Naturally, the Gorilla Bench training facility in Clearwater is a sweaty place, filled with heavy grunts and heavier weights. Anthony Fuhrman, an active duty Army soldier, hoists over 500 pounds on his forearms and parades it around the gym in a circle while others watch in amazement.
“Nice,” says Donnie Kiernan with a smile.
Fuhrman and Kiernan, along with dozens of other athletes from around the nation, will compete in similar competitions this weekend at the Tampa Bay Strongman competition at Quaker Steak and Lube in Clearwater. It’s the fifth year of the event that Kiernan dreamed up.
This year, the well-known competition is on a mission.
“It’s all about the kids,” says 6-foot-3 weightlifter Shanna Thompson.
The event will highlight feats of strength through exercises like keg throws, dead lifts and overhead raises all with little children in mind. The goal of the event is to raise supplies for the Tampa Bay-based Eckerd Raising Hope, which cares for over 6,600 foster care children in Pasco, Hillsborough and Pinellas counties.
“The majority of those children will wake up in homes other than their own tomorrow,” says director Kelly Rossi. “This raises us much-needed donations. There is an average of three to four kids removed every day in our area.”
Kiernan got the idea to raise supplies and funds after touring the Eckerd facility in July. While he was there a 3-year-old girl was admitted to the foster program with what he called “a 1,000-yard stare”. He could tell she’d been through tough times.
That moment, he knew his event had found a purpose.
“It took everything I had to keep myself together. I’m a 320-pound strongman, veteran man with a big beard,” he says. “It was so emotional to see these kids who had just come into the foster program that barely had a shirt on their back and then to see the joy on their face when they were getting new clothes, new shoes, socks, a backpack to go to school in.
"it was amazing.”
Over 70 athletes have pledged to complete. Past renditions have been a major success. This year’s is free and organizers are asking people who come out to watch bring new socks, underwear or shoes to donate to the foster care children, from infants to teenagers. Gently-used clothing will be accepted as well.
“Our goal is to make sure that every child that enters foster care in Hillsborough, Pinellas or Pasco county has the emergency supplies they need,” says Rossi.