolling and get ready for the big peak going into Columbus.

David TaoDavid Tao

What is your body weight at these days, if you don’t mind me asking? I’m not sure if that’s rude to ask. In general society, you ask someone their weight and you’re like, “What?” But in strength athletics, it’s almost a requirement, like, “What are you weighing these days?”

Rob KearneyRob Kearney

For me, I’m hovering right around 283 to 285, which has kind of been my sweet spot for the past year. Big focus right now is trying get a little bit leaner, actually, going into the Arnold. I have a lot of competitions planned for the 2020 season, so working on the diet, trying to get a little bit leaner, keeping my body weight up around this, maybe trying to push 290.

The mentality is the leaner I am going into the season, the less inflammation I’ll have and the quicker I’ll be able to recover between shows to be able to compete at a high level for a longer period of time.

David TaoDavid Tao

We’ve seen that with a lot of Strongman athletes. Zydrunas Savickas, the legend in the sport, is well-known for dropping a lot of body weight at different times during the competition season and out of season just to give his body a little bit of rest, to not carry around so much inflammation and so much weight.

The idea of leaning out pre-competition, it’s almost a little counterintuitive because in the sport of Strongman, we think you want to have a lot of body mass, you want to be at your biggest and your strongest heading into the competition season, but it seems like that as conventional wisdom might be falling a little bit by the wayside and you do see some folks leaning out pre-comp.

Rob KearneyRob Kearney

Yeah, and I think especially with the trend of Strongman right now, one, it’s heavy as hell, so obviously we have to be really strong. We’re seeing a trend in all the competitions that one, they’re expecting really big massive lifts for us [indecipherable 07:09] max for these events, but we also have to be really athletic and be able to move really efficiently.

I think that’s where I’m hoping to…I can hold my own on the max events, but I like pride myself that I can move well too. Being a little bit leaner going into shows, that helps on that front as well.

David TaoDavid Tao

Yeah, looking for an advantage wherever you can find it. Speaking of that, your road to Strongman competition is a little unconventional. I know a lot of folks find Strongman as a sport in different ways, a lot move from powerlifting or other strength sports.

Tell us a little bit about your athletic background, because if I remember this correctly, last time we were chatting, you were actually a crossfitter before you were a top-level Strongman, is that correct?

Rob KearneyRob Kearney

Yeah. I guess crossfitter is loosely defined in my athletic history.

I was training at a CrossFit gym when I was in high school back in 2009, so it was right at the beginning of CrossFit, and I found out pretty quickly that I sucked at CrossFit [laughs] but I was actually good at moving some weight. That’s where I fell in love with the sport of Strongman.

I had walked into the gym one morning on a Tuesday at five o’clock before I was going to school, and the owner of the gym was like, “Hey, there is a Strongman competition this coming weekend, we signed you up for it.” I had never trained any of the implements…

David TaoDavid Tao

And you didn’t consent to this beforehand, by the way. They just signed you up.

Rob KearneyRob Kearney

Oh yeah, totally. They just threw my name in the hat. I went and I was 17 years old. The next-youngest competitor I think was 28 and I had totally gotten my ass kicked and took last place, but fell in love with the sport.

I think a lot of people look at me competing at World’s Strongest Man and doing all these really cool things, and they just automatically assume that I was good at the sport to begin with, and that is the farthest thing from the truth. When I got into Strongman, I competed a lot when I first started, and I took last place in the first eight competitions that I did.

It took me up until I think my 14th competition to actually take a podium spot. I really wasn’t good at this sport overnight and it took me a long time. It took me until 2013, so it took me four years to become a lightweight pro and then I didn’t get to World’s Strongest Man until 2017.

It took me eight years from starting in the sport to getting to World’s Strongest Man, whereas you see some athletes get there in two. It took me a little bit longer.

David TaoDavid Tao

It seems like a long time in the grand scheme of things, but really, in order to get to that top level, a lot of athletes who are getting to the World’s Strongest Man stage, which is rarified air, to put it lightly, they’ve been strength training for well over a decade, sometimes two decades, before they even get to that level.

Eight years might seem like a long time, but compared to some other athletes and their chronology in strength training, it might not be that long, if you really think about it.

Also, you have to consider what body weight were you starting out at when you first started competing in Strongman.

Rob KearneyRob Kearney

Well, that’s the thing as well. As you know, I do online coaching and stuff like that. That’s the thing I talked to a lot of my clients about because they think just because they’re smaller, they can’t get to this level eventually.

When I started competing, I competed under 200 pounds. I’m still the same height. I was 5’10” when I started and 5’10” now. I competed in the 200-pound weight class from 2009 to 2012. Then I jumped up to the 230 ones until 2016, and then 2016 on is when I’ve been competing heavyweight.

I’ve run the gamut through the amateur circuit in Strongman, now I compete just as a heavyweight.

David TaoDavid Tao

This might be a little bit of a dumb question simply because in the sport of Strongman, it’s not evolved to the point, I would say, where the lighter weight classes are getting as much attention as the open weight classes. Let’s call a spade a spade.

Was there ever a situation or ever a point where you were considering not moving up? Or, was the goal, once you caught the Strongman bug, to always move up to get to that open category?

Rob KearneyRob Kearney

No. To be honest, I never thought I would go to the open category. For me, I had that mentality. I’m not over six foot. I don’t really have the frame to be 300 pounds. I’m never going to be able to do that. For me, it got to the point where the cut to 231 was just getting too much.

I think back to 105 kilo or 231 World’s Strongest Man in 2016. It was in Belfast, Northern Ireland. It was my first time traveling internationally while cutting weight. It was the worst experience of my life.

David TaoDavid Tao

That sounds so bad. [laughs]

Rob KearneyRob Kearney

I’m pretty sure I was on the verge of heat exhaustion. I was sweating profusely and shivering, and then unbelievable nausea. It was just absolutely horrible. I looked at my husband, Joey. I was like, “This is it. I’m not doing this anymore.”

I was water loading and dehydrating, and cutting weight from 255 down to 231. That was my lowest point where I was like, “I’m just gonna go heavyweight and see what happens from now on.”

David TaoDavid Tao

That is the story up to Rob entering the open category. 2017 was the first year you were competing, I guess the whole year in the open category, and you did qualify for World’s Strongest Man that year. Tell us a little bit about that process.

Rob KearneyRob Kearney

That year was weird for me simply because I didn’t think I’d be competing at World’s Strongest Man. I had met Colin Bryce and Darren Sadler. In the summer of 2016, in Indiana, they were hosting a Giants Live.

That was the first year for Giants Live North America. I had competed the day before in the log press and deadlift championships, and actually took second place. I won the 231 division and took second place in the heavyweight division as a 231, which was pretty cool.

In doing so, that caught the eye of Colin and Darren, and they started to notice me a little bit. Then January of 2017, I won New York Strongest Man, which was a USS show, United States Strongman. The winner of that qualified for the Arnold, South Africa.

That was when I got thrown into the heavyweight pro world, even though I technically don’t have my heavyweight pro card. In doing that, plus winning the log press championships in 2016 that Savickas was hosting, Colin and Darren gave me a wildcard invites to World’s Strongest Man in 2017, which was completely unexpected.

 

David TaoDavid Tao

What is it like stepping onto the World’s Strongest Man stage? It’s not so much a stage as it is a venue, a lot of different stages, a lot of different set pieces. For the first time…You’re still one of the lighter competitors in the field. I’m not sure if you were the lightest last year, you have to correct me on that.

Especially that year where you were much lighter than you are now going up against competitors, well over 400 pounds, what goes through your head? How do you maintain that competition focus knowing that…It just comes down to pure mass?

Especially an experience as well, that rookie year at the World’s Strongest Man, you’re the underdog? What’s going through your head? How do you stay focused there?

 

Rob KearneyRob Kearney

For me, it was more like this, “Holy shit, I’m at World’s Strongest Man moment.” [laughs] I wanted to learn as much as I could and have a really good time. There was an extra level of stress added to that year because the competition was in Botswana.

At that point, homosexuality was illegal. All the other athletes got their invites via email from the promoters. My invite came from a phone call from the lawyers of CBS and IMG telling me what the political background is in the country, and how I have to be careful.

There was a lot going on emotionally. Super, super exciting, obviously, because I get to compete at the Super Bowl of Strongman essentially. During the contest, I just wanted to enjoy it. I really didn’t have any expectations.

I just wanted to perform well, have a good time, and put up some good numbers while I was there, all while learning how the competition ran because I had heard from so many competitors that it isn’t like any other competition. That was my biggest goal my first year at World’s.

David TaoDavid Tao

Who surprised you as far as competitors? You probably met a lot of the people in the Strongman community leading up to that point and sound like you’re brand new to the scene. Did you meet anyone that year, any of your fellow World’s Strongest Man competitors who surprised you with how they came across their personality, anything like that?

Rob KearneyRob Kearney

I think nobody negative, which was the best part. The most vivid memory I have was the first time I met Terry Hollands. I hadn’t met him up until this point.

The coolest thing is, obviously, I’d seen him on TV for years and he’s an icon in Strongman. He was genuinely interested in my life and being an openly gay Strongman, and how it has come across throughout the community.

How much support I’ve gotten and how it’s changed my life. Him and I had a really great talk that year at World’s, which was really cool to me. Here I am, a 25-year-old Strongman athlete, who never thought I’d be a World’s Strongest Man, talking to Terry Hollands, who’s multiple time finalist in podium at World’s.

That was one of the coolest moments and the thing that struck me the most, and fortunately him and I still have a great relationship to this day.

David TaoDavid Tao

Terry, he’s been around the scene for…I remember watching him when I was in middle school and watching World’s Strongest Man on ESPN. He’s still going at it, still incredibly strong, still moving really well. Cool to see a true icon of the sport.

I guess taking younger competitors under his wing and showing the real interest, that’s really heartwarming in many ways to hear about. [laughs]

Rob KearneyRob Kearney

Yeah, absolutely. It was fantastic, to say the least.

David TaoDavid Tao

You talk about some of the complications that came from competing in a country where at the time homosexuality was illegal. You are an openly gay Strongman. Your Instagram handle, which is hands down my favorite in the World’s Strongest gay, it’s the best handle.

I first want to ask, how did that Instagram handle come about? Then the much more important question I want to ask after this, one at a time is, how has being an openly gay strength athlete impacted your career?

Rob KearneyRob Kearney

For me, the handle came because I had realized that when I’d come out as gay obviously my social media platform exploded overnight. I quickly realized that what I was doing in being openly gay and being visible, as a visible member of the LGBTQ community in professional sports, was bigger than me just competing in Strongman.

That’s something I realized early on. I made the switch to being the world’s strongest gay simply because I’m looking at the bigger picture.

It’s not for selfish motivation. It’s not to try to self-promote myself. It really is just to show visibility of a gay athlete in professional sports doing well. I think there’s a lot of stigma around gay men and one of the things that my husband and I try to do on Instagram, social media, is using the hashtag, breaking the stereotype, trying to change that dialogue of what people think gay is.

When I came out, I had so many people messaging me saying, “You can’t be gay, you do Strongman.” Or vice versa, “You do strongman, so you can’t be gay.” That really bothered me because people have this idea or this box that they think gay people need to fit in. That couldn’t be further from the truth.

David TaoDavid Tao

I was just going to say the handle furthers the conversation. It accelerates the conversation to a point because there’s no, “Is Rob gay? Is Rob strong?” You’re unequivocally both of those things. It is very immediate when you follow Rob Kearney on Instagram that he is gay and he is very strong.

There’s none of this tiptoeing around questions about your identity, how you see yourself. You are gay. You are a strongman. A very successful strongman at that. Just having that handle, it seems like it just accelerates the conversation and almost breaks the stereotypes even before people interact with you, in many ways.

Rob KearneyRob Kearney

Yeah. I think the term I like to use is, “I’m unapologetically openly gay.” Especially in the hyper-masculine sport of Strongman. What’s been so cool about it is to go to the second part of your question, is my handle and me being so open about my sexuality has changed my life in so many ways that the fact that…I get messages on a daily basis, both positive and negative, a lot of negative.

I got one not too long ago of a 16-year-old kid out in Wisconsin who said until he found my profile, he was essentially on the verge of committing suicide because he was so unhappy with himself and didn’t want to accept himself for his sexuality and didn’t know how it would be taken by his family or his friends.

He just felt like he didn’t have anywhere to go until he saw me and what I was doing. I tell people, I deal with a lot of bullshit on Instagram and social media on a daily basis. A lot of people hate on me all the time, but all of those messages don’t mean shit to me compared to the one message that I get of a kid who’s struggling with themselves and can finally accept themselves for who they are.

Or a message from a parent saying seeing my profile helped them come to terms with their child being gay or lesbian or trans. Those are the messages that have changed my life in more than just Strongman, but in everything that I’m doing.

David TaoDavid Tao

Strongman is at a point where it’s gaining rapidly in popularity. I would say we’re entering a new age of visibility for the sport of strongman. I think having an openly gay athlete in that wave among the more visible competitors is impactful there because as the sport rises and becomes more popular, representation in the sport is also going to become more and more important as new people get exposed to it.

All that being said, have you come across any negative reactions to your sexuality and being open about it and living openly as a gay man from fellow Strongman competitors?

Rob KearneyRob Kearney

Fortunately, no. The best thing about Strongman is how much of a brotherhood this sport really is. It’s one of the few sports where you’re competing against somebody and cheering for them at the exact same time. Especially in this sport, at this level especially, we’re all a little bit messed up in the head.

We all have to have something wrong with us to be able to look at a truck and get excited to pull it. I think we have this mutual understanding of what it takes to get to this level and the sacrifices that we’ve all made. Fortunately for me, everybody’s been so welcoming with me being openly gay. They’ve been so welcoming of Joey every time.

Joey accompanies me in almost every single competition I do. When he doesn’t come, people are usually upset because he’s the life of the party, and people like him more than they like me most of the time.

The sport is amazing. The group of guys that I compete with and travel with all over the world are so supportive. They’re usually the first ones to get my back when somebody is ripping me down. It happens, like I said all the time on social media. I never have to fend for myself because they’re always the ones doing it for me.

David TaoDavid Tao

Here’s a question, and I’m going to put this Instagram handle to the test. You call yourself the world’s strongest gay. Is there anyone coming for that title? Are there any openly gay strength athletes who you think could give you a real run for your money when it comes to a balance contest of strength?

Rob KearneyRob Kearney

Yeah. There’s a guy in the UK right now, Chris McNaughton. He competes with Ultimate Strongman right now. He’s an openly gay competitor as well, big guy, strong, super strong.

He’s somebody that might be able to give me a run for my money, but I’m going to hold on to that title with everything I can to make sure nobody can take it from me. That’s for damn sure.

David TaoDavid Tao

That’s the one you really got to fight for right there.

Rob KearneyRob Kearney

Oh yeah, definitely. I’ll sabotage them with some glitter or some shit during the contest.

David TaoDavid Tao

[laughs] Just like Rangers like they dropped the barbell and just glitter springs up and they’re blinded.

Rob KearneyRob Kearney

 Yeah, got you.

David TaoDavid Tao

 There’s going to be a whole new level of dirty tricks and sabotage here.

We’re entering a new, dirty era of the sport. Rob, I also want to ask about something that really sticks out to me and stuck out to me when I first came across your performances and when you were…I guess, it was in 2017, your first year competing at World’s Strongest Man.

What struck out to me much more than your Instagram handle was the Mohawk. It’s become a signature. Sometimes it’s died. Sometimes it’s not. How did you settle on the hairstyle?

Rob KearneyRob Kearney

The hair, it’s been something that I’ve kept for a long time, but it stuck with me since 2013. That’s because that year my coach was actually Mike Jenkins who most people, if you’re in the sport of Strongman, know who he is.

He was one of the most promising Strongman athletes of all time, until he unfortunately passed away Thanksgiving day of that year. Mike is the guy who was my coach when I turned pro. 2013 was the year I won the national championship in Strongman by the largest margin of victory ever. It was under his coaching and tutelage.

This is kind of become momentum to him, and just trying to honor him as much as possible and follow in his footsteps to try to compete at this level. Like I said, just honor him as much as possible.

David TaoDavid Tao

What are your short-term and long-term goals in the sport? You’re someone who went from discovering Strongman through CrossFit to losing seven or eight, coming into the last place in your first seven or eight competitions to winning nationals by a record margin, and then now competing on the biggest stages in the sport?

What are your goals for this year and ultimately, what are your goals for your Strongman career?

Rob KearneyRob Kearney

For me, the reason I got to this level in the sport is because I set attainable goals that I knew I could achieve in the short term, and that slowly progressed into what I’m doing today. This is something Derek and I talk a lot about in training and preparation for the year.

Right now, as I mentioned, I plan on competing at a lot in 2020 if some things don’t…As of right now, I have almost 13 competitions on my calendar, in general.

David TaoDavid Tao

Wow. I’ve never heard of that kind of competition schedule for Strongman. That’s insane.

Rob KearneyRob Kearney

Yeah, my plan is to. You get this opportunity to compete at Columbus, and for those of you that don’t know how it works to get to the Arnold Strongman Classic, is you have to win one of the Arnold international shows, or you have to be the highest placing in points, which accumulate throughout all these shows.

Right now, my plan is to go to all of the international shows. Pending on when I win one of them, then I’ll drop out of the ones after that. Looking forward to next year, the big shows we look at are the Arnold and World’s Strongest Man.

My goal last year was to make the top 10 of World’s Strongest Man, and for those of you that watched, I just narrowly missed out on making my first final, going head-to-head against one of my best friends, Luke Stoltman in the Stone Over Bar event and qualifying for the Arnold.

Two of the biggest competitions. The Strongman I get to do this year. Looking at the Arnold, the goal is top five in Columbus. Making that final at World’s Strongest Man. Those were the two goals for 2020.

Long term, my plan was to do this for as long as possible. I would love to make the podium at World’s Strongest Man one year, which I think can definitely happen. Being on the podium with the Arnold can happen as well. To be totally honest, I don’t think winning one of those shows is out of the question.

Once I get a little bit more experience, if I can get a little more bodyweight behind me, I think winning the Arnold or World’s is definitely within my grasp. That’s something that I’m not going to let go of until I absolutely need to.

The plan for me, I’m only 28 years old, so to keep doing this until my mid-30s is definitely within reach. Then reevaluating, see what I’ve done, where I’m going, and if I can keep it going from there.

David TaoDavid Tao

That’s something we’ve definitely seen. A lot of athletes still competing today set the blueprint. Brian Shaw well into his 30s, getting up there in the late 30s, still competing at a very high level. Zydrunas Savickas, who I mention earlier, competing at the highest level into his 40s.

Certainly something that with the mindset that you have and the proper care and preparation is definitely possible.

In your opinion, heading into this 2020 Strongman season for the Arnold and World’s Strongest Man, a few months later, who do think is looking really strong? If you were a betting man, who would you think is going to definitely come out with some big performances?

Rob KearneyRob Kearney

It’s super interesting. Had you had asked me this question six months ago, I would’ve been able to answer super confidently in Thor, Martins Licis, and Mateusz Kieliszkowski. Thor, he’s always somebody we have to look at. He took about six months off of rarely doing nothing. I think that’s going to be great for him.

Martins is battling an injury right now. Kieliszkowski just had his bicep reattached, had surgery on that. For me, it’s Thor. Novikov is somebody that’s going to be turning a lot of heads again this year.

To be totally honest, I think Brian is going to come back hard in 2020. 2019 was a rough year for him. He’s frankly pissed off on how he performed. He’s making some changes to get back to that top level that we know he can compete at.

I’d be crazy to not throw my hat in the ring for those names as well. I have a great foundation. I’ve had a couple of months there and Derek’s had a few months to re-evaluate where we’ve been, where we’re going and what I need to do. In order to be pushing these guys that you usually see at the podium at these shows.

I don’t think it’s far-fetched to throw my name in the hat, to be pushing the podium at these big competitions.

 

David TaoDavid Tao

Definitely not especially given the rapid progress you’ve made over the past three or four years you’ve had in the open category.

Changing the direction a little bit, and we can think beyond Strongman here. We can also think within the Strongman community, but just in the broader realm of strength athletes. Who is the athlete you most admire active today?

Rob KearneyRob Kearney

I honestly think CrossFit athletes are the most impressive athletes there are. Mat Fraser is the first one that comes to mind, winning the games four times. There’s always a saying like “the jack of all trades, and the master of none” but he’s the jack of all trades and the master of all trades.

David TaoDavid Tao

[laughs] How do you think he would do in a Strongman competition?

Rob KearneyRob Kearney

I think if you gave him four weeks, he could win a 200-pound class at an amateur show. Like I said, he has such a great strength base, that if you give him some event-specific coaching, in a couple of weeks, he could run away with a big show.

He’s somebody that is out of this world impressive when it comes to overall athleticism. The guy is strong as hell. He clean and jerk 385 of the games this year on a ladder. The clean and jerk ladder. He’s super impressive across the board. He would be the one that’s most impressive for me.

David TaoDavid Tao

Now you’ve gotten to travel the world. Compete against some of the best strength athletes in the world. Train with some of the best strength athletes in the world. Who is a dream training partner you haven’t had the chance to work with and lift with yet?

Rob KearneyRob Kearney

The person I would love to get a training session in with is Thor. Him and I are decently good friends but our schedules never line up.

David TaoDavid Tao

You also live in different countries for most of the year. That doesn’t help things.

Rob KearneyRob Kearney

Iceland isn’t exactly close. He would be somebody that would be fun to learn from and work with. The cool thing about this sport is each event is so different for each person.

I have had to study each event, and study the sports in such detail because I don’t have the size that some of these other guys do. Watching these big guys train and compete I still learn stuff on a daily basis. Him being arguably, one of the best in the world.

There’s always stuff to learn no matter what level you are. That was the cool thing about Martins coming to train with me a few months ago is that he came to learn from me and this is the World’s Strongest Man. He’s somebody that I would love to get a few training sessions in to see how he works and goes about everything.

David TaoDavid Tao

Robert, we’re coming to the end of this recording. I know we talked a bit earlier in the recording about your social media presence and how it’s impacted not only you but fans of Strongman around the world and aspiring strength athletes, which is cool to get into.

Where is the best place for people to keep up to date with what you’re doing, competitions and your training?

Rob KearneyRob Kearney

Instagram is right now the best place to go. I do have a website launching in a few weeks. That’s where we’re going to keep all the information for booking me. Whether that be motivational, inspirational speaking, and then also have my competition schedule up there. Links to all my social media, merchandise, everything will be up on the website when it launches in a couple of weeks.

 

David TaoDavid Tao

Great. This podcast might not come out for a few weeks until after this recording. We’ll definitely get that URL in the show notes if we can. Rob Kearney, thanks so much for joining us. Always a pleasure to chat with you and we really appreciate you taking the time to join us today.

Rob KearneyRob Kearney

Thanks, David. I really appreciate it, man.

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