Strongman is typically an individual sport. Much like MMA or boxing, you may have training partners,you may have coaches, but at the end of the day when it’s “go time” it is only you that steps in front ofthe judges. Every year on Memorial Day weekend though, strongman sport gets turned upside down for the Appalachian Team Championships, and suddenly this individual sport becomes as much a group endeavor as forming a shield wall against charging infantry.

Teams from all over the country spend months practicing and developing their strategies for this competition, one of the only contests of its kind in the world. Each event is specifically designed to force the teams to strategize on what the best ways for their crew to approach the events are; they must maximize strengths while minimizing weaknesses. Even building the team requires thought; do youstack your team with extra HW’s to help with Tug of War, or do you run with extra LW’s to make the Wheel Barrow event easier? Keep in mind those LW’s must be able to load the stones required though!It’s enough to keep the team captains up at night, and I would know, because they all message me round the clock with questions they construe while game planning.

As is tradition, we opened the festivities with an event featuring an enormous Republic Services truck. There is always some sort of challenge that precedes the actual pushing of the massive blue truck, and this year that challenge consisted of dragging giant mining chains down a 40ft course. One HW was allowed to begin stationed at the truck, but all his help had to first drag these monstrous chains of increasing weight in succession before running back to tag the next athlete (victim?). Once a tag is made the person who had just finished their chain drag was eligible to go help push the truck. Once the first teammate arrived at the truck the brakes were released! Fastest time to finish the course would win, so it was imperative for everyone to finish their chain drags and get to the truck as quickly as possible despite what was for many a serious case of the jello legs.

Led by captain Ben Woods, the Purple Thunder Sparkles kicked off the action and completed the course in just under a minute 20. Jake King and the Mud Dogs were right behind this at about a minute 23 despite a quick rain hitting right as they were set to start – a little rain wasn’t going to stop this crew!The defending champions (Windy City Rumble) posted a tremendous time here with 1:17, and this let the rest of the teams know that the man they call Doodle, Mr. Quint Zambon, was once again here towin. The rain dried up but it didn’t make the challenge any easier as three teams hitched a ride aboardthe struggle bus and were unable to complete the course. Bear Hands stormed in with a blisteringperformance here of 1:15, but it wasn’t enough to best the 2016 champion Hillbilly Heathens at 1:10!Even that 1:10 mark was not enough for the event win however, as a crew from the host city of Fairmont, WV called Team Gainz clocked in with a whopping 1:08! Perhaps the most impressive part of their performance was the fact that they were, by all accounts, the only team who got the huge 30,000 pound truck moving up the grade with only 2 people! Captain Tiffany Drake joined Jay Edmund at the rear of the truck before a third or fourth teammate could arrive, and they had the 15 tons of steel moving up the hill as only a duo! What a way to start the day.

The second event was voted the most anticipated of the show in the weeks leading up to the big event. We called it “Hercules vs Atlas” and it combined two of the most iconic strongman events of all-time –the Hercules Hold (Mouser brand from yours truly), and atlas stones. Two Hercules stations were each accompanied by a stone station. Each team designated a person to each Hercules Hold and each stone station. The designated stone lifters had to shoulder the given stone for reps while their corresponding Hercules buddy held on for dear life. Total combined stone reps would determine the winner, and here was the kicker: the time they had to get those reps was determined entirely by their teammates’Hercules Holds! Once the Hercules for station 1 dropped, stone lifter 1 was finished. When the Hercules for station 2 dropped, you guessed, lifter 2 had to stop as well. Are you starting to see what I mean about all the strategy involved and why the team captains need to know the strengths and weaknesses of their crews?

This event delivered in a big way. We saw some absolutely epic performances, as well as some true heartbreaks. 301 Strong rolled in from Maryland as virtually an entire team of rookies. Captain BarrettYoung himself hasn’t been in the strongman game very long, but luckily he is quite formidable from years of powerlifting. This event just wasn’t their wheel house however, but I’d bet dollars to donutsthat these guys and gals will back next year because they were having a blast and we were glad to have them. The somewhat-cleverly-named “Our Grandmothers Deadlift More Than Paul Mouser” fared alittle better here garnering 4 reps, but speculation had it that it was going to take a score well into the double digits to win here. What would it take to win this event? 10 reps? 12? More?

The first team to register double digits was the Purple Thunder Sparkles with 11, and this was followed by the Windy City Rumble with a cool dozen. Bear Hands stepped up to match that mark, and their performance included a Hercules Hold time of well over one minute by captain John Mouser whileHannah “The Destroyer” Jennings repped out stone lifts on station 1. The winning score was produced by none other than the Hillbilly Heathens, who recorded an incredible 16 combined reps to take the win. They wanted a flawless performance here to take the lead overall after grabbing second in the 1st event, and that is exactly what they got. Captain Nicole Mouser and HW Jacob Bobbs took the reigns on the Hercules Holds, and both made it to the 1min mark or a little beyond while stone lifters Ashlyn Harlan and Kenny Hacker pumped out rapid fire reps without ever slowing down for the entire heat.

Speaking of heat, have I mentioned that it was hot and about five million percent humidity on that day? These conditions were not for the weak, not for the whiners, and certainly not for the wimps! Only the strong would survive, and we had 9 teams full of the strongest people in the world so it made for anamazing day. One of the spectator favorites was up next, the Partner Carry and Press that we called “No Strongman Left Behind!” Female team members had to carry male team members to designated stations where they would be dropped off and charged with immediately cleaning and pressing the implement that awaited them! If the female member had any gas left in the tank after carrying the rest of her team in such a fashion, she would attempt to rep out a log of her own overhead. Each station had a point value per rep, making the heavier items worth more points!

The Dark Army checked in here with a total of 33 points, locking up 4th place in the event. One of the bigger stories of the contest may have been the return of former WV state champion Chris Roach, whoput up 9 reps on the axle at his station to boost the Dark Army’s score. It was very cool to see Chris backin action after a biceps tear last year in a powerlifting meet. Team Bear Hands grasped 3rd here with 47 big points, and this included an MVP performance by Jake Reynolds on his bread and butter event, the log press. The heaviest log was 245 pounds, but the weight hardly tells the whole story. Those who frequent Mouser contests all know the legend of the Dream Crusher log, and it was indeed the log of lure that lay before the mighty man-beast that we call Jake. The Dream Crusher log is a real log, bark still in tact after all these years, and it is so big that it dwarfs most men who attempt to lift it. Our friend Mr. Reynolds is world renowned log presser, and he put up the most reps on that gigantic defiant hunk of wood out of anyone in the entire contest with a score of 10 reps!

The top two teams on the carry and press wowed us with memorable runs here. Brandi Hawken took off like a rocket carrying her Purple Thunder Sparkles teammates to each station, which allowed each plenty of time to register a ton of reps. You would never guess this was her first competition! The P.T.S. express took 2nd solidly here with 62 points, overtaken only by the Hillbilly Heathens who were absolutely on fire at this point. The Heathens put up a combined total of 43 reps and, more importantly, 72 points for the event win! A shout out must be given to Ashlyn Harlan here, as she stepped in to replace Nicole Mouser on this event. Nicole was originally planned to serve as the carrying party on this event due to her uncanny ability to carry human beings, but Ashlyn filled those shoes nicely by not only carrying her partners very quickly, but also by knocking out a ton of reps on her own press with the time she had left.

Event 4 was the Stones and Wheelbarrow challenge that we called “Pillage and Plunder”. This event has been around in different incarnations over the last few years, and this year may have been the most fun of them all! Each team assigned a “barrow person” to carry the ridiculously large wheel barrowapparatus. The rest of the team had to toss atlas stones into the barrow as it progressed down the course. The big twist on this event however was that after any competitor tossed a stone into the barrow, that competitor had to jump into the barrow as well! By the time the course would be finished, the barrow would be loaded down with 3 stones of different weights and 3 human beings! That is a lot of mass to add to an apparatus that already weighs a solid 400 pounds by itself. Having super strong folks of a smaller size helped out here, so teams with lighter athletes who could really handle the stonestended to do well, but it would all be for naught if they didn’t have a bonfide tank serving as the barrowdriver.

Team Gainz took a gamble here and paid dearly for it; Tiffany Drake opted to take the first stone at 240 pounds and let her less experienced teammates take the lighter ones. This would be difficult enoughunder any circumstances, but let’s not forget this was contested raw – no sticky stuff of any kind whatsoever was allowed to be used here! Tiffany lapped the stone multiple times, but was not quite able to toss it in the barrow. If she had pulled off the feat, it would have been the biggest raw stone lift by a female in WV history! Alas, it was not to be and zero points were awarded. The Grandmas had perhaps their best performance of the day here grabbing 4th place, as they finished the course just fractions of a second behind Windy City who clutched 3rd. Second place went to the Purple Thunder Sparkles who finished in 36.55, and the Heathens wrangled the win with 34.55sec. The Hillbilly Heathens had won 3 events in a row, but without the 380 pound giant Eric Hickman on the team this year, how would they do on Tug of War? If the unthinkable happened and the Heathens got 8th or 9th on the final event, could Bear Hands, Purple Thunder Sparkles, or Windy City over take them in the overall?

Right out of the gate we had some phenomenal matchups in what many consider the ultimate team event, the Tug of War. The Sparkles and the Mud Dogs met in the 1st round in a match that may have lasted a full 45sec before the Sparkles finally grinded out the win. Bear Hands advanced past the Dark Army in a war of attrition, Team Gainz defeated the Rumble, and in a turn of events worthy of a “best drama” award, the Heathens were sent to the losers’ bracket by the Grandmas! Team Gainz took outthe Sparkles in the semi-finals, and Bear Hands moved past the Grandmas. The finals were now set and the Heathens took another loss in the losers’ bracket to the Dark Army. The Heathens had one finalmatch up to try to salvage this event and avoid 8th place (9th was already determined), but if Bear Hands won, would it even be enough to hold the lead they had built up?

The Heathens faced Windy City in a match up featuring the only 2 teams to ever hold the Mouser Cup Trophy that is awarded for winning this championship. Windy City has traditionally only ever had one bogey event, and this was it. With the addition of HW Adam Knotts this year, could they reverse their fortunes in this final match and send the Heathens packing? In one of the most explosive performances of the day, the Hillbilly Heathens revived some of their old magic on the rope, and yanked the defending champs across the line.

In the main event, Gainz faced Bear Hands in a battle of the titans that threatened to snap the rope under the immense pressure. 4 members from Team Gainz versus 4 members from Bear Hands. The overall trophy is the big prize of course, but every team will tell you there is something special about winning the Tug of War regardless of the overall outcome, and both of these teams badly wanted the win. Both teams roared with effort, with their feet driving into the pavement, and hands crushing on the rope. The crowd in attendance was intense here at the finish and the atmosphere was electric. In the end, the strain proved too much for Team Gainz and Bear Hands wrestled the rope across the line to claim the event win and 9 vital points. Would it be enough for the overall? Would the team that has been so close to the title for so many years now finally have their day, or had the Heathens done so well on the first four events that the title could not be pulled from their iron grips?

Final Standings were as follows:

9th 301 Strong, 7 points 8th Grandmas, 19 points 7th Mud Dogs, 19.5 points 6th Dark Army, 23 points 5th Team Gainz, 24 points 4th Windy City Rumble, 27 points 3rd – Purple Thunder Sparkles, 33 points 2nd – Team Bear Hands, 33.5 points

1st – Hillbilly Heathens, 38 points and your 2018 champions

Thank you so much to: The Three Rivers Festival Republic Services Viking Performance Training Tina Judge and Firebreather Media Strongman Corporation Channel 12 Jim Basnett and the Field of Dreams Strongman Team

Kenny Hacker for the trailer, the Oney family for all the help with so many things, Ariel, Jesse, Eric, Chris, Brian, Katie, and everyone else who volunteered their time and effort to help make sure these athletes all had a great weekend – you are appreciated by me and everyone else at the event!

***Breaking news*** It came to my attention that the Hillbilly Heathens were in violation of the “6member” rule, as they actually had 7 members on the team. That’s right folks, my wife Nicole Mouser and I found out she is pregnant and we are having another baby (love you honey)! After reviewing this evidence, my counsel of trusted advisors decided to let it slide just this once, so they will be allowed to keep the championship trophy HAHA!

Be sure to keep your eyes on for all upcoming events!

Happy training