Tests of strength

Serious injury and personal strife can con the mind and body into a debilitating state when left untamed, and that’s why strongman competitor Eric Cedrone prefers to tame his demons at the gym.

“When I first started strongman, I got into the gym as most do--to gain a little muscle--and quickly progressed into focusing on strength and strongman,” Cedrone said. “I had some past issues with anorexia, and when I found the strongman crew, I found out that I was with like people, people who have dealt with eating disorders, drug addictions, and generally, we are all a bunch of misfits.”

And Cedrone, the owner of Iron & Stone Strength, likes it that way. When he started his grassroots fitness clothing brand in June 2017, there were no future plans to open a fitness facility. The gym owner just wanted to create a line specifically for strongman athletes because very few existed at the time.

But his line has since grown, and so has the strongman community in Western New York, which needed a homefront. Now, he trains with some of the strongest people in the world at his headquarters in Akron, N.Y., a clan of misfits he feels right at home with.

“When you get into powerlifting and the strongman community, you do find a lot of people who have battled their demons and use strength as a way to keep their demons at bay,” he said.

Cedrone has had more than one hurdle, or demon, to cross since opening his gym in November 2018. Earlier this year proved difficult, as Cedrone was struck with sepsis, pneumonia, and a muscle infection in his quad that impacted his work and gym life. Spending months convalescing after the injury, the strongman trainer leaned on his wife, Alisha, and family to keep the gym and clothing brand running.

“I’m getting most of my strength back, but I’m not there yet,” Cedrone said.

The fitness community rallied behind Cedrone as he regained lost muscle, and while every day is a hurdle to cross, he continues to use his experience as demonstration of owning pain, something strongman athletes must do.

Unlike in some sports like powerlifting and Olympic weightlifting, where technique is focused upon two or three different lift styles, the sport of strongman competition requires athletes to be well-rounded in almost everything, including endurance, speed, and strength, according to Cedrone.

Strongman athletes don’t specialize in one particular event, like car pulling, log pressing, or throwing atlas stones. They are consistently training to become experts at all, and the transparent nature of the group fitness setting on Strongman Saturdays at Iron & Stone Strength lays out all individual victories and failures on the table.

“It’s hard to have an ego in any of this when you see everybody in their highs and lows,” Cedrone explained.

At Iron & Stone, victory is just as important as defeat, because the athlete is never alone in any of it.

“We scream just as loud for someone going for a lifetime PR (personal record) as we do for someone successfully making a lift with a new implement for the first time,” said Billie Burcume, a trainer at the gym. “It doesn’t matter whether you have been doing this for six months or six years. I love seeing our new people find a home, a respite from the world, and a family in our crew.”

Cedrone’s business plan wasn’t really a plan at all; most of what he did relied on playing it by ear. As the brand expanded, he began looking for retail spaces in plazas, but with few gym members at the time, overhead looked costly.

The smarter option was to invest in mechanic shops and warehouse spaces, so that’s where the athlete directed his efforts, settling on a 1,200-square foot space that houses equipment few other gyms in the area offer at 5725 Davison Rd. Visitors are welcome to try out an iron-wrought fortress filled with 100 plus-pound kegs, 250-pound atlas stones and tires, and much more.

The difference between this early modern playground and the ones on “Game of Thrones” is that the dragons are the athletes, breathing fire fueled by their authenticity, a pillar of the strength community, according to Cedrone.

“Every time someone makes a lift that’s a new record for them, it’s awesome to see, but you also see all of the failures as well, the injuries, or someone trying to hit some new personal record and they don’t make it,” he said.

Thirty-five members deep, a steady stream of clothing requests from all over the world, and his first real paycheck to show for it, Iron & Stone Strength is self-sustaining. Cedrone is in the position to comfortably leave his daytime gig as an inground pool installer to give 100 percent to his business.

“Every day, I look forward to seeing what will happen and where (Iron & Strength) will go,” Cedrone said.

Read more articles by Jessica Brant.

Jessica Brant is a published poet, sports photojournalist and human interest writer from Buffalo, NY.
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