Between a Rock and a Strongman

Eric Dawson ’99 has always been fascinated with feats of strength. Growing up working at his family’s limestone quarry business, Lannon Stone Products in Sussex, WI, he would lift heavy boulders for fun. He spent summers mining decorative field stone—a physically demanding job involving pulling rocks out of the earth with sledgehammers and crow bars. By the time he enrolled at USM for his freshman year of high school, his strength and large stature made him a valuable asset on the varsity football team.

In the Husafell stone-carrying event, the trick is to walk quickly—but not too quickly. “If you go too fast you run the risk of tripping, but you obviously don’t want to go too slot,” said Dawson. “So you have to flirt with that line and move fast but be in control.”

Dawson thrived on the football field under then-head coach Don Forti, whom Dawson credits with instilling a love of physical fitness. “Coach Forti gave me a passion for strength training and physical fitness that’s led me down my whole career path,” said Dawson. “Outisde of my dad and my grandfathers, he’s the man who’s had the biggest influence on me—still to this day.”

After graduating from North Dakota State University in 2003, where he also played football, Dawson applied his passion to various careers including teaching and personal training. While working as a personal trainer in Boston, he was introduced to Strongman events during a visit to a specialty gym. “I walked in, fell in love with the place, and hired a coach the same day,” he said.

Dawson held these two, full-sized pick-up trucks with a combined weight of 10,000 pound for 38 seconds.

Strongman events are international strength competitions in which contestants pick up, push, pull, or carry heavy objects. They are scored on time, reps, or maximum weight lifted. The objects can be anything from 1,000-pound tractor tires and giant rocks to kegs, cars, and even refrigerators. The heavier and more awkward the objects are to lift, the better. “It requires a lot more skill than you would think,” said Dawson. “You have to manipulate your body around the implement to lift it overhead, know how to grip the object, etc. There are plenty of guys who are stronger than me, but I’ve been able to win by analyzing my lift and maximizing myself.”

Dawson opened his own gym, called Titan Barbell, in Stoneham, Massachusetts, more than five years ago. The gym is outfitted with a plethora of Strongman-specific equipment, but he trains individuals of all athletic abilities. “Outside of top-notch coaching and equipment, my biggest goal is to have an environment where people feel comfortable training, pushing each other, and having a good sense of community.”

But does his gym have any heavy rocks? “Oh yeah,” he said with a laugh. “We’ve got a lot of them.”

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