Tom Stoltman used autism and household to change into the strongest man alive

Scot Tom Stoltman repeated last year's success to be crowned the World's Strongest Man for the second year running, but while this behemoth certainly has the world at his feet, many will be surprised to learn that the 6ft 8in, 385-pound warrior has faced mental challenges alongside the obvious physical ones. In an exclusive interview with M&F, Stoltman boldly shares his origins in the sport, family ties, his experiences with autism, coping strategies and offers valuable advice for all who need to hear.

For Tom Stoltman, a passionate soccer player and avid Rangers FC fan, the journey to becoming a strongman was a path first paved by his big brother. "My first strongman memories were of Luke and becoming Scotland's Strongest Man," Stoltman recalls. "When I saw him win it was like 'Wow my brother is Scotland's strongest man' so it's pretty cool to have a strong brother you know?" When Tom started dreaming about taking the sport for himself recording, Luke made time for his little brother. "Back then when I was 17 he was 27 so he was new to the sport but I think taking me under his wing and helping me progress as much as I did also really helped him because it pushed me and it pushed him. I almost caught up with him in the first year or two in the gym, and I think that made him hungrier as well. But it was good to bite his knuckles early on, you know?”

Family is everything to Tom, and so his competitive rivalry with Luke is a friendly one that brings out the best in the siblings, who are often dubbed "the strongest brothers in the world."

Joe Martinez

The Stoltmans give each other strength

"We're competitive, but we want to do well against each other," shares Stoltman. "I think everyone can see that we're always together and cheering for each other when we're at World's Strongest Man on TV, Giants Live or any other competition. As long as me or Luke win the contest, we don't care which one it is. We travel the world together and not many brothers have experienced what we have experienced in the past 10 years.”

Stoltman's rise to becoming the world's strongest man was nothing short of epic. After qualifying for the first time in 2017, he placed fifth in 2019. By 2020, Stoltman was second, and if it weren't for a low-scoring round on the Hercules Hold, he could have claimed first place. "In retrospect [2020] When I took second place, walking away from that competition, I said to myself in my head that I'm the strongest man in the world," he says. “I only lost because of a mistake of my own, so the journey sort of started. I went back to my trainer and I [hired] a nutritionist.”

Tom Stoltman channels autism as his superpower

Stoltman also works on the mental side of the competition with the appointment of a clinical psychologist. "Because that was my weakness," says Stoltman. "Having the psychologist feels like cheating to me, you know? I think my mindset is the most unbreakable. body can break it.” It's a mindset Stoltman developed through understanding his childhood diagnosis of autism and figuring out how to use his inner dialogue to dominate the physical world.

When a school teacher told Stoltman that he would never achieve anything, it was a crushing blow that could have completely derailed the future champion, but thankfully there was light at the end of the tunnel. Years later and far removed from a former teacher's opinions; Stoltman says he knew he was going to be World's Strongest Man of 2021 before he even took the stage. The Man Mountain has learned that autism has its great challenges, but it also lends itself to many of its achievements in terms of training and goal-smashing.

2022 World's Strongest Man Champion Tom Stoltman leans his head against a wallJoe Martinez

Every night before WSM 2022, Tom Stoltman wrote “World's Strongest Man” on a whiteboard ten times. "To win the World's Strongest Man title, you have to be consistent," says Stoltman. "You have to continue to the end and not give up because World's Strongest Man is such a brutal event that one mistake can change the whole course of events." The tall Scotsman likes to follow set routines and it causes him great emotional distress, when plans are broken or schedules changed, but autism also helps with his drive and focus when it comes to being present at every workout. "For me, I like staying in a routine 365 days a year," shares Stoltman. "For me with autism, routine is the most important thing and not having a routine is really, really hard." After winning WSM 2022, Stoltman says he's more stressed than he was during the competition because he's been in the media spotlight like never before previously and is also on the road for public appearances. "The benefit to myself is that I have OCD with routine, so a lot of strong men are going to say, 'Oh, I'm going to work out at 10 a.m. on Monday, and next Monday I'm going to work out at 12 p.m.' or they're going to miss a meal, but for me I train every day at the same time. I never miss a meal, and being a professional athlete, being the best in the world at sport [requires that].”

Tom Stoltman says a support system is essential for people with autism

Stoltman is passionate about helping others with autism understand that their potential should be determined only by themselves. “People with autism are afraid because they think their friends will laugh at them [if they come out of their comfort zone]' says Stoltman. "I used to think that way, but I got some friends I could trust and I had my family, and once I was in the right circle around me, I opened up about the issue of autism. If people have autism and are reading this, get a support system in school from a young age, trust them and open up early, then people will understand your life a little bit better. If you hide it, people will always ask you questions like, "Why are you doing this? and 'why are you doing this?', 'why are you bowing your head?' These questions, when asked, just keep going through your mind, while when they get it, they might say, "Let's help him." So autism is not something to be ashamed of, you live with it for the rest of your life, so I try to spread autism as much as possible.”

At 28, many observers believe this hero has many more strongman accolades ahead of him. "I've enjoyed it more this year and the training for it," he says. “Because I was able to get my wife involved (who couldn't see him win in 2021). Sometimes you can think about things or be a little stressed, so having Sinead there was so much easier than it was in 2021. She was my cook, my assistant, my stress reliever, everything, you know? laughs

the tall man. After 10 years of marriage to Sinead, Stoltman's top priority is now going on vacation with his wife. "I'll be in World's Strongest Man in 2023, but in between I want to relax and enjoy my life as much as possible. I'd like to do a cruise across the Mediterranean, something like that. Chill out, take your mind off the world and have a few drinks on the beach under the sun.”

World's Strongest Man 2022 premieres July 16 on CBS. You can catch full coverage of the competition throughout the summer on CBS and CBS Sports Network.

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