As a freshman at Bartlesville High School, he was slotted on the defensive line by his football coach. He began lifting weights in order to bulk up. "I took weight lifting (in high school) and I exceeded far beyond everybody else really quick," said Brad Johnson.
Meet Oklahoma's official strongman representative. "Every time I compete I represent not only Tulsa but our state," said the muscular strongman competitor.
In case you forgot or never knew, the Strongman Competitions challenge gargantuan athletes with odd feats of strength. Truck pulls, car squats and atlas stones are several of the signature events.
A common misconception is that strongman is the same as bodybuilding or power lifting. Wrong. Body building is... well... let Johnson explain the premise: "[Contestants] stand on stage in their panties and [people] judge what your body looks like."
Johnson graduated from Bartlesville High School more than a decade ago and started power lifting and personal training. He lives in Tulsa today and still moonlights as a personal trainer, but the power lifting competitions left his competitive spirit unfulfilled.
"I got bored with power lifting. It's the same three events," said Johnson, referring to the bench press, squat and dead lift.
"Every time I would go to a competition I would finish first. It kind of started getting boring. The first couple of years it was like... 'Yeah, I'm phenomenal, I'm strong.' After a while it was no challenge," he recalled.
The Entertainment and Sports Programming Network ran an old World Strongman Competition and this piqued his interest. "I wanted to step into a new game and see how I do," he said.
He entered his first Strongman event four years ago. It was not a professional meet... it was the Oklahoma Strongman Competition. He signed up as a novice and blew the doors off the competition.
Now Johnson competes as a professional lightweight. His max competition weight is 231.4 pounds. Not exactly what you were thinking when I said lightweight.
The challenge Johnson faces is finding a gym. "Gyms really don't cater to individuals who want to get big and freakishly strong," he said. "They are more of a fitness-oriented place so they want to be family-oriented. The only way to train for an event is to actually do the event."
Last time I checked, people do not have 18-wheelers on the side of their house waiting to be pulled. But if you have a small vehicle available for squatting, by all means, let Johnson know.
He excels in every event. Well, maybe he could use some fine tuning in one: The Atlas Stone Load. "That's the one everybody likes to watch and gets excited for. I go up there and I suck," he said.
The Atlas Stone Load requires athletes to race five heavy, round stones ranging in weight from 220 to 352 pounds approximately 16 to 33 feet. They place the stones in their lap and explode the stone onto a platform roughly five foot in height. Again, where exactly does one train for this event?
Bigger is Better
Baseball players hit the juice like hockey players hit the boards, so in a competitive world centered on strength and power, it's reasonable for performance enhancing drugs to come into play.
"There's quite a few athletes that do use. I don't even want to lie about it," agreed Johnson. Strongman tests athletes randomly, as does the NFL. It's basically a roll of the dice whether your name appears on the little plastic cup.
There's an axiom that says if you're not cheating you're not trying. "I think in a sport... where you get paid to perform... it almost seems like you'd be disappointed if people weren't trying to go as far as they possibly could go.
"The way I see it is a personal preference. Either you're going to or you decide not too. There's a lot of athletes that compete and it's well known that they do use," said Johnson.
There are only a handful of athletes in the world who can do what they do. "It's an unrealistic challenge set in front of me and I overcame it. Regardless how I do, I'm typically pleased that I finish," said Johnson before slightly changing his tune. "I really am not pleased with myself unless I win. Even a few times after I won I wasn't that proud of myself because I didn't win every event."
Johnson competes Sunday, Feb. 22 against 10 of the nation's top ranked heavyweights at the SpiritBank Event Center, 105th and Memorial. The top five finishers proceed to the national competition in California. From there the top three move on to the world competition in China later this year. "I would definitely dig going to China," Johnson said laughing.
He'll have his work cut out for him going up against the heavyweights. "Typically I'm real cocky about it because I'm going against other lightweights. In that realm, I'm one of the baddest cats that ever walked the earth. But when it comes to the heavyweights," he said, "they are another breed, man. They are literally like walking oxen. Seven-foot, 400-pound beasts."
He compared the live event to attending a concert. You can watch Strongman Contest on television or you can listen to the music on CD's. But, a concert rocks and watching athletes of the highest caliber grunt, sweat and overachievement takes the viewing experience to a different level.
Visit www.americanstrongman.com or call 369-9360 for more information.
"Everyone that comes to this competition is a professional. They're at the top of their game in the U.S. It's a battle of those fellows. Who is the best?"
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