WARWICK, Pa. (WHTM) – Connor Gilbertson from Warwick High School placed fourth in the novice division of the Pennsylvania Strongman competition.
“This is something I don’t want to do just for fun; I want to take it to the top,” Gilbertson said.
Gilbertson chose to compete in the novice division because he wanted tougher competition to challenge himself. The 11th grader technically should have been in the teen division, which includes 13-19 year olds, but Gilbertson and his coach chose to move him up a division. Because of this, Gilbertson was the youngest competitor in the novice division.
“My coach and I, Lauren, chose to increase the weights [and] go up to novice where there’s more competition for me, which will just open up a whole larger gain for myself,” Gilbertson said. Getting that competition and that drive; something to really push myself towards.”
This was the first sanctioned Strongman competition Gilbertson has ever competed in. Gilbertson did two events last year, but they were for charity and not sanctioned. At those events he placed first, but he was the only one his age competing and therefore had no competition.
Those competitions helped prepare him for his first sanctioned event, but he wasn’t proud of the outcomes of them because he didn’t feel he actually got to prove himself. Placing in the top five of the PA Strongman event made him proud.
“I really had to prove myself and really make a name for myself at this competition,” Gilbertson said.
Gilbertson has been training and competing for two years. He started with powerlifting and then switched to strongman a year ago.
Gilbertson’s interest in weightlifting was piqued when he saw videos of people powerlifting online. Afterwards, he began training and eventually competed in some local competitions, including one at the McMillan Training Center in Lancaster where he met the owners, Rick and Lauren McMillan.
They became his coaches and are the ones that introduced him to strongman. He has been hooked ever since.
“I’ve always been larger,” Gilbertson said. “I’m 6’5”, 300 pounds at 16 and that’s [the] 99th percentile. I use that size to my advantage.”
Gilbertson tried other traditional sports, but none of them clicked for him the way weightlifting has.
“I’m not aggressive,” Gilbertson said. “I tried football, it didn’t work. So, this is the way for me that I found that I release the emotions or whatever you want to call it. But that’s where I found my little niche.”
Now Gilbertson spends four to five days a week doing what he loves – training for weightlifting. Gilbertson is in the gym for three to three and a half hours each session.
“There’s blood, sweat and tears,” Gilbertson said. “There’s no way to go around it. You’ve got to push your body to limits that your body shouldn’t be pushed to reach [the] almost superhuman strength that you see on the TV.”
Gilbertson has gained invaluable assets from his dedication to the sport which makes the tough times worth it. Gilbertson says the connections he has made with others is part of the reason he loves it.
“You’ll never find a bond like you do in this sport,” Gilbertson said. “I’m beating someone and they’re still cheering me on at the same time. That just really sticks with me.”
Weightlifting has also improved Gilbertson’s belief in himself.
“[I gained] confidence in myself and my ability to show myself and show others that I belong,” Gilbertson said. “Especially in the higher class, that I’m 16 and I’m keeping up with the people that are 10 years older than me.”
Gilbertson will be competing in his next event, the PA Dutch Strong, in March. If he places in the top three at the event, he will be eligible to compete for America’s Strongest Teen 2024 in California, which is his goal.