Strongman Tom Stoltman: “Autism Is a Superpower”

The 2021 World's Strongest Man shares his struggle with autism and how it helped motivate his success.

The 2021 World’s Strongest Man (WSM) Tom Stoltman took to his YouTube channel on Feb. 4, 2022, to share his experience as someone with autism. At 26 years of age, Stoltman has two podium finishes at the WSM competition, including his win. He is the 2021 Britain’s Strongest Man (BSM) champion, a two-time Scotland’s Strongest Man champion, and finished as the runner-up at the 2021 Rogue Invitational. Additionally, he holds the Atlas Stone world record of 286 kilograms (630 pounds). Undoubtedly, Stoltman is in the echelon of active strongmen with the potential to win any contest he enters.

Tom Stoltman pulled back the curtain on how his autism affected his experience at school growing up, his introduction to the gym, a chilling encounter with a teacher, and the legacy he aspires to leave behind in the sport of strongman. Check out the full video below:

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A Difficult Childhood

Despite now standing six feet, eight inches tall with nearly 400 pounds on his frame, the above video opens with Stoltman sharing how his childhood was difficult because he was bullied in school and felt a need to hide.

The educational system in Scotland that Stoltman was brought up in was not helpful to those with his condition. He even says that he “wasn’t really open about it until midway through high school.” He doesn’t say an age, but third and fourth-year students in secondary school in Scotland range from about 13 to 16 years old.

The teachers didn’t understand it. A lot of people didn’t understand it.

Even Tom’s older brother and fellow strongman Luke Stoltman said that because Tom “wouldn’t act up” when meeting with a doctor for a diagnosis that they doubted whether or not he had it. It wasn’t until seeing video evidence recorded by their mother.

One of the most devastating moments of Tom Stoltman’s time at school was an encounter with a physical education teacher who told him that he would “never…be certain in [his] life.” Hearing something like that from a teacher Tom thought supported him substantially jarred Tom.

Even to this day, I can still remember it all.

That comment instilled a tremendous amount of doubt in Tom. So much so that he contemplated suicide by hanging.


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Finding Help and Entering the Gym

Luke Stoltman first got Tom into training, and it was not an easy first impression. Tom actually “hated every minute” of being in the gym due to all the commotion of people everywhere, mirrors lining the walls — it caused a sense of paranoia in Tom, as he thought people were staring at him, talking about him behind his back.

Luke recognized the disparity between Tom’s physical stature versus the fragility of his mindset at that time. The elder Stoltman brother introduced his younger sibling to a clinical psychologist named Amy, who helped Tom “go into places that [he’d] never been able to go before.”

I think with autism, the gym saved my life.

Acquiring that professional help made all the difference for Tom Stoltman’s professional career. When competing at the highest levels of strongman, it wasn’t the heavy weights or difficult medleys that were hurdles — it was his mental game.

After a year and a half of therapy, he felt so empowered that he had a sense he was going to win the 2021 WSM contest before it even started.


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Leaving a Legacy

Although it is still relatively early in Tom Stoltman’s career, he is already thinking of the legacy he wants to leave behind. He wants to be the example for other kids with autism who might think they can’t achieve something.

Tom Stoltman has autism. He’s won World’s Strongest Man…let’s do it.

Although Tom Stoltman has reached the pinnacle of strongman — raising the gold WSM trophy overhead — his proudest moment to date is getting into the gym as a kid with autism, lifting the weights, and progressing.

For me, autism is a superpower.

Tom Stoltman will attempt to defend his BSM title on Feb. 26, 2022, at the Utilita Arena in Sheffield, England. A week later, he and Luke will fly to Columbus, OH, to compete in the 2022 Arnold Strongman Classic.

Luke will follow that up with a potential title defense of his Europe’s Strongest Man (ESM) title on April 2, 2022. Tom will forego the 2022 ESM contest to put more time into his prep for the 2022 WSM, where he will attempt to be the first strongman to win back-to-back WSM titles since Brian Shaw won his third and fourth titles in 2015 and 2016.

Featured image: @tomstoltmanofficial on Instagram