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Fourth-year presses for weight-lifting career

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‘Cause sometimes you feel tired, feel weak, and when you feel weak, you feel like you wanna just give up.

He grabs a handful of chalk out of the plastic container, generously spreading it over his calloused palms. He takes a deep breath and steps to the bar in his worn Chuck Taylors.

But you gotta search within you, you gotta find that inner strength.

He takes a few more deep breaths, moving his arms and fingers around to stay loose. One of his favorites, Eminem’s “Till I Collapse,” is pumping from the speakers.

And just pull that s— out of you and get that motivation to not give up.

Bending at the knees, he lowers his 5-foot-9-inch, 300-pound frame to grasp the iron bar before him.

And not be a quitter, no matter how bad you wanna just fall flat on your face and collapse.

And at the sound of “go” from the man holding the stopwatch, an Ohio State student moves objects that most men can’t.

While many OSU students are in bed recovering from a Friday night out with friends, fourth-year history student Zach Gallmann is in a dirty warehouse for four hours of gut-wrenching, muscle-straining lifting.

“You’ve got to have a no-quit mentality, have to have a high pain tolerance, the fortitude to push yourself further,” Gallmann said. “You’ve got to find the drive inside yourself. It always has to be in your head that you can do one more rep.”

This past weekend, Gallmann placed 23rd out of the 47 amateur strongmen competitors in the 13th annual North American Strongman National Championship in Reno, Nev.

A top-15 finish would have earned Gallmann a spot in next March’s Arnold Amateur Strongman World Championship, a big step toward becoming a professional.

Last year’s first-place winner of the Arnold Classic strongman competition won $45,000, an Audemars Piquet watch and a trophy, according to the Arnold Sports Festival 2010 weekend news website.

Gallman was disappointed with his finish this weekend but understands that becoming a national contender doesn’t happen overnight.

“It felt miserable,” Gallmann said. “I mean, the level of competition is just beyond anything I’ve ever experienced, so I think for my first time competing in this atmosphere, against the top 47 guys in the country, I fared pretty well.”

Individual event winners received $100, and the top 15 overall were awarded battle axes and Spartan helmets.

Day one of the competition featured an 800-pound yoke and 250-pound sandbag run, a one-arm 185-pound dumbbell press, and a car deadlift. Day two included a 300-pound axle clean and press, a 750-pound sled drag and atlas stone runs up to 420-pounds.

Gallmann excelled in three of the four events on day two, with three top-20 finishes, including 11th in the atlas stone run, but was brought down by a 42nd-place finish in the 700-pound frame carry.

“The frame carry really screwed me,” Gallmann said. “If I had gotten a top 15 in that, I probably would have been top 15 overall.”

Gallmann said he picked up the 700-pound frame “easy” but carried it only 9 feet before losing his grip.

“I will definitely be focusing on my grip strength,” Gallmann s

aid. “My grip isn’t the greatest.”

He had also planned to set a record in his best event, the clean and press, saying before the competition that he was “a shoe-in to win.”

But in the competition, Gallmann “gassed out” after his fifth repetition, something that’s never happened, he said.

He has gotten up as much as 370 pounds in the clean and press, something he said fewer than 100 people in the world have done, that he’s aware of.

Joe Stanton, a weightlifting teammate of Gallman’s, said that although Gallmann needs work on some of his other events, his pressing will take him far.

“Zach’s pressing is through the roof,” said Stanton, 30. “He’s a world-class presser.”

Gallmann might have been hindered by a torn right pectoral and strained bicep, he said.

But Gallmann said, “You’re never 100 percent when you train,” so he won’t make any excuses.

Stanton compares the pain and satisfaction of strongman training to a situation many experience in their love life.

“It’s like one of those old girlfriends you keep going back to,” Stanton said. “You love it, and you hate it, but you keep going back to her.”

Although pushing through pain is glorified in strongman competitions, Gallmann’s father, Matthew Gallmann, sometimes worries that the intensity of training is too much for Zach’s body.

“I’m really proud of him that he’s pursuing it, but he’s pushing the envelope,” said Matthew, 50. “I just hope he doesn’t hurt himself. I don’t want him to have pain later in life.”

Despite Zach Gallmann’s weight — more than 300 pounds — one thing Matthew doesn’t worry about is his son’s diet, acknowledging that he is “very conscious of his nutrition.”

Still, Gallmann’s weight has fluctuated far more than the average person in the last decade. As a senior at West Milford High School in New Jersey, he weighed 200 pounds. When he was in the U.S. Army as a sergeant, he weighed about 230 pounds, with little body fat. He was up to 280 pounds from 2006 to 2008, then dropped to 250 pounds, then was more than 315 pounds last summer, and now sits right at 300, Gallmann said.

“Once I decide that strongman has taken its toll on me, I plan to drop back down to about 220 pounds, solid,” Gallmann said.

Three years ago, before he was involved in the sport, Gallmann found Team Brothers of Stone and Steel (B.O.S.S.) founder Rick Freitag’s name on a strongman website and sent him an e-mail.

“He told me to come over and try it out,” Gallmann said. “I instantly fell in love with it.”

Strongman training is a competitive sport where athletes lift, as Gallmann puts it, “heavy steel objects or heavy stone objects,” in a variety of ways. Hoisting boulders onto platforms, flipping giant tires, and dead-lifting cars are just a few strongman events.

Though Gallmann has been lifting since junior high, he might have never discovered strongman if not for his time in the military.

In 2001, he joined the Army at 17.

“It’s something I always wanted to do. My grandfather was in the military,” Gallmann said. “I actually approached a recruiter, not the other way around.”

He was in boot camp when the World Trade Center was struck by terrorists on Sept. 11, 2001. After joining in a time of peace, he was thrust into the war on terror and deployed to Iraq.

Gallmann served as a medic in the Army’s 82nd Airborne Division from 2001 to 2005, as well as a year in the National Guard. He was stationed in Ramadi, Iraq, from 2003 to 2004, running missions throughout the country.

In his stint, he came across about 23 Improvised Explosive Devices, or IEDs, but said it didn’t phase him.

“You don’t think about how much danger you’re in. I used to sit outside the base and smoke cigarettes, just listening to mortars,” he said. “I’d be like, ‘Oh that one was close.'”

One day, the danger felt more real when a car bomb blew up on his base, killing a soldier.

“We had to pick up his body parts,” Gallmann said. “But it’s just a part of the job.”

While in Iraq, he said he “was the most intense about lifting weights” in his unit and used it to cope with the anxiety of constant mortar fire.

After returning to the U.S., a sergeant in Gallmann’s regiment organized a strongman-like competition, which got him interested in the sport.

But there is more to Gallmann than lifting 300-pound atlas stones, the mohawk he sports or the tattoos that cover his body.

Gallmann has written for training websites, such as TMuscle.com, Gorilla Pit Gym and Big Dogs United. Coming from a family of musicians, he has been a musician for 14 years and can play guitar, bass and “a little” piano.

He listens to all kinds of music, from hip-hop to bluegrass, and
lists DMX and Eminem as his favorite artists to listen to while training.

He is working toward a history degree and hopes to become a teacher if a career as a strongman doesn’t work out. But he doesn’t let the daunting career of a strongman get him down.

“It’s really hard,” he said. “But that’s pretty much what I’m focusing on, so I have to produce results.”

He hopes to help his sport get a bigger presence and to put himself on the map.

“I want to make myself known to the world,” he said. “I’ve just got to take little steps, put myself out there as much as possible.”

Although he had hoped for a top-15 finish at nationals, he now knows what he must do to chase his dream.

“I plan on doing a bunch of higher level contests where I still can have a chance to win my pro card,” Gallmann said. “Now that I’ve seen what I’m up against out here at nationals, my intensity level is just going to increase tenfold. It’s always about going out of your comfort zone and adapting to the situation.”

Stanton said Gallmann “has the potential to get into Arnold” but said he has “got a year before he’ll win at nationals” because of the “many aspects of the sport you have to master.”

Gallmann said if he wants to make it happen, he will.

“A lot of people think opportunities in life are just going to come to them,” he said. “You just have to put yourself out there and take the reins.”

Or in this case, the bar.

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