By Air Force Senior Airman Curtis BeachMarch 12, 2018
JOINT BASE ELMENDORF-RICHARDSON, Alaska -- All or nothing. There is a constant little bird in the back of every competitor's mind, chirping away that he might not make it. If he doesn't make it, he just spent months of training and a bunch of money to watch his dream pass him by.
Army 1st Lt. Max Pippa's mind was racing just like this as he pushed his body to its limits during the final stages of preparation in an arduous journey for greatness.
HEAVYWEIGHT STRONGMAN COMPETITION
Pippa, an infantry officer with the Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 1st Battalion (Airborne), 501st Infantry Regiment, 4th Infantry Brigade Combat Team, 25th Infantry Division, U.S. Army Alaska, battled against 29 of the toughest warriors from around the globe in the 90-kilogram weight class (198.4 pounds) at the 2017 World's Strongest Man competition in Raleigh, North Carolina, Dec. 16-17.
The competition's first day of events included a log clean and press, an 800-pound yoke carry for 50 feet, a deadlift of a Jeep Wrangler, and a timed-carrying medley. The medley consisted of carrying a 650-pound metal frame, a 325-pound metal tombstone and a 265-pound sand bag carry, each for 50 feet.
"This was the event that tests endurance and speed," said Pippa, who hails from St. Louis, Missouri. "My forte is conditioning-based events, so I knew I could make a push in the standings in that one. It's pretty high up on my list."
One of the keys to success in this style of competition is recovery and knowing how to manage energy and adrenaline between events, he said.
"It's a long day of getting yourself amped up, then coming back down, and then repeating that cycle," Pippa said. "Most people don't work out that way -- they warm up, exercise for a couple hours and then cool down. Knowing how to 'redline' repeatedly throughout the day and recover effectively is everything."
Between events Pippa would sit down and eat a cup of white rice, a few ounces of beef jerky and drink some rehydration solution. Then, he would listen to non-aggressive music to relax and conserve energy.
"As soon as an event's over, bring yourself down and get right back into rest and relax mode," Pippa said. "That's what I did for each event I competed in, and after each event I would get better."
After nearly eight hours of rigorous competition, the bottom 20 athletes in the standings were eliminated, while Pippa, currently in third, and the other top 10 advanced to the second day to determine the champ.
"That night was nothing but restless sleep," he said. "At 3 a.m., I decided to just stay awake and focus on getting in the right mindset for the coming events."
The last day of competition included two events. The first was a timed pulling of a Ford F-350 truck with an attached trailer holding four more vehicles across a 50-foot course.
Secondly, competitors would race to lift a series of six concrete stones, increasing in weight from 250 to 375 pounds, onto successive platforms.
"Day 2 was my jam," said the infantry officer. "I had been awake for most the night, visualizing those two events and watching silent videos of past competitions. I was mentally focused."
To help him stay focused, he thought about his 10-month-old son, Cassius, and his wife, Corinna, and all their support throughout his preparation for the competition, which often included three to five hours of training three days per week.
Often training at JBER's fitness centers, Pippa said he owes much of his success to John Limon, Buckner Physical Fitness Center director, who supports JBER's many athletes by procuring necessary training equipment, such as concrete stones, not often found at typical gyms.
"People like Pippa get me excited. He's set a heck of an example around here," Limon said. "Lots of military guys and gals come to the fitness center with aspirations to achieve great things within their military lives and outside the gates. Pippa shows people around here what's possible when you're disciplined and dedicate yourself to achieving your goals."
Pippa has a bachelor's degree in exercise physiology, so fitness, diet and health have always been a passion for him. He developed an interest in Strongman in 2006 with some friends in St. Louis.
"I feel fortunate and blessed to have been able to perform well in something I'm passionate about," Pippa said. "To know what makes me happy, gets my blood pumping and to be lucky enough to be recognized as one of the top in the world is super humbling."
Competing with purpose, Pippa won both of the second day's events. Combined with the points he had accumulated the first day, the 27-year-old fitness enthusiast brought home a second-place overall finish in the prolific competition.
At the end of the contest, Pippa found himself standing on the podium with a silver trophy in one hand and baby Cassius in the other.
"I'm a pretty lucky guy," he said. "I just feel blessed that all the variables lined up the way they did, especially my wife who has been extremely supportive, taking on a lot to enable me to pursue this."
Now Pippa plans to spend time with his family, pursue a career as a firefighter and continue to compete and to inspire others to pursue their passions.
"Regardless of what it is that drives you, I hope other people find what they're ambitious about. Find something that fires you up and pursue it, and see where it goes," he said. "I feel so happy, humbled and grateful for this experience, and I hope other people can enjoy this same feeling."