Weigh to go
Padraig Byrne finds out from Wexford strongman Gavin Redmond just what it takes to reach the pinnacle of a very demanding sport
The existence of a strongman can be a solitary one. Early mornings and late evenings in the gym; long hours spent behind the wheel driving to and from competitions and the inevitable soul searching that comes when things don't necessarily go to plan.
For Curracloe strongman Gavin Redmond, these things have become par for the course as he continues his quest to be recognised as one of Ireland's top strongmen. Having previously won a European title under 105kg back in 2013, the Wexford man has experimented in different weight classes and endured a lean spell which saw him look on, heartbroken as others took the coveted titles. However, in recent weeks he enjoyed his moment in the sun finally as he travelled to Ballynahinch in Co Down for the Strongman Winter Warriors competition. After an utterly impressive performance, and following four years of trying, he managed to emerge with the titles of Republic of Ireland's Strongest Man and the All Ireland Strongest Man under 110kg.
'It felt great,' he smiled, recalling the moment he finally collected those trophies. 'I've been doing this since 2011, but I've been trying at this weight for nearly four years now. In that time, I've placed second and third a few times. It's so hard when you do competitions like that and come so close. Most of them are up in the North and you get back in the car to drive home and think of what went wrong and what you could have done. You can feel a little deflated and it can be hard to pick yourself up and keep moving forward and keep training. All that hard work has really paid off now. It felt great to get the win. It kind of takes a while to sink in that you've done it.'
On the day, Gavin battled it out with strongmen from all over the country in a series of gruelling events. The 125kg farmers run saw him run with long, awkward weights up and back a 15 metre course. He had to grind out as many reps as possible in 75 seconds in the 110kg log press. Testing both grip and strength was the 250kg axle deadlifts. Enough to make any legs wobbly was the lifting of the 115kg ball-shaped atlas stone; and finally there was the 430kg tyre which all of the competitors struggled with, Gavin managing a respectable four out of five flips.
'I was consistently towards the top in each event and then the winner was awarded on a points basis,' he explained. 'Thankfully I managed to build up enough points and came away with the win.'
For Gavin, the interest in strength training is a long-term one. Ever since he was a youngster, he's been a regular in various gyms.
'I got into it from a young age,' he explains. 'I'd always be doing press-ups and things like that and I got the weights set from Argos that I used at home. Then I joined the gym at around 16 and did a bit at Image Health Studio. From 16 to 26 I started out doing bodybuilder training and then at 26 I started to get interested in the strongman stuff. I've won a few titles in the past and then there was the European title in 2013, but since then it's been a struggle. I suppose that's why this one meant so much.'
The level of dedication required to be the Republic of Ireland's strongest man is immense. The level of training required can often mean that the work-life balance can quite easily be thrown out of kilter.
'Well my family runs a mobile home park, so I do a bit of work there and then I do some architecture at home as well,' Gavin explains of his working life. 'It's great because it allows me that freedom to come and go and head off training.'
'Generally, I train five days a week. I'm either in at Club Whitford for a couple of hours each day or I travel to two strongman facilities, one at Hook Head and then Monster Gym in Carlow. Your whole day can be taken up by it easily enough.'
While more of an issue for body-building than strength training, diet does play a huge part in Gavin's regime as well as he seeks to keep himself fuelled for the huge exertions his body regularly undergoes. While you tend to believe that a man of his build almost dines exclusively on huge steaks and similar protein-heavy meats, he somewhat surprisingly reveals that he doesn't eat meat.
'I haven't actually eaten meat for about four years now,' he says. 'In terms of getting my protein, I use nuts, seeds, soya and protein powders. For a bodybuilder, diet is much more measured. For a strong man, you just need to get your protein and your fat and carbs right and eat a lot of calories to give you the energy.'
In general, Gavin's daily calorie intake is somewhere in the region of 3,000, but it's not something he watches too closely.
'On average my intake would be about 3,000, but that's not too high,' he explains. 'Some of the top strongmen would be consuming around 10,000 calories per day! For me I have to remain under 110kg, so that was my goal and then in terms of heavyweight it was a case of seeing what happened. I never really keep too much of a count on my calories because you could drive yourself mad with it. I just keep an eye on the scales and make sure I'm in around that 110kg mark.'
After such a momentous weekend, which saw a total of three titles brought back south to Wexford (New Ross's Dean Kennedy also bringing home the U95kg strongman title), one would forgive Gavin for taking some time to celebrate his achievements. However, he remains firmly focused and is already back in the gym with a focus on the next step.
'This competition was a qualifier as such,' he explains. 'I now hold the title of Republic of Ireland's Strongest Man; the next competition is an All-Ireland event in April where I'll be going up against lads from the North as well. Then in March, I'll be taking part in a world competition in Hungary. That competition is put on by the World Natural Strongman Federation (WNSF), which I think is important to stress. Sometimes when people look at strongmen, the tendency is to think that they're all on drugs and that's how they do it; but this is all done naturally and it is strictly tested.'
So for Gavin, the only celebrations will be confined to the congratulations of friends and family or perhaps words of praise from fellow gym-goers in Whitford Leisure Centre where he continues to pump iron with a focus on even further glory to come.