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April 06, 2022 5 min read

Arnold Classic, Columbus Ohio – Amateur Strongman World Championship – March 4th-6th, 2022 - by Mitch Hughes

Back on August 7th of 2021 I took first place in a competition in Washington where I qualified for the Arnold Classic’s Amateur Strongman World Championship. This is a very prestigious event because only approximately 40-50 of the strongest amateur heavyweight men from around the world will qualify to compete. The heavy weight class in this field is for competitors weighing 275 and above.

I have been competing in the sport of strongman since 2009 and have been pushing to get to this level and gain a pro card ever since then. The winner of these events will get a pro card, and more importantly, work toward gaining a higher level of experience and competing on World’s Strongest Man circuit. So, this has become a major part of my life and I love it. The brotherhood and sportsmanship are like no other sport I have ever competed in. Everyone knows how hard it is to make it this far and how hard it is to train for these events. So much so that there is a level of respect to the other athletes, and you become “family”.

Flash forward, I qualified for the Arnold and started to train for it immediately. They do not tell you specific events until 12 weeks prior. Once I found out the events (that consisted of 655lb squat for reps, a 325lb sandbag carry for 50’ and a 1,200lb wheelbarrow to return) I prepared myself for what was going to be very taxing on the body.

Although I was getting more and more prepared, I along with our work team, went to Tucson for a week of training at the Tinaja Hills Caterpillar Training Center. Unfortunately, I ended up in the ER for a day. I was feeling fine all week, but the 2nd to the last day I was having stomach issues and we went to a walk-in clinic then ended going to an ER in Tucson. I had an irritation in my esophagus that bled into my stomach all night long! Here’s the gross part; I vomited 3 cups of blood, lost 25 lbs. in the following 3 days, and it took 7 IVs to get my body back up to a normal hydration level. I was able to fly home the next day but was basically on bed rest for a week, which very much set me back, as this was barely 1 month prior to the largest event of my life! Prior to this I was looking to be a top 5 finisher, and the top 10 placings tend to get big invites, sponsorships, etc. for future competitions. I rested up, trained when I could and gave it my all, but after the event I finished 20th. I was upset at first, but realizing I just took 20th out of 40 of the best in my field from around the world (and giving what I had just gone through where most would have backed out), I was very happy!

Looking back, I have been in this sport for 13 years, I have competed internationally 4 times and this was my 5th international competition. I’ve completed 40-some competitions to date and planning on 3 more this year. I started this journey as a challenge after college and something to do.  I was the first in a 4-state region to do this sport and have been able to help pass on my knowledge to hundreds of athletes now living in the area. Passing on knowledge to the next generation might be the best part of this sport, but the family inside the sport is truly amazing.

To summarize the weekend of events in a nut shell...

Day 1 – March 4th

Event 1 – Deadlift medley. 675 stiff bar, 675 axle and a 795 axle at 13” in height. I did the first two implements and started the 3rd unevenly strapped in on the bar. I got the weight to my knees and reset to re-grip. I missed it, but tried about 3 times and ended without completing that last rep.

Event 2 – Sandbag carry to wheelbarrow. Carry a 325lb sandbag for 50’ to an 800 lb. wheelbarrow. So, this was an interesting event. I carried the 325lb sandbag for 50’, and did so very quick, but when I loaded it up on the wheelbarrow, I had a tough time gripping the handles and only could go shy of 7’ down the 50’ track. Later we found out the wheelbarrow was supposed to be 800lbs total but they miss loaded and ended up being 1,200 lbs.!

Day 2 – March 5th.

Event 1 – Sandbag throws. We had to throw 4 bags over a 17’ high bar.  The bags were 35, 40, 45, 50 pounds and I ended up tied for 7th place and had done this in 16.0 seconds!

Event 2 – Axle overhead medley. This event was supposed to be done in the morning but was rescheduled to be done at 5pm. Well, after we warmed up, the event was repeatedly rescheduled, and it turns out we did not start till almost 7:30pm. Try warming up, cooling down, warming up all over about 4 times, that’s brutal! The axles weighed 295, 325, 355, and coincidentally the 325 was mis-loaded to 345. I did the first weight just fine and had trouble getting the 2nd axle to my shoulders (which I knew I could do it, just didn’t happen). Maybe it was the lights, the adrenaline, the time of day, but I missed that 345 axle and never could get past it. This outcome meant that I did not qualify for day 3.

Day 3 – March 6th.  (These are the events for the top 10 athletes that had qualified for the third day of the competition.)

Event 1 – Squat 655 for reps. I was shooting for 8 if I had qualified for day 3.

Event 2 – Max stone. The stones weighed 320, 340, 360, 380, 405, 430, 470, and 490. I was really hoping to make it to that big 470 stone!

In conclusion, I was able to compete in front of thousands of people at the Arnold Classic. I missed an 800lb deadlift and a 355lb overhead press, but I moved a 1,200lb wheelbarrow, a 325lb sandbag and threw 4 sandbags averaging 45lbs over a 17’ high bar! Due to placing I did not qualify for day 3 that had two events I was really looking forward to. Even though I placed lower than I wanted to, I am very happy with my progress, especially from my ER trip in AZ. My wife Lacee was there next to me the entire time along with my good friend Andy who made the trip down to support!  I am looking forward to my next strongman competition on June 4th/5th outside Seattle, WA!