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When fans think of the Arnold Sports Festival, there are a few things that come to mind. Of course, there is the man himself, Arnold Schwarzenegger. Then there’s the Arnold Classic and the Arnold Strongman Classic, which are considered by many to be the top two competitions of the weekend in Columbus, OH, and the Expo, which many fans from around the world attend every year that it happens.
One competition that hasn’t received the attention it deserves is the World’s Strongest Firefighter competition. In recognition of the bravery and commitment these civil servants have, Schwarzenegger hosts this competition with hopes of increasing awareness of what they do and offering them an opportunity to achieve glory on one of the fitness industry’s grandest stages. The seven-time Mr. Olympia is as much a fan of this contest as he is any of the numerous events that are held every year.
“I love giving them our stage and our spotlight to show the Arnold Sports Festival fans how unbelievably strong these firefighters are,” Schwarzenegger said.
The original competition featured six firefighters, but it has grown immensely since then. “Arnold always wanted to bring strength sports back to Muscle Beach,” explains Noah Justin, a contest organizer. “Now we’re in Columbus, we had triple the competitors, and we had more countries represented this time than we’ve ever had before, and the goal is to make this thing grow every year.”
The 2022 contest was held on Sunday, March 6 in the Greater Columbus Convention Center, and it featured 16 firefighters from many places around the world. The competition was streamed in its entirety on Schwarzenegger’s Facebook page. All of these competitors trained, ate, and did their best to prepare for this contest while working their careers and passion of civil service in their communities.
One contestant, Cathal McNally, felt that this competition was so important that it required traveling from Dublin, Ireland just to be a part of this event.
“I’m very proud of being a firefighter (as all firefighters are) and just last year took up the sport of strongman,” McNally shared. “When I saw the advertisement for World’s Strongest Firefighter, I knew it was a once of a lifetime opportunity to represent my Fire Brigade and my country on an international stage.”
The stage and audience provided extra motivation and incentive to compete as well. McNally placed 9th overall, but being in front of the crowd and knowing some special people back home was very meaningful to the firefighter.
“The other competitions I’ve done so far have been in a gym or in a car park. This was on the main stage at the Arnold Expo and was in front of a few thousand people. My entire extended family were able to have a party back home and watch me compete online.”
The competitors had to compete in four events – the Log Press for Reps, Sandbag Carry for Distance, the Deadlift for Reps, and the Sled Drag. The variety of events served as a blend for both the sport of strongman and the real duties that firefighters may have to perform in extreme situations. The 2022 champion was Daniel Camacho of the Phoenix, Arizona Fire Department. Camacho placed third in the Log Press, lifting the 250-pound log overhead for six reps. He then took second in the Sandbag Carry, hauling the 220-pound bag for 10 laps around the course.
Camacho then pulled 525 pounds for 11 reps on the Deadlift event, which was the second most in the field. Two men tied with 12 reps. Last but not least, he placed second in the sled drag. While he didn’t win an individual event, the consistency of placing well in all four events was what gave him the overall victory.
When asked about the decision to compete, Camacho revealed that he was about to end his 11-year strongman career when he made the decision to apply.
“I had actually seen the first one in 2019 when they had it in Santa Monica,” Camacho explained. “From then on, I knew I wanted that title for myself.”
He applied in 2020 but wasn’t accepted. He obviously did get the call to compete this year and got accepted with two weeks to go before the competition. Camacho explained that the circumstances he and the other competitors faced are quite different than those that compete in strongman full-time for a living.
“We have calls to answer and long shifts. In a given day here in Phoenix, we may have 10-15 calls per shift,” Camacho said. “We may miss a meal, have to skip a workout, or not get sleep before training, which is of course very important for recovery and essential health.”
However, it was worth it in the end. Camacho went from almost retiring to winning the entire contest on the Arnold stage in front of a packed house. He had received numerous messages and positive comments from his fellow firefighters, supporters, and is receiving media requests for interviews. Clearly, retirement is the furthest thing from his mind, and he’s already said he will be back to defend his title in 2023.
“The way they treated us there was like no other contest I had been at. We saw Arnold multiple times, his security and team took great care of us, and that was the best stage I had ever been on. I’m definitely going back to defend my title next year.”
The World’s Strongest Firefighter contest may have just started in the last few years, but if the 2022 contest was any indication, it will definitely be back for several years to come. Schwarzenegger said it best when asked why it was so important to have this as a part of his festival every year.
“I play an action hero in the movies, but our firefighters and first responders are real action heroes,” he says.