Local ‘Strongman’ has eyes on nationals

Dan Falloon

It’s probably not too hard to figure out who Fort Frances’ strongest man is.

There’s a new sheriff of strong in town after Luke Skaarup, originally from near Nolalu (about 50 km southwest of Thunder Bay) moved here last month from Cambridge, Ont. to become a regional manager for Union Gas.

A mechanical engineer by trade, Skaarup also has made a name for himself on the Canadian strongman scene, finishing third at the provincial “Strongest Man” competition in Cornwall last month—his second-consecutive bronze medal finish.

Normally, the top two competitors at provincials get to attend the national showdown, but Skaarup qualified for last year’s event when injury beset one of the top pair.

He ended up finishing eighth in Quebec City.

Strongman competitions boast a number of different tests, of which anywhere from “four to nine” are chosen for the competition.

For example, Skaarup blazed through the tire flip, maximum dead lift, seated truck pull, log press medley (lifting a series of logs), and stone loading on Saturday in Winkler, Man., where he finished first out of 13 competitors.

A highlight video from the event is embedded in the online version of this story.

“There are about 50 different things that they can have you do, and depending on the competition, you’ve got to be good at all of them,” Skaarup stressed.

“I’m good at about 45 out of the 50, so that usually means I do pretty well.”

Competitions can be judged by time (i.e., racing to move heavy objects or heavy objects held for the longest time), distance (i.e., truck or airplane pulls), or, of course, weight (i.e., lifting a heavy object once).

Skaarup noted the tests must be spectator-friendly—and that can lead to some entertaining viewing.

“The whole sport is people thinking up physically impressive things to do,” he explained.

“Heavy and awkward movements,” he noted. “Stuff that real people can relate to. That’s really what the sport is about.

“Let’s see you roll a car over, or let’s see if you can flip a telephone pole end over end.”

Since each apparatus used will not be exactly the same, worthy athletes may get tripped up by a new piece of equipment.

Skaarup recalled he was the victim of a dumbbell at this year’s provincials, saying he just wasn’t able to get the right grip on it.

“There are little quirks and quarks to every piece of equipment that you use,” he remarked.

“If you know what they are, if you can try to feel it out beforehand, that makes a big difference.

“If it’s something I haven’t done before, I’ll expend the energy and I’ll try to do it,” he added.

“It makes a difference every time.”

With the wide variety of events that can be selected for a competition, Skaarup stressed athletes must be able to draw strength from nearly anywhere in their body in order to be in contention.

“Let’s say I just didn’t train my biceps at all and then I went to flip a huge tire, maybe I’ll rip the bicep off the bone the first time,” he noted.

“You don’t want any weaknesses at all because if you have any weaknesses, it’ll come out pretty quickly, so you want to be strong in all areas.

“You’ve just got to work into it,” he reasoned. “It takes a lot of years to build that muscle and that strength to get ready to do something like that.”

Skaarup, whose favourite events are dead lifts such as lifting a car, still has an Achilles heel—primarily the truck pull, where he may be at a disadvantage because of his relatively short stature (6’0”).

“I know how to do it. I’m physically strong and capable. It just never seems to quite go my way,” he bemoaned.

“I’ve won that event in the past, but overall I generally don’t do as well as I want to do in that for whatever reason.

“Generally, the taller guys do really well,” he noted. “With each step, you step farther. With each reach your arm, you reach farther.

“I’m relatively short compared to a lot of the guys.”

Even though Skaarup may seem like a big man at six feet and 285 pounds, he said he can look small when compared to fellow competitors—some of whom have well over a half-foot in height advantage, including one Skaarup reported was 6’7” and topping 400 pounds.

“You compete against a guy that’s 6’8” or 6’6”, that’s a big difference,” he remarked.

“To my friends and family, I’m pretty much one of the biggest guys they know,” Skaarup added.

“‘You keep telling me you’re small, and if I wouldn’t have seen it, I never would have believed it,’” he recalled his father saying.

Starting out as a bodybuilder, Skaarup first began competing in strongman competitions in 2007, attending the Ontario’s Strongest Man competition pretty much on a lark—winding up ninth out of 23 competitors without training or having see a competition live.

“I just happened to be genetically-gifted to do well at it,” he reasoned. “That’s not something most people could do at all.

“I see a lot of people that train for it and don’t even make the top 12,” he noted.

“I grew up on a farm, so you’re always hauling wood around, or rocks, or hay bales.

“You’re always doing some form of manual labour.”

However, after that experience in 2007, Skaarup decided to focus on the sport more seriously—and has seen his results improve. With the win in Winkler, he’s won titles at four smaller competitions, and has recorded 12 top three finishes in his career.

“I started to try to do it,” he explained. “I started to train specifically for it.

“It was more about functional strength. There are a lot of things I don’t do now that I used to do all the time, so it’s more about heavy overhead pressing, squats, dead lifts, the core lifts.

“Now I do more of the actual events themselves, instead of gym training.

“Before that, I just trained to look good and be a little bit strong,” he admitted.

Skaarup realized there even were some muscles he had neglected in his bodybuilding days which needed some attention in order to improve.

“One of the things I never used to do is I never worked my trapezius muscles, the ones on the top of your shoulders,” he recalled.

“In bodybuilding, you want everything to be proportional, but mine were always naturally big.

“Now I’m at the point where a lot of the events you do work them all the time, and now they’re even bigger.”

These days, Skaarup holds two event days a week to go along with two days of training in the gym.
Those events can be held in the comfort of his own property as he’s had several pieces of equipment made—and much of it is now here.

“I had to leave some of it because the moving company couldn’t handle all of it,” he noted.

“I have an apparatus to either dead lift or squat a car, some of those big Atlas stone balls.

“I got a 900-pound tire from Lakewood Tire in town.”

Skaarup is thrilled with the new set-up as he had to travel 30 minutes each way to the gym in order to train while in southern Ontario, which cut into his family time.

Now, he even can incorporate family time with his three young children, Brayden, Gabrielle, and Logan, into his training.

“If I need to watch some of the kids, they can play in there while I’m doing it,” he remarked.

“They’ve even got their own weights, so they can do stuff, too.”

Skaarup concluded by extending an invitation to anyone wishing to give the sport a try, noting he can be contacted through his website at www.lukeskaarup.com

“Any chance I get to help promote the sport or show people what it is or get people interested, I’m certainly interested in doing that,” he stressed.

“That’s the thing that’s the hardest is to get all the equipment so that you’re in a position to train for it and to do well,” Skaarup added.

“It’s several thousand dollars to get everything you need to do it.”