An Uplifting Experience

Chris Vachio didn’t compete in strongman contests until he was 38. He enjoys testing his own strength and also hosted the nation’s first-ever strongman competition for athletes with disabilities who also wanted to challenge themselves.

COLUMBUS, Ohio - If you live in the Columbus area and need someone to open a stubborn new jar of pickles, or pull your broken down car for that matter, help with your heavy lifting needs is nearby.

Chris Vachio enjoys lifting anything from cars to concrete-loaded beer kegs to 350-pound boulders. He’s even been known to carry logs, flip tires and pull tractor-trailers – and created a unique event to uplift strongmen with disabilities who never had an opportunity to compete until this year.

Vachio competes as an amateur strongman. He says the events he takes part in are lighter versions of the international strongest man competitions. An avid weightlifter in high school, Vachio suffered a shoulder injury and decided later in life to enter strongman competitions.

When Chris Vachio competes, the bragging rights are worth more than the prize money

Late Bloomer

“I became the oldest known, first-time strongman when I competed in my first contest at the age of 38,” Vachio said. “I still wanted to do pressing to keep my upper body strength up and I read that neutral grip pressing was better on the shoulders than a regular barbell.”

He describes what he does as therapeutic and says that, despite the competitive environment, the people are what makes his sport so great.

“The guys cheering for you are the ones you’re (competing) against,” he said. “Guys who are neck-and-neck with me in the standings have encouraged me to keep going. I’ve actually cost myself points in the contest where another competitor’s strap broke and I helped him out.”

Vachio, who debugs computer programs at PNC’s Whitehall, Ohio, service center, says his co-workers and friends are often shocked and amazed when they hear about his hobby. His wife, a registered nurse, trains with him and credits the workouts with helping her with the physical stamina needed for her job.

When asked why he competes, Vachio admits it’s not for the money. Winners compete for cool-looking trophies, T-shirts and, most of all, bragging rights. Cash prizes usually are enough to cover the travel to and from competitions.

One of Chris Vachio's proudest feats is hosting eight men with disabilities for a unique strongman competition in Columbus

Paying It Forward

Although Vachio competes about 9-10 times a year, he takes particular pride in an accomplishment from this April, when he organized the inaugural North America’s Strongest Disabled Man contest in his hometown at the request of a friend from Canada.

The event featured eight men from all over the world, including Vachio’s friend, who has cerebral palsy, along with two others who each lost a leg. Events included a keg toss, a shoulder press for a lift with only one hand and a truck pull (to see who could drag 10,000 lbs. the furthest in 60 seconds).

When I set out to do this, I didn’t know this was the first strongman contest ever for disabled people in the United States. I just felt that everyone should be able to experience the feeling of overcoming their own expectations of how much they accomplish, regardless of their abilities.

Chris Vachio enjoys lifting anything from cars to concrete-loaded kegs

Chris Vachio says he enjoys the camaraderie with his fellow strongman competitors

When your hobby involves lifting things that could reasonably kill you if you fail, the everyday challenges of life seem less daunting.