ST. PAUL - Born and raised in the Lakeland, Colten Sloan remembers how a natural ability to be physically strong would often come in handy when working on the farm.
He recalls a specific moment when he was about 10 years old and a few teenage kids had been hired to help pick rocks. After two of the older boys struggled to lift a rock, Sloan's uncle called him over to load the stone into a vehicle. And he did.
He laughs as he tells the story, but Sloan's most recent accomplishments are much more impressive than humorous. On Oct. 16 and 17, Sloan made the trip to Fort McMurray to take part in the amateur national strongman competition.
After completing the five events - and even winning one of the events somewhat unexpectedly - Sloan walked away as the first Indigenous man in Canada to earn his pro card in the sport, and second place at the national event.
At 6ft 3in and weighing over 300 lbs, Sloan competes in the men's open weight class, which is for anyone over 231 lbs.
How it started
When Sloan started training for strongman events three years ago, he admits he was in a tough place.
"It's very cliché, people say it all the time, but the sport of strongman... quite literally saved my life."
Sloan says he was battled mental health issues, such as depression and anxiety, and two months before his first competition, he attempted to take his life.
"It was just getting worse and worse." But then, he found a community - one that loves him for who he is.
But, that's just one layer of motivation.
Sloan's wife Ashley pushed him toward strongman and even competed herself. But, life had other plans and Ashley would be diagnosed with cancer after competing in just two shows.
"Seeing her go through that, seeing her fight literally every day just to be here, makes training easy. It makes it not so hard. I just lift weights for fun, where my wife, she's literally fighting for her life."
For Sloan, watching his wife and others battle cancer is what he defines as true strength.
The third piece of motivation for Sloan is a piece that's being highlighted right now - being Indigenous.
"I am from Treaty 6 Territory, Whitefish Lake Band #128 is my band. As far as I know, this whole year in Canada, I believe I was the only male Indigenous competitor." As far as Sloan knows, he is also the first Indigenous person in Canada to get his pro status card.
"We face barriers, and we face these battles that we've dealt with our whole lives, and we just walk away," but after watching his wife fight for her life, Sloan said there was no way he was walking away from the challenge.
Now, he hopes more Indigenous people will get involved in the sport. He doesn't want it to be a big deal when an Indigenous person succeeds at a high level in the sport, but rather something that is normal.
"I really want to show people that we can do it. We are strong."
He's also working on being a positive example for his young sons, who already tell him they are going to be bigger, taller and stronger than their dad one day.
After such as strong performance at the national amateur event, Sloan received countless messages.
"Never in my life did I think I would make a change. I just worked hard."
And now, he's hoping he can make more changes in other people's live.
Training and events
When it comes to training, Sloan says he will try to up the ante, even though he's not sure if that's possible. "I don't think anybody could out work me."
Sloan's favourite event to do is the yoke, which involves an apparatus with a cross member and legs.
"You basically put the weight on your back and you run whatever distance it is... that's my favourite event and my best event," says Sloan.
Training out of Optimal Wellness now, Sloan says the St. Paul-based gym has been very supportive of his goals. Owner Luke Blackburn lets Sloan bring his own equipment into the gym, but also purchased thinner weights so Sloan could lift heavier.
"The support is unreal," says Sloan.
And while putting the time in at the gym is clearly important to keep competing at a high level, Sloan also has to stay strict in the kitchen.
He has a coach who helps keep him on track, and leading up to competitions, Sloan has to eat 7,000 calories a day, which includes 400 grams of protein per day.
"That's literally pounds of meat a day," he says, with a laugh. And while some people may think it's an easy task, those 7,000 calories aren't made up of ice cream and cheeseburgers, but instead "it's very clean healthy food."
Sloan has now received an invitation to compete at the Arnold Amateur Classic, which is one of the events founded by celebrity Arnold Schwarzenegger. The show will take place some time in the spring of 2022 in the United States. But, since he's received his pro card, he can only compete once as an amateur.
"My honest goal, because there are a lot of strong people out there... I definitely want to crack the top 10."
The competition is an international event that attracts athletes from across the world.
As for other shows, there are some pro strongman shows in Western Canada, and Sloan says he wouldn't complain about travelling down East to compete.
When asked what he would tell others who are interested in getting into the sport, he has some pretty simple advice: "Jump right in."
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