DECATUR -- Kim Flesch had a choice.
Self-described as overweight and on various medications, Flesch said it was about 18 months ago that her doctor referred her to the weight loss program at the DMH Health Specifics and told her she needed to get in better shape.
Now, 109 pounds lighter than when that conversation happened, Flesch spent Saturday morning dead-lifting cars, to the cheers of family and friends.
Flesch was among the 40 people taking part in the fourth annual Specific Performance Enhancement Center’s Central Illinois Strongman Classic Competition at the Decatur Memorial Hospital CrossFit Enhance Center. Competitors from 17 to 50 tried their hand at six events, including a yoke carry, a car deadlift and moving heavy ‘Atlas stones’ on bars placed nearly above their shoulders.
Flesch laughed when her trainer first brought up the idea of competing. The idea of performing in front of people made her nervous.
But after friends who joined the gym pushed her to do it, Flesch agreed and set a single goal.
“Right now, I just want to get through the day without falling,” she said with a laugh.
Cases such as Flesch’s are some of what Saturday’s competition are meant to highlight, said Zach Roberts, an exercise specialist at the DMH Wellness Center.
“We want to show people who never thought they could do something like that they can do this at a high level with the right training and the right coaching,” Roberts said.
The field was not just newcomers: Several athletes from across the state made the trek to Decatur for a chance to qualify for the United States Strongman Nationals, taking place next year in Detroit. The top two competitors in their weight class would qualify for the event.
Among those athletes with an eye to Detroit were Kris McCauley, a Decatur native living in Springfield. He was hoping to qualify for his fourth nationals. As someone who has done strongman lifting for over six years, McCauley said events such as Saturday's are a chance to showcase what he’s worked so hard on.
“Competing is always fun; it’s a chance to show what you’ve spent time training for,” he said.
Even as the more professional of the strongmen try to one-up each other's scores or beat their maximum weights, the only thing as loud as the rock music from the speakers were the encouraging cheers from their fellow athletes.
There is a special bond that forms when everyone has a common goal, and McCauley said it works not only to help one another but to push oneself to be better.
“I’ll always root for the other guy; it’s definitely one of the reasons I like strongman,” he said.
Perhaps no person was louder in their support than Jim Simnick, who drove from Naperville to watch his son, Rob, compete for a chance to go to nationals. Jim Simnick clapped and hollered as Rob son deadlifted vehicles.
“First thing I’m thinking is ‘don’t get hurt’, but otherwise I’m just excited to see Rob do his best,” Jim Simnick said.
Flesch’s parents came from Kentucky to surprise their daughter and support her at her first competition. And with the excitement of her first tournament now under her belt, Flesch said she’s already looking forward to the next one.
“I’d like to do it again, absolutely,” she said.