GOSHEN — Age is just a number. Linda Bontrager proves that.
The 58-year-old competed in the women’s division of the strongman competition at the Elkhart County 4-H Fair Saturday. The Goshen resident was holding her own against people “20 years my junior,” in her words.
“I’ve been lifting weights all my life, and I thought, ‘You only live once. Might as well try it,’” Bontrager said. “I read about it on Facebook and thought, ‘What the heck?’ I’ve never done one of these things.”
Bontrager gained an appreciation of weight lifting from her mother, Nancy.
“Something about my mother convinced me that I had to be strong, both mentally and physically. My father died when she had six young kids, and she had to be strong to raise us,” Bontrager said. “I just got that message very clear that, as a woman, you need to be strong in every category — emotionally, physically and spiritually.”
The experience of her first strongman competition was overwhelming.
“It’s fun to be able to say, ‘I did it!’ I’m pretty happy,” Bontrager said. “I’m doing this for me to say I can do it. I’ve done two body building contests, one when I was 50 and one when I was 53.
“The best part about competing in anything is what you learn about yourself. It’s not about beating other people, it’s about challenging yourself and beating yourself.”
Bontrager also loved how supportive people around her were.
“Everybody here is so positive with each other that it’s such a great experience,” Bontrager said. “All of these people are encouraging me with every event, and it’s exciting.”
The support for everyone was all around the Farmstead Barn Saturday.
Eddie Woodard, 34, mentioned the relationships with people as one of the reasons he was making his second appearance at the competition.
“I’m just here to beat my own numbers, see how good I can do on an event, cheer for other people, see them break through their boundaries and what they think can hold them back,” Woodard said. “You make a lot of bonds, you meet people you’d normally never, ever meet, and you run into them at multiple competitions.”
Woodard stood out from most competitors, mostly because he was wearing a kilt. Woodard has been competing in Scottish Heavy Athletics and Highland Games, two types of competition where throwing heavy objects is involved. While wearing a kilt usually isn’t the best for working out, the now-Goshen resident still performed well wearing one.
“If I was a better strongman competitor, then (wearing a kilt) would (affect me). But, at my level, its fine. I’m really advertising Highland Games and seeing who wants to come try it,” Woodard said.
Another person who stuck out with their wardrobe was Eric Brookins. Along with his big red beard, Brookins was wearing a shirt with the phrase “Training to fight the mountain” on it.
“The Mountain” was a popular character on the show Game of Thrones. The actor who played the role, Hafþór Júlíus Björnsson, is a professional strongman that’s listed at 6-9 and 441 pounds. Needless to say, Brookins has a lot more training to do to catch up to Björnsson.
“He is pretty strong; I have a way to go,” Brookins admitted.
Brookins, like Woodard and Bontrager, love the community feel the strongman competition has every year.
“The sportsmanship out here — we’re all helping each other, we all cheer each other on — it’s almost never ‘I hope the other guy doesn’t get it.’ We’re like pseudo mad if someone beats us,” Brookins said. “It’s not a bodybuilding contest where a judge likes this more than that.”
Austin Hough can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 574-533-2151, ext. 325. Follow Austin on Twitter @AustinHoughTGN
STRONGMAN COMPETITION RESULTS
1st - Courtney Grove
2nd - Joy Bontrager
3rd - Alicia Verstraete
1st - Jill Colpitts
2nd - Mindi Fisher
3rd - Risa Marks
1st - Riley Zipfel
2nd - Cam Kitson
3rd - Connor Kitson
1st - Curtis Bontrager
2nd - Richard Street
3rd - Colton Hurst
1st - Derek Traversa
2nd - Neri Juarez
3rd - Andrew Garcia