If Linganore High School picked a “Most Likely To Be In A Strongest Man Competition,” it’s doubtful Michael Colella would’ve been a strong candidate.
He wasn’t like those hulking guys who suit up for the school’s successful football team each year, although he did squeeze in some weightlifting before graduating from Linganore in 2012.
“I started my senior year,” Colella said. “I was thin as a rail, but I lifted just for the purpose of getting better at track.”
That would change. While at Salisbury University, Colella realized he liked lifting weights more than running. And as he packed on muscle, he started entering Strongest Man competitions.
Colella had found his niche. On Nov. 18, the 23-year-old New Market resident won the lightweight men’s 231-pound weight class title at the Maryland Strongest Man/Woman competition at the Colosseum Strongman Gym in Columbia. The lifting competition is a Strongman Corporation Level II event.
It was Colella’s first victory, although he had reached the podium in previous competitions, and he beat out past winners.
“They’re still people that I look up to, and I don’t consider myself to be at their level at this point,” Colella said. “But it’s something that indicates that I’m on the right track.”
Colella is a coach at Central Maryland Gold Weightlifting Club in Frederick and manages public swimming pools for Montgomery County Parks and Recreation. And living in the same general area where he grew up — he’s from Mount Airy — he still runs into his high school classmates.
He said many of them ask: “How the heck do you get into this sort of thing?”
His interest in track played a prominent role. Colella hoped to participate in that sport at Salisbury University, just as he had done his final two years at Linganore full time (he played lacrosse his first two years of high school).
Unfortunately, he signed up too late to compete his freshman year. Rather than slack off, Colella trained hard to ensure he’d be ready to resume the sport in the future.
“And during the training,” he said. “I realized that I like lifting weights more than I liked running.”
Eventually, he befriended a couple people at Salisbury, Greg Innocencio and Andy Deck, who were lightweight strong man competitors.
“Those people kind of brought me into the sport,” Colella said.
Colella was accustomed to lifting weights daily, but he’d have to adjust that regimen as he delved deeper into Strongest Man competition.
“The weights that I was trying to do in competition started getting heavier, it became harder to recover,” he said. “So now I do three or four days a week.”
His training paid off at this year’s Maryland Strongest Man/Woman competition, where athletes compiled points in six events.
Three of them — yoke, Conan’s wheel and farmers — were events that had competitors move from one point to another while carrying heavy objects.
For instance, he had to carry weight on his back in yokes and lugged a giant dumbbell in each hand during the farmers competition.
“It was as far as you could go holding it, and it’s just until you drop it, so very taxing on the grip,” he said of the farmers event. “And just walking with a heavy weight can definitely slow you down.”
He was fast enough, though.
“Those are the events I really tried to make up points in, so I got first place in two of those events [yoke, where he had to carry weight on his back, and conans], fourth place in the other [farmers],” he said. “So the consistency across the board, I guess, won me the day.”
That consistency helped compensate for his performance in deadlift. As impressive as the 495 pounds he lifted sounds, it was second-to-last, and two of his competitors lifted 655 pounds.
Colella also placed first in stones and second in the press, finishing with 49 points to beat out second-place William Barnett, who had 44.5 points.
The win earned Colella an invitation to the nationals, which is usually held on the West Coast in October. In the meantime, he’s training for a competition in Baltimore in July, and a win there gives him an invitation to the world competition in Ohio.