Arnold Sports Festival
Strongman sacrifices body for competition
Come Monday -- or maybe sooner -- Joe Stanton's life will return to normal.
At least temporarily.
But until that time, he will use iron determination, mental conditioning and every ounce of body fiber to win the Arnold Amateur World Strongman Championship, part of the Arnold Sports Festival, to be held today through Sunday, Feb. 28-March 3, at several venues throughout Columbus.
"It's horrible," said Stanton, 33, of Lewis Center.
"I can't wait to get back to normal. But I think part of competing is addicting on its own."
From 8 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. Friday, March 1, he will compete among 60 others in the first round of the contest, to be held in the Greater Columbus Convention Center.
Two days later, the top 10 competitors will advance to the second and final round.
The winner will be elevated to the professional strongman ranks and have the opportunity to compete in next year's Arnold Strongman Classic, which has been part of the festival since 2002. The amateur card was added in 2010.
"It's a very big draw," said Brent LaLonde, spokesman for the festival. "The sport of strongman is very, very popular with our audience."
This year marks the 25th anniversary of the festival, which started off as professional bodybuilding championship.
Indoor activities will be held in five local venues: the Greater Columbus Convention Center, Franklin County Veterans Memorial, LC Pavilion, Hollywood Casino and Ohio State University's French Field House.
Advance tickets are $10, $15 at the door, and are available through Ticketmaster. Additional festival information is available at arnoldsportsfestival.com.
New this year are the Arnold Survival Race, an obstacle course and 5K run to be held from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday at Lou Berliner Park, and the Scottish Highland games, slated for 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday at Columbus Commons.
LaLonde said 18,000 athletes from 80 different nations will compete in 45 sporting events, attracting roughly 175,000 spectators who will pump $42.4 million into the local economy.
"What it has turned into is a huge fitness celebration that encompasses our whole community," LaLonde said.
"It brings thousands of people into our whole city," he said. "We're proud to put on this event in Columbus."
After a brief hiatus, Stanton is returning to the amateur strongman circuit.
He competes in four such events every year.
Keeping to a strict diet is nearly a job in itself, Stanton said.
His wife, Brandi, cooks the upcoming week's meals every Sunday.
For a month prior to the contests, Stanton takes in anywhere from 3,500 to 6,000 calories of mostly lean proteins and carbohydrates every day.
There are no sweets -- except for an occasional can of soda -- and no fried or processed foods.
He spends eight hours a week in the gym, using a high-intensity training regimen, alternating between heavy and light weights.
Stanton then goes through grueling four-hour exercise routines every Saturday.
Stanton has been competing on the amateur circuit for seven years, steadily improving each time.
To qualify for the Arnold, he placed 15th at the North American Strongman National Championship in November.
Among the different challenges, he had to traverse a 50-foot course four times, first carrying a 300-pound keg, followed by a 280-pound sand bag.
For the third phase, Stanton had to duck-walk a 450-pound metal implement across the field.
The final segment involved him lugging a 700-pound sled across the finish line.
"It's crazy how much is actually more mental than physical," said Stanton, who's 6 feet 2 inches tall and weighs 290 pounds.
The training comes with its perils: Stanton's had a torn bicep, shin splints, two herniated discs and routine aches and pains.
Even so, exercise took him out of the life of indulgences many men in their early 20s experience.
"It's had a huge, huge impact on my life," Stanton said.
He contends he is not a power lifter but rather a tri-athlete, bodybuilder and Olympic weightlifter all rolled into one.
"It's definitely a different animal from any other sport," he said.
Stanton grew up in Westerville and attended Westerville South High School, where he played football and ran track. He graduated from Grandview Heights High School, where he also played sports.
These days, he's a temporarily unemployed IT recruiter who intends to spend less time training and more time with his two sons, Liam, 2, and Brodie, 4.
"It's more of a hobby for me," Stanton said. "For a lot of these guys, it's a way of life."