Rob Kearney is a force in the sport of strongman. He’s competed in the World’s Strongest Man competition three times, won the 2019 Arnold Pro Strongman Australia, hit an American log press record of 475-pounds (215.8-kilograms), and was named Official Strongman’s Pound for Pound Strongest Man in September 2020. And what makes Kearney’s accomplishments particularly impressive is that he’s a good bit smaller than his competition. Compared to four-time WSM winners Brian Shaw, who is 6’9″ and over 400 pounds, and Zydrunas Savickas, who is 6’3″ and 375 pounds, Kearney stands 5’10” and around 285 pounds.
Speaking of Savickas, who holds the world record for the log press at 507 pounds (230 kilograms), Kearney attempted to break his record in October of 2020. Kearney, alongside Luke Stoltman, who also attempted the record, competed on World’s Ultimate Strongman’s Feats of Strength Series. Unfortunately, Kearney ruptured his triceps tendon during a 485-pound (220-kilogram) attempt and had to take a hiatus.
Fast forward five months, and Kearney — known as the World’s Strongest Gay on Instagram — is back. Yes, in just five months, Kearney has made great strides in his recovery and is prepared to return to action. His return to the sport will be at WUS’s “Strength Island” competition on March 13, 2021, in Bahrain.
BarBend spoke to Kearney about his rehab, his anticipated return to competition, and why he’s more focused on collecting trophies and not breaking records.
Editor’s Note: The following interview has been lightly edited for readability.
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BarBend: A ruptured triceps tendon is pretty serious. How do you feel heading into the Strength Island event?
RK: The recovery has been a lot of work. It is still ongoing, that’s for sure. I still don’t have a full active range of motion in my arm (I can’t fully extend unless I am pressing against something), so we are continually working on that. Not to mention, the strength and muscular endurance in my left arm is definitely lacking, but it is coming along slowly. Luckily, all of my other lifts feel amazing. Deadlift, squat, and moving events all feel really strong. So with the only overhead event with WUS in Bahrain being the [Giant Dumbbell for Reps], I am confident I can still put on a great performance.
BarBend: What was the toughest part of that process for you?
RK: The hardest part about rehab is re-learning the skills I am known best for. It is really humbling having to relearn the lift that you hold records on, like the log press. So mentally preparing for an upper-body lifting session is really difficult. I try to find solace in the fact that I am improving each week, but being so far behind what I am used to pressing, it isn’t easy to get motivated sometimes.
This recovery was certainly a team effort. Firstly, my surgeon, Dr. Ziegler of New England Orthopedic Surgeons in Springfield, MA, had my back the entire way. He laid out a great plan to get me back to competing as soon as he felt it was appropriate. Secondly, Joey, my husband, played a massive role in my recovery as well. He is an occupational therapist, working as a hand therapist. He would regularly work on my triceps, doing soft tissue manipulation, cupping, and other manual therapies. Then I also have to give it to my coaches, Derek Poundstone and Nathan Payton, for doing everything they could to get me back to the competition floor.
BarBend: How has the recovery process altered your training?
RK: I honestly didn’t change too much during my recovery, which was nice. I could still train my lower body as hard as I wanted and focus on building some strength there. Back in January, I began working with Nathan Payton on my nutrition to stay consistent moving forward for sure.
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BarBend: Do you intend on taking another crack at the Log Press world record in the future?
RK: Right now, I don’t have my sights set on the record any time soon. This injury put things into perspective for me, and while having records is amazing, they are meant to be broken. I want to switch my focus a bit and start winning more trophies.
BarBend: Some people may be shocked that you’re returning to the Bahrain event five months after your injury. Why did you choose this show?
RK: My goal after being injured was to return to competition around April 2021. Originally there was a competition planned for April, but it had been postponed to a later date, and with WSM being announced for June, I want to get at least one competition under my belt before making my return to WSM. After looking at the events for the contest and realizing I wouldn’t be putting myself at a high risk of injury, I decided to jump in on this contest.
BarBend: How long have you focused on preparing for this particular contest?
RK: I made the decision to compete in this competition just after the announcement that it had been postponed to March 13, 2021. So, I have only had two training sessions since committing to this competition [at the time this interview took place]. I am coming into Bahrain with the mindset of just having fun and getting my competitive juices flowing again.
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BarBend: Are there any other shows that you have your eye on this year?
RK: The other big shows I am really excited about this year are World’s Strongest Man, WUS Vegas, and the Arnold Strongman Classic. As mentioned above, my goal is to win some trophies this year, and those are the ones I want.
BarBend: Any final thoughts you want to share with readers?
RK: I want to thank everyone for the love and support since my injury. I know it may be a shock to a lot of people that I am already back competing, but I promise to be safe, put on a great show, and have a blast competing!
Featured Image: @worlds_strongest_gay on Instagram