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My Experience at the Blind Dog Highlander

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  • My Experience at the Blind Dog Highlander

    A few folks have asked about how everything went Saturday for me at the Blind Dog Highlander meet, and I haven’t given a lot of details because I wanted to save it for this little write up. I apologize if it’s a little long winded, but you all that know me are aware that my write ups usually are… but people seem to like them so I keep typing! Anyway, here are the details of my journey to Vermillion, Ohio to do strong stuff with strong people…

    In December of 2014, my right knee exploded. Goofing around in my back yard resulted in a second reconstruction of this leg, with the first being somewhere around 2005 or so when I was breaking into pro-wrestling. Pro-wrestling, while I wouldn’t have traded it for the world, also left me with 4 vertebral fractures from 3 different incidents, a dislocated shoulder, and even a foot that sort of got snapped in half backwards once (amongst a myriad of smaller injuries). Being young and stupid (funny how the two go together but we don’t realize until we are older eh?), I refused to stop training through all of these various incidents, and kept trying to squat and press heavy weights despite the fact that I couldn’t even sit down straight in an office chair without significant pain. By the end of 2007, I had finally fallen apart so badly that I retired from pro-wrestling and unofficially from strength sports.

    I say “unofficially” because I still believed that I could come back and compete again in strongman and powerlifting. From 2007 to probably 2011, I saw no less than 3 different physical therapists and who knows how many doctors about my back/hip issues. Nothing seemed to help. I couldn’t really deadlift at all, with even 135 causing me severe pain. Sometimes I could manage short stretches where I could do light squats, but they didn’t last long and I never got the weights back up to where they had been years before. Simple tasks like picking up a box off the floor often left me in crippling pain, and by 2010 or 2011 I had decided that I was officially retired. In 2012 however, I made a decision that changed my life.

    I had never given much credibility to chiropractors. All I ever heard about them growing up was how they were “quacks” and that they were basically selling snake oil. Even in college (where I studied strength and conditioning, personal training, and all things “muscle”) not one professor, guest lecturer, or text book ever mentioned chiropractic as a legitimate method of treatment for athletes with back and hip issues. I had been hearing more of my competitors (I had been running meets for some time at this point) talk about chiropractic treatment however, and I thought “what could it hurt?” so I started doing some research. I wanted to find someone that wouldn’t give the classic doctor garbage of “well just don’t lift so heavy”, so my eyes lit up a bit when I found a local chiropractor that was a division I all-American wrestler. Collegiate wrestlers are some of the toughest, most hard-nosed SOBs in the world, and I knew a guy like this would never tell me to stop going after extreme physical pursuits. So off to Dr. Mike Mason I went at his Chiropractic Care Center, and it was one of the best decisions I ever made in my life. Within a few months I was doing things comfortably that I hadn’t been able to do in years, and my overall health improved as well as I began to pull out of the depression that came along with being a young man that was so limited physically after some time of being known as a local strong guy.

    *I am not sponsored by Dr. Mason or his company. I do not get freebies, money, or even a complimentary pat on the back for plugging his practice. I’m just being real here folks.

    By the end of 2014, I had started talking to my wife and close friends about coming out of retirement. I thought about trying powerlifting first, since it is a much more predictable sport and I was still scared of moving events in strongman. Deadlifting was going well, and squats were slowly coming up. Then the knee exploded. My ACL and meniscus were blown to bits, and that glimmer of hope to compete in 2015 was taken out behind the shed and shot. I hadn’t given up hope altogether though; I knew 2016 would be a possibility if I could get my leg healthy. Long story short (OK it’s already long as all bloody hell but hey), there were complications with my knee and things weren’t looking good for some time. Finally, around December of 2015, I was able to actually start training somewhat normally, and shortly afterwards I found a meet that lined up with my schedule, was only 4 hours away, had events I loved, and would theoretically give me time to get some strength back. In June of this year, I made my return to competition with a great group of folks out in Westminster, MD. My goal was basically to survive and not “zero” anything. I achieved that goal.

    With my “first” meet out of the way, it was time to look for another one. I immediately signed up for the Blind Dog Gym Highlander, because again, it lined up schedule-wise, I loved the events, and it was only 4hrs away. I also looked at Brute’s August show in VA, but the wife has family up around Cleveland where the Highlander was held, so that was the tie breaker. We wanted to compete together, so this worked out well. I didn’t just want to survive this time though, I actually wanted to do some damage and try to beat some guys. I knew the competition would be stiff in the 200 pound Open class, as there were 150 people from all over the country coming to this event, so if I could even just avoid placing dead last I would be happy. To Lake Eerie we were bound!

    Now for what you’ve all been waiting for… the action!

    My group’s first event was the farmers walk. It was a timed course about 150ft with a turn halfway. Drops were allowed so you could do a “drop turn”, and everyone did of course. Besides the turn, I had no drops, and while a few other guys did, they were all still faster than me. Last place in the farmers, but no shame because there were some real studs in this class. I believe my time was around 35 seconds. Gotta get faster, but I knew that already. Second event was the Braemar style standing stone put. This was essentially a shot put with a big ass rock, with no spin or crow-hop allowed. I really REALLY liked this event, and thanks to help from some friends like Ryan Putzulu, Scott Straight, and Doug Prickett, I was able to land 3rd place in this event! I was ecstatic because my first throw (which was actually a better toss) was called a foul because my foot moved too far sideways. I was really nervous on the second throw because we were only allowed two tries! I got the nerves under control enough to avoid fouling out, but was afraid I had blown my shot at a decent placing until I saw the results. I believe the throw was 32ft something. I took a third throw after we were finished just for fun, and walked away with a smile.

    My third event was the Weight Over Bar, which I think most in my group were a little unsure about. Only a few of the guys had much practice on it, so we were largely all in the same boat. Opening height was 8ft and our weight was 42lbs – everyone cleared here and we moved to 9. At 10ft, one guy dropped out despite some valiant attempts, and I dropped out at 11ft. According to reports, I had the height to clear it, but I couldn’t quite arc the trajectory well enough to get it to go back over the bar. I believe everyone else that was left cleared this height, but then most missed at the next level. This put me something like 6th out of 7 on the event. Our 4th event was the Jon Pall Deadlift. This was after a very lengthy lunch break for our group, so we all had to warm up and get our creaky bodies moving again. This event was one I had looked forward to for some time, as it was a replica of deadlift event from a legendary competition in the late 80’s between Jon Pall Sigmarsson, Bill Kazmaier, and Geoff Capes. The bar was a giant square shaped beam, with 2 enormous wagon wheels attached. The opening weight was 450lbs, and a few from the group missed this weight, while 5 of us made good with it. Due to the number of competitors and the need to keep things moving, we were faced with 90 pounds jumps. Yes folks, no typo, ninety pound jumps. No one whined, no one complained, we all just man’d up and said “let’s do this”. 540 was a bit much for me at this point, as it was for two others. This meant I was in a tie for 3rd on this event, so hey, I’ll take it! Even if I did only make one lift, the pics were so epic I still felt pretty good about it LOL.

    My fifth, and what turned out to be last event (more on that later), was the Truck Pull. This was an 80’s style pull with only a harness; there was no hand rope! Now keep in mind that by this time, our beautiful morning weather had turned into a monsoon. About the time we had started the deadlift, things got crazy. The rain absolutely poured on us, soaking us all head to toe, and turned the truck course into a bit of a lake. Perhaps this was a microcosm of the massive Lake Eerie that formed our backdrop. These conditions turned a simple truck pull into an event unlike any other I’d ever done, as finding traction was next to impossible and you could feel the pull of the water on your feet with every step! I loved it! This was some real strongman stuff right here, and the 7 of us didn’t mind getting our feet wet… literally. I was first in the rotation on every event, this one no different, and I posted a time around 30 seconds or so. I had no idea how that would hold up, but started to feel pretty good about it after seeing warrior after warrior struggle to even get the darn thing moving. After all was said and done, I had locked up 2nd place in the truck pull! Holy shxt!

    By my estimates I was sitting somewhere around 4th place at this point, and my best event was coming up last. The Atlas Stones awaited us and they were wet; in fact, they were actually sitting in puddles now! This would bode well for me because tacky was allowed on this event, and most of the guys were likely using tacky during training. I don’t need to tell most of you that I train stones raw, because that horse has been beaten to death twice already. The point is, my top stone was 260, and I am confident I can load a 260 in rain, sleet, snow, or most any conditioning short of an actual hurricane. I knew I had a shot, probably a very small shot but a shot nonetheless, at the podium if I could place well here. The whole group was excited for stones, but fate had other plans.

    The promoter informed us that stones were cancelled for our group due to the conditions. I think most of us were a little bummed (who doesn’t love stones right?), but the promoters had to do what they felt was in the best interest of athlete safety. I think we could have done it without issue, but it wasn’t a chance the promoters were willing to take and I respect that. I give kudos to the organizers for making the tough decisions and looking out for the athletes’ safety!

    In the end, I think I ended up 4th out of 7, but that may not be accurate. The official scores beyond the top 3 haven’t been released yet, and there were some apparent discrepancies with the scoring in my class to be resolved anyway. It’s a miracle that the scores were able to be tallied at all given how hard it rained on us; as a promoter myself I sympathized with the score keepers who were struggling to keep their score sheets dry and record all the data. I appreciate the efforts of all involved so much for continuing to push through as we got absolutely dumped on by those angry clouds. How they were able to keep it all running I may never know, but they did!

    So why did I take 30 paragraphs to tell you about my boring medical history just so I could give you a contest recap? The answer is… this meant a lot to me. All of us in this Iron Game base some of our self-worth on our physical abilities, probably more than we should. God taught me long ago by taking away my physical abilities to some degree that there was more to life than just how much I could lift, carry, flip, and throw. I try to avoid basing my self-worth off how much I can lift now, but I wanted to prove to myself that I can hang with legitimate strength athletes in a big time competition. I did the show in Maryland back in June to get the jitters out, prove that I could actually make it through a tough contest without ending up in the hospital, and to have a good time. I did those things, but also came in dead last. For this competition, I wanted to do more than just survive, more than just show up; I wanted to go toe to toe with some seasoned warriors and actually best some of them, butt heads with some brahma bulls and prove that I still had horns, and overall just prove that after almost a decade of being removed from competition due to health issues that I could still hang. With a 2nd place in one event, and a 3rd place in another (and maybe a 4th or 5th overall?), I accomplished those goals. Forgive me if I’m a little emotional about it, but this moment was years in the making.

    Huge thank you to my regular training partners Chase Oney and Kenny Hacker, as well as everyone else that helped me train for this meet (too many to mention!). Thanks to all my “strong friends” for their constant support – I have been overwhelmed by how many of you have checked in with me leading up to and after this event! Thanks to my lovely wife Nicole for always being there for me – she competed here as well (and did terrific!). This was our first meet competing together since 2007!!! Thanks to all the athletes, especially the guys in my group, for giving the show such a positive vibe and encouraging each other the whole time. Thank you to the helpers at each station that sacrificed their Saturday to make this day special for us. Thank you to the organizers for putting together a wonderful event at an absolutely stunning venue – you may never know how much I appreciate the opportunity to compete in such a show at such a location. Thanks to my family for supporting me in this journey; some of them even made the trip up to watch us and take care of our son so we could compete! Thanks to God for giving me the strength mentally, emotionally, and physically to do this, and for seeing me through with my health intact.

    I think that’s enough at this point. I’d love to just keep writing, but it’s getting late, and if I’m going to do any damage at my next meet, I’ll need to be well rested for training… which starts tomorrow.

    God bless and happy training,


  • #2
    A hell of a journey, and a great job Paul, thanks for sharing!


    • #3
      I appreciate that Dave! Now onto the next ...


      • #4
        Also, I would be remiss if I failed to mention that I met Adriane Wilson there. Also, Mark Valenti (the promoter) and Craig Smith who are "names" in the Highland Games community.