Strength exhibitions have been a longstanding culture around the world since ancient times. Most often the source of this movement has been attributed to the famous Milo of Croton, who famously carried his calf every day up to its maturity as a bull. The old practice of picking up large stones spans the globe from Scotland, to the Basque region of Spain, to areas of the Middle East. The Sumo culture of Asia revolves around massive, strong men being able to lift and maneuver one another. Native Indians in the Americas would compete by rolling stones up the side of a hill. Needless to say, the culture of strength competition has been around since the dawn on mankind. People are fascinated by the near superhuman abilities of these men who could qualify as real-life giants. One might even argue that strength competition is the longest standing competitive sport in the world. Like myself, those who have been inculcated into a love of this world know exactly what it takes to hit those levels of strength, which makes the appreciation and captivation downright intoxicating.
Netflix recently released a documentary entitled “Eddie Strongman”, in which the life of a professional strongman named Eddie Hall is recorded and unveiled for the viewer to learn more of what it means to live such a life. Eddie Hall is considered the third strongest man in the world and holds an unbelievable world record of deadlifting 500 kg, or 1102 pounds. The film follows him through his struggles and his victories in his dream to become the strongest man in the world. The film is both hard to watch but mercifully enjoyable. While some might deride the world of strongman competition as nothing more than an egotistic display of men trying to become gods, during the film you find out more about the men who compete in this sport and come to realize that not only are they very human, but they are after something that, it seems to me, they can’t explain.
Certainly arrogance comes to play in the world of strongmen, as it does in almost every other sport. In order to be a great athlete you need at least a healthy desire to be the best. For many, that desire can go beyond healthy and arrogance becomes an inflated ego whose will to dominate relinquishes any responsibility of another. Eddie explains without holding back much that his arrogance made him hungry to be the best, and it always will. The film displays the toll that the sport has taken on both Eddie and his family. For several years, Eddie neglected his family in order to work and lift. Oftentimes, only seeing his family for a few hours a week, noting that he missed the first few years of his children’s lives because of his obsession. So, indeed there are drawbacks, selfishness, and sacrifices to be had if a person wants to be at that level. However, a moment in the film stood out to me that pointed toward, perhaps, what it is that they are actually seeking.
Eddie and a few of his fellow strongmen are all interviewed regarding why they do what they do. The willingness to sacrifice life and limb simply to be able to lift heavy things seems beyond reason, however each of the men explain in their own way that when they are lifting, training, and competing, something deep within them is ignited. Something deeper than just the thrill of the moment or even the adrenaline pump from the crowd cheering their name. Rather, something awakens in them while they lift and perform. Could it be that what they are experiencing is man at its fullest? Perhaps not as one might imagine in the spiritual sense but rather, perhaps the gut-wrenching physicality and intensity of strength taps into an aspect of who they were created to be. Man is made in the image and likeness of God Himself, who is omnipotence itself. The ascetic nature of pushing your body to its limit just might awaken the soul to the endless depth and possibility of coming to know something beyond the material world. With the growth of the culture of sacrifice, as we see in the millions and millions who’ve joined the Spartan Race world where sacrifice and pushing beyond physical limits is what they eat for breakfast, maybe what we are witnessing is a culture shift away from physicality for its own sake and a gearing toward immaterial purpose for our actions.
In the vast majority of the Western world people live in relative comfort. I’ve heard it said that people want to immigrate to the places where even the poor people are overweight. The problem we face is the same that was experienced by Kind David after the wars and those palpably experienced during the philosophical revolution of the late 18th century, the world is not our final home and if we try to make this world our comfortable little kingdom, we will naturally find a way out. Comfort is not meant for the sojourner. We were made to create and build wonderful, beautiful things, and that cannot be done easily. Think of the great cathedrals of Europe where it might have been five generations of people who never got to see the final result, struggling and toiling along to way to build something beyond themselves. While this might not seem to be the exact same result as being able to lift 500 kg, the method and desired end result remains similar on principles. What the person seeking to do by lifting ridiculous amounts of weight, or run for an incredible number of miles, or climb the highest of mountains, is to fulfill who they are at the core, a creature imbued by the omnipotent love of their Creator.
These strongmen today are an impressive lot to say the least. From eating 10,000 calories a day to training at 110% day in and day out, in them you can concretely see what drive looks like. Each of them happily walking the earth as giants. My challenge to them is to ask what purpose beyond themselves do they have? Records will be broken. Names will often be forgotten in the annals of history, however, living an impressively full life for the immaterial purpose of the divine, that’s something that echoes in the halls of eternity. I’m reminded of a quote by Bruce Lee who said, “it is like a finger pointing a way to the moon. Don’t concentrate on the finger or you will miss all that heavenly glory!” Keep picking up heavy things, show us examples of living to its fullest, but do so in a way that does not point at oneself, but rather toward the cosmos where God desires to show you what a life is all about.