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History & CommunityPushing the Boundaries

Pushing the Boundaries

Margery Hookings meets a remarkable young man who is bringing Britain’s Disabled Strongman competition to his hometown

It’s been a labour of love for Somerset’s Gary Clarke, who next month brings the British Disabled Strongman competition to Chard.

Since 2015, it’s been his dream to stage the contest in his hometown after he founded the national event, which was held in Stoke-on-Trent. Similar events had taken place previously in Iceland and USA but never before in the UK.

Gary is Britain’s first disabled strongman and competes against athletes from all over the country.

“I’ve been a Strongman fan since the day I could stand up,” he says. “I’m not sure what appeals so much about Strongman competitions, but I’ve always loved them. I’ve been a fan of Strongman since the days of Geoff Capes and Jón Páll Sigmarsson. I can still hear cries of ‘I am a Viking’ to this day. I remember saying to my grandmother at the time: ‘One day I’ll be doing this.’.”

Gary is a remarkable young man. It’s very humbling to talk to him. He’s already achieved far more than many able-bodied people of a similar age. I last saw him when he was a small child and I took my daughter, exactly a week younger, to his house to play. His mum had been in the next bed to me in the maternity ward.

“I was born three months early,” Gary says. “That’s why I’m blessed with cerebral palsy. But I don’t know any different. In a way, I’m grateful because it’s made me the person I am. I’m 40 now and still have lots more to do.”

When I speak to him, he’s up to his ears and eyes trying to organise the event, which takes place in Chard Guildhall on Saturday 12 May.

The competition is now in its fourth year. In 2017, some 25 athletes took part, including some of the top names in the Strongman sport because it’s the qualifier for the World’s Strongest Disabled Man competition in Norway in September.

The judges at Chard will be four-time World Strongman Magnus Ver Magnusson and Arnar Mar Jonsson—the founder of the Disabled World Strongman competition.

These are big names for Chard. And it’s hugely prestigious that the event is being held in the town. That’s largely down to Gary’s hard work and persistence.

“I’m most grateful for the people of Chard and local businesses for getting behind this unique event. It’s good to be doing something great for the town,” he says. “I am immensely proud to bring it to my home town. I want it to be the best Britain Disabled Strongman event we have had.”

Gary has strong connections to both Chard and Ilminster, including training with Simon Lunn at Phoenix Fitness. He is hoping people from the town will come out to support the event.

As a nod to the county, the event will have a Somerset theme and there will be lots for spectators to see.

“We’ve got five events,” Gary says. “There’s a hay bale pull, an axle press, a seated dead lift, a forward hold and—the housewives’ favourite—the atlas stones.”

Continuing the Somerset theme, the forward hold will involve competitors lifting a large cheese wheel.

Gary’s passion for Strongman competitions goes back to the 1980s. A fan of Geoff Capes and Jon Pall Sigmarmarsson, he then began training with weights when he was seventeen and later became involved in disabled powerlifting.

“I don’t think of myself as being limited, I think of my strengths,” he says. “Strongman epitomises that, really—it’s about going outside your comfort zone and thinking outside the box—especially with the things you do in training.”

Gary is passionate about promoting disability awareness.

“My whole life’s been about banishing negative stereotypes. Strongman is one of the best ways I can think of for putting disability in a positive light. There is definitely an aspect of challenging attitudes to disability. We are doing these competitions to a high standard; there is nothing light about them. It’s about pushing the boundaries of what can be achieved.”

 

Britain’s Disabled Strongman competition is at Chard Guildhall on Saturday 12 May from 10am.  Admission for spectators is £5.

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