As I lifted up the last – and heaviest (160kg) – stone onto its podium, I quickly shot a look over at my competitor and saw he hadn’t finished yet.
That’s when I realised I had won the World’s Strongest Man (WSM) competition in 2021, which immediately felt surreal. Overcome with emotion, I dropped to the ground and then felt my brother, Luke, hugging me.
I’d done it, and I was so proud of myself – especially because I know how much this representation of an autistic person would’ve meant to me growing up in the small Scottish town of Invergordon.
I was diagnosed with autism at just five years old.
My younger years were tough. I didn’t really enjoy school and I even had a teacher tell me I would never amount to anything, which knocked my confidence massively.
I’ve always been into sports though. Football was my passion and I played with the local team. Then, in my teens, I got into training at the gym because of Luke.
Even though he’s 10 years older than me, we’ve always been incredibly close. I was 16 when he was crowned Scotland’s Strongest Man, which was the inspiration for me to give weight training a go.
Going down to the gym with him that first day was definitely the best decision I have ever made because I truly feel like the gym saved my life. Training gave me something to focus on and there was this whole community of people who supported me.
I took to it really quickly and within the first year, I was taking part in competitions across Scotland – even winning the first one I entered – Highlands Strongest Man at the age of 18.
Around the same time, I met my partner Sinead at a music festival and we eventually got married in 2015 at the age of 21. She’s one of my biggest supporters – and even helps me cook all the food I have to eat everyday to sustain my weight and energy.
Before a competition, I eat about 10,000 calories per day, typically 10 eggs and porridge or toast for breakfast, a protein shake and some fruit as a mid-morning snack, then 350g meat, potato and veg for lunch.
Pre-training, I’ll have a burger and chips (cheat meal), then I’ll have 350g meat, potato and veg again for dinner, then a protein shake and some fruit after that.
Within a couple of years of training, I was consistently on the podium of Scotland’s Strongest Man, finishing second to my brother three years in a row.
My biggest year was in 2017, when I came second in the UK’s Strongest Man Competition behind reigning Europe’s Strongest Man, Laurence Shahlaei and I placed well in Britain’s Strongest Man.
I then got my first invitation to WSM – a defining moment.
After a few years of ranking high in competitions both at home and internationally, I felt confident going into 2021’s WSM in Sacramento, California. Sure enough, I won two of the first five events – from the loading race to the kettlebell toss – placing me in first ahead of four-time winner Brian Shaw going into the final event.
When I won the previously mentioned stone off – cementing my place as the winner of the competition – I felt so many different emotions. Firstly, it felt great to be the first man from Scotland to win WSM.
I was also so proud because I did it for my family – Luke, Sinead and my mum, who I had promised before she passed away from cancer that I would win it for her.
To celebrate, we had a party in California with the whole team and all other competitors. Once I had the taste of winning that year, it made me more determined to keep doing it.
Going into WSM in 2022, it was harder for sure. There was a bit more pressure on me so I knew I had put the work in to achieve what I was capable of.
I ended up winning by a bigger margin than I did the year before, which I was over the moon about.
I am going to World’s Strongest Man this year to win for a third time in a row – that’s the plan.
To prepare, I have a very strict training regime that’s built on routine. I train five days a week and always at the same time of the day. To hold yourself up against the strongest men in the world, you can never miss a day. Consistency is the key.
Training intensifies in the lead up to competitions, which typically starts 12 weeks out. We are ultra focused during this period on all aspects – training, diet and recovery.
A typical week will usually be a deadlift session on Monday, Tuesday is upper body and Wednesday is an active recovery day – so a HIIT session. Thursday is legs and Friday is Strongman day, which means specifically doing the challenges like kettlebell toss or log ladder. The latter can last four or five hours, while the other workouts are usually up to two hours.
It’s a full-time job, but I don’t usually train on weekends. On top of this, we have mobility work, physio, sports massage and cold therapy.
The key to our success has been the Stoltman Strength Centre – a state of the art facility that Luke and I opened in our hometown in 2018.
When we were first getting into the sport, there weren’t any professional strength centres in our area, so we had to become inventive in our training – finding boulders on the local beach to practise our stone lifts.
The gym started as a joint venture with a friend, and we borrowed a lot of equipment to help with our training.
Nowadays, we have one of the finest facilities of its kind in the country, which was fully designed and fitted out by our fitness partner PRIMAL – one of the top manufacturers of premium strength equipment in the world. It is because of their continued support that we have what we need to compete at the level we do.
Outside of training, I’ve shared my story on social media – including on our YouTube channel, Stoltman Brothers.
In one video, I spoke about autism being my superpower because I want autistic kids to see that they can do anything they put their minds to.
As a result, I receive so many messages every day from people all over the world telling me that they have been diagnosed with autism and that they don’t know what to do. I tell them all the same thing and that is to embrace your autism.
Once you do that, you can focus on being the best version of you. Just because you have this diagnosis, it doesn’t mean that you can’t achieve things that neurotypical people can.
I hope that other people with autism can look at me and see what I have achieved and feel inspired to push themselves to achieve great things too.
If I could give my younger self advice, I would say to have faith that if you put the work in, you will get the results – though it might not seem like it at times. Family and community are so important too.
None more so than my brother. Luke is my biggest supporter and I’m his. He’s there at every competition with me, we train, recover, eat and run a business together. I couldn’t do what I do without him.
He’ll be with me this week when I compete to retain my title. I’m just focused on lifting that World’s Strongest Man trophy again – and for many years to come.
I want to become the greatest strongman of all time.
What Tom Stoltman eats in a day
Breakfast: 10 eggs and porridge or toast
Mid-morning snack: A protein shake and fruit
Lunch: 350g of meat (the equivalent of 1.5 supermarket steaks), potato and vegetables
Pre-training meal: Burger and chips
Dinner: 350g meat, potato and vegetables
Mid-evening snack: Protein shake and fruit
For more information about PRIMAL, visit their website here.
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