The little town of Elkins, WV is steeped in tradition, with historic landmarks scattered about, annual festivals many years running, and a distinctive Appalachian culture passed down generation to generation. The dialect, the food, the art, everything about the area has a hint of tradition. One such tradition over the last twelve years has been the Strongest Man/Woman in the Forest competition, and this twelfth edition of the event further cemented a legacy of strength and honor into the lore of the region.

Five extreme challenges were set before 40 brave hopefuls with the idea being to find the strongestmen and women in a variety of classes. What does it mean to be the “strongest”, and how do we goabout finding who lays fair claim to such a title on any given day? To be the strongest means to be ableto apply one’s strength in a multitude of different ways in a fashion superior to those who oppose one’s claim to the moniker. This means that we must test the athlete’s physical ability throughout their entire body and via a myriad of vastly different methods to ensure that we are exposing any weak links. True physical strength is not simply being capable at one or two types of applications, but rather, being able to ably demonstrate tremendous power regardless of the challenge.

Multiple events were being contested simultaneously to expedite the flow of the contest, but we willexamine each brutal task one at a time as we go. The first event I’d like to discuss is one of the mosticonic events in strongman sport, the Truck Pull. From a promoter/organizer standpoint, there is a lot that goes into a truck pull event. The surface you have available to contest the event is as much or more important that what the athletes will actually be pulling, and then one must factor the thickness of the hand rope, the gearing and wheels/tires of the vehicle in question, and of course even the weather can effect the difficulty of the pull.

For our ladies classes, a massive ~8,000 pound Ford F-250 pickup was provided as the obstacle, and our femme fatales delivered the action. All our ladies managed to finish the course, with the fastest time regardless of weight class belonging to Julie McGuire of VA who blistered the course at just over 22 seconds. This showed just how impressive these ladies were as a whole, because the gentle slopes and deviations in the course did not shut any of them down!

Once we reached the men’s Novice class, we brought in the massive rollback style tow truck, whichmore than doubled the weight of the pull. Of our Novice, and Open MW men, 6 managed to finished the course, while 4 did not. With the fastest time being about 35 seconds by Xavier McGhee, and 40% not finishing, my lovely wife Nicole and our special guest Phil Pfister (2006 World’s Strongest Man) decidedto convene with our Heavyweight contenders before going forward with the original plan; we were scheduled to load the 8,000 pound Ford F-250 onto the gigantic tow truck and make our HWs pull them both together!

The situation was explained to the heavies – the pull was likely already at what most would consider an“appropriate” difficulty. We could leave the truck as is, and let the heavies proceed, or, we could add the other truck at the risk of many possibly failing to move it at all, and likely no one finishing the course. The extra 8,000 pounds would surely expose the imperfections in the lot (undetectable to the naked eye, but certainly existing) and we would run the risk of having a pull so daunting that it would be decided by distance rather than time. Excitedly and unanimously, the heavies said “bring it on!”, so thedeed was done and the F-250 was loaded onto the bed of the massive rollback truck. To say this was going to be an impressive looking spectacle would be an understatement! The distances started rollingin; 10 feet, 13 feet, 16 feet, 19 feet… the Gibson boys were ready to shine in this event as big Shane Gibson won his class in the 300’s with 19’ 5”, and the colossal Roger Gibson fought through the longestpull of the day on this with 35 and a half feet in the super heavyweight class. These guys can pull some trucks!

The second wall our mighty warriors had to scale was the Max Log Lift. An enormous tree trunk had to be lifted from the ground to overhead at arms’ length, and whoever completed the heaviest lift wouldbe the winner. Weight was added to the log each round, and one by one competitors would be eliminated as they reached their limits. Tonya Mahoney set a new WV state record in her class with a 110 pound press, while Dani Dyer and Julie McGuire both won their classes with 140 pounds. Once we reached our Novice Men, the infamous Dream Crusher log was employed, and many a strongman learned quickly how it earned its name. Three men in the 231 class tied at 272 pounds with LJ Workman taking it on his 3rd attempt for a huge PR. Most people do not hit PR’s on this log, so that made theachievement even more satisfying for the local hero who had his family in attendance to see it.

At 265, Kenny Hacker grasped sole possession of the state record by nailing 292 on his second attempt, and after fellow pressing machine Tyler Cosner missed the 292, he opted not to take a third lift at all. Given how well the rest of the show would go for Hacker, it was apparently a wise move. The largest liftof the day belonged to PA’s Eric Lewis in the 300 class. Decked out in Norse Fitness gear (cheap plug formy buddy Andy hahaha) the modern day Norseman opened at 272 to get a feel for the expansive mass of bark and wood on his chest, then took 312 on his second attempt to lock up a new WV state record for his division!

Our Medley event was absolutely brutal, with roughly half the roster unable to finish the torturous course. To begin, our competitors were charged with carrying a “duck walk” implement down thecourse, at which point they had to immediately run back and grab a substantially loaded Mouser Block, hurry it down the course, and then finally speed back to the start for the final implement, a completely raw atlas stone. The duck walk toasted the hands, legs, and hips, the Mouser Block fried the back, arms, and wrists, and the atlas stone at the end was simply a matter of whether anything was left in the body after the first two legs of the course. This type of event may be won on sheer willpower and stubbornness as much as physical ability.

Our Novice men put on quite a show in this event as all 3 of them completed the first two objects, and 2 of the 3 completed the entire course. It was John Hook Jr. and Xavier McGhee here, both making the finish in under 40sec, with John edging out the victory. Greyson Caplinger won the 200 class here with a finish of 41sec, and Zach Daniels found himself pulling away from the pack at 231 with another outstanding performance in this event, finishing at 35.49sec for the win. Dave Joksimovic slid by Adam Knotts to take 2nd at 265, and passed out cold upon doing so! Luckily big Dave was OK; his loss of consciousness showed just how tough this event was. Kenny Hacker grabbed another win here in the265’s and “Baby Beast” Jamie Bland claimed the medley crown at 300. Jamie is a sizable mountain of aman, and carrying weighty objects is no problem for him. At SHW (the biggest of the big), it was Chase Wiley earning the win over hulks like Jake King and Benny Moore, which moved him up the rankings considerably.

The fourth event for us to cover is the Timber Wagon Deadlift. This event has been a mainstay at this show for a few years now, and due to the ever-increasing ability level of our competitors, I made it moredifficult this year than ever. This is contested in a “progressive” format, meaning that every rep becomesheavier than the last, as our trusty staff tosses extra weight on the wagon every time an athlete sets it down. So as if a wagon full of oak logs wasn’t heavy enough, we make it a little more challenging on each rep. The handles were also about an inch or so lower than previous years, which doesn’t sound likemuch, but believe me when you have 700, 800, or even 900 pounds in your hands, every millimeter of distance that weight has to travel feels like a mile.

Kristin Dotson of MD battled her way to 8 huge lifts to take the LW women’s class, while Dani Dyer of TNwrestled up 6 reps to win the MWW. No rep fest would be had on this event… or would there??? The only competitor all day to reach double digits was LW Carl Sowdon. Carl’s breakfast that morningconsisted of equal parts scrap metal, the blood of his enemies, and the same mutagen that created the ninja turtles. Carl fired off a whopping 20 reps, more than double what anyone else in any class could manage. On the heels of this performance Carl is currently still breathing from a mask fixed to an oxygen tank and is confident that he will soon be able to stand up again. Tyler Cosner proved once again that he is always in the mix on this event as he knocked out 9 reps, starting in the neighborhood of 630 pounds in hand, and ending around 950 by the final pull.

Steel bar bending hadn’t been featured here since 2012, so this was a brand new event for most. Barbending has an undeservedly bad rap from botched attempts in the early days of World’s Strongest Manto contest it, as the organizers forced the competitors to utilize techniques that were risky for men with tight pecs, lats, biceps, etc. (which a majority of the competitors had). In this version however, we allowed the competitors more freedom to choose what techniques they wanted to employ, and no injuries were suffered (just as in 2012). Bar bending is the definition of a gritty, grinding event, becausethe steel must be fought every inch of the way. It never gives in, it can’t be beat quickly with explosion;even an easier bend may take 6-7sec to finish, while a hard bend may require a full 60sec of continuous effort. For this version of the challenge, each athlete had 3 bars to negotiate, with the difficulty increasing as they progressed.

The difficulty of the bars would climb for each division, but there is something special to be said for Shanda Parson at LW who was the only person in the entire contest to finish all three bars! At 55.36sec Shanda completed her final bend, and was thus the superstar of the day in the big bar bending finale. Shelley George took home the win at MWW, with 2 bars completed in 49.30, and Julie McGuire ended her already stellar day with a win at HWW. Local guys Greyson Caplinger and LJ Workman both emerged victorious in their respective classes here, while Kenny Hacker, Shane Gibson, and John Mouser all took top honors in their divisions.

Final Standings on the podium were:

LWW 3rd Shanda Parson 2nd Kristin Dotson

1st Tonya Mahoney

MWW 3rd Cassidy Lopez

2nd Shelley George

1st Dani Dyer

HWW 3rd Heather Moore 2nd Grace Powell 1st Julie McGuire

LW 2nd Trevor Wix 1st Carl Sowdon

Novice 3rd Torrey Lee 2nd John Hook Jr. 1st Xavier McGhee

200 2nd Nick Gianelli 1st Greyson Caplinger

231 3rd Blake Harris 2nd LJ Workman 1st Zack Daniels

265 3rd Adam Knotts 2nd Tyler Cosner 1st Kenny Hacker

300 3rd Eric Lewis 2nd Jamie Bland 1st Barrett “Mr. Consistency” Young

SHW 3rd Chase Wiley 2nd Benny Moore 1st Jake King

And thus the road to the 13th edition begins. Whatever challenges await our mighty contenders in 2019, rest assured that the tradition of strength shall continue in Elkins, WV, and that we will continue to welcome all who would wish to be a part of it.

Happy training,

– Paul Mouser

Thanks to: the Mountain State Forest Festival and those involved, Tony Bates, my lovely wife Nicole, John Mouser for saving me a trip to Morgantown, all the helpers, Phil and Amy, Jason Collins and Anytime Trucking, WV Sports Promotions, 1201 Crossfit, Strongman Corp, Valley Supply Co., Viking Performance Training LLC, Innovative Investments, and On Point Athletics!