You say you’re feeling stronger, more buff than ever? Hitting the gym with regularity and enthusiasm? Bench-pressing at your personal best?
But can you pull a truck with your bare hands or flip a tractor tire end-over-end at top speed?
Those are just two of the physical challenges in store for competitors in the Next Level Games, to be held Sept. 18 in Watson Park.
“This is the second annual event, and it’s the only one of its kind in the Midwest,” says Laura Richards, founder and coordinator of the games. “Last year we had around 50 competitors come from three states. We’re expecting 100 this year. It’s about 50-50, male and female. We have age divisions from 16 on up. We had two 16-year-old boys who competed last year.”
Richards, who named the event after the personal training business she owns with her husband, Chad, says she created the contest to fulfill a personal dream.
“I was always an athlete and I wanted to do fitness competitions,” she says. “But a lot of times you have to be a bodybuilder or have a gymnastics background, and I’m neither one of those. So I wanted to find a competition that combined strength, speed and agility all in one event.”
The Richards were introduced to the strongman workout a couple years ago when networking with strength coaches from around the country.
“One of the athletes was a football player who had a strongman day as part of his routine,” Laura Richards says. “That was our first exposure, knowing that you could pull a vehicle. It seemed kind of far-fetched, but after you’re done, you’ve got bragging rights.”
The games begin with the Strongman Challenge, which has three elements: the truck pull and push, farmers walk (which involves carrying heavy, cumbersome weights through a course) and the tire flip.
Contestants then get only five minutes to rest before moving on to the obstacle course which includes a rock climbing wall, cargo net, rope climb and other feats.
After another five-minute break, contestants move on to the prowler, a challenge so punishing, it causes some competitors to lose their lunch. (Search “prowler” on YouTube and see for yourself, if you dare.)
Kevin Dobbs, Lawrence, who participated in the games last year, is returning this year, in spite — or because of — the prowler.
“It’s basically like a weight sled that has three metal skids on it,” he explains. You load it up with weight, which increases resistance, and it kind of scrapes along the ground. And you just push it. It’s very much like the bobsled before you jump on. But you keep pushing, pushing, pushing as hard as you can.”
Dobbs readily admits it’s much easier said than done.
“At the end of the prowler last year, everyone was just wasted from exhaustion. The fittest people there collapsed afterwards on the ground for 10 minutes. A couple people threw up. I can’t even describe the pain in your legs after you’re all done. I’d never experienced it. But, 30 minutes later, I felt fantastic.”
Diane Banneman Juracik of Lawrence is returning to the games this year in hopes of improving her performance from ’09. She says competing in the event will be another exciting achievement in her midlife physical transformation.
“I’m not young,” she says. “I’m 53. I’ve been working in the gym with my trainer for two years and doing some things on my own. I’ve really made a lot of process. I mean, I have biceps! I have muscles. I’ve never had that in my life. I used to be fat and a weakling. It’s such a wonderful thing for me that I feel strong and I feel like I can take on challenges. So I decided I was going to do this and I’m going to do it again this year. And I’m going to be better.”
Richards has high hopes for the future of the games, which include taking the event to the national stage.
“Eventually, I’d like to hold the event in a stadium, like a Haskell stadium or KU, if they’d let me,” she says. “That’s what I envision in the future, that we’re going to have so many people wanting to participate and wanting to watch that we’re going to need an arena.”