After graduating from Crothersville High School in 2004, Troy Burns focused on mixed martial arts and teaching hand-to-hand combat and infantry tactics in the Army.
However, during the past 15 years, one major interest never faltered for the Jackson County resident — weightlifting.
After a year of catered training, Burns has broken onto the heavy lifting scene in 2016.
Burns, 31, now is one of the strongest men in Illinois and holds a number of records in the state.
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On Sept. 24, Burns won the Illinois Strongest Man Competition in his weight class (308 pounds), taking fifth overall out of 14 total competitors.
“A year ago, I ran across a strongman competition televised on ESPN,” Burns said. “I figured, ‘Shoot, I will give it a shot.’ My (lifting) numbers had been going up over the years. I was doing 5Ks and different competitions after stopping MMA. I needed something to push me.”
The Strongest Man Competition, which lasted three hours, consisted of four events — overhead press medley, dead lift, farmer’s hold and loading medley.
“I was absolutely nervous,” Burns said. “The biggest thing is you don’t want to show up and look like a weakling.”
Lifting in the overhead medley, Burns was one of two competitors to lift a 205-pound bar; a 220-pound axle; a 245-pound, 8-inch log; and a 275-pound 12-inch log from ground to overhead in less than 60 seconds.
For the dead lift, Burns set the new state mark at 635 pounds without straps or supportive suits.
Only a weightlifting belt and calk were used.
Each athlete was given three attempts to lift a max weight. Burns’ lifts were 545, 585 and 635 pounds.
In the third event, farmer’s hold, the athlete picks up 275 pounds in each hand and holds it for time. Burns held for 15 seconds.
The final event was the loading medley, where athletes load four implements from the ground over a 48-inch bar. Implements were a 220-pound keg and 225-, 260- and 300-pound Atlas Stones.
Burns loaded the first three but was unable to manhandle the 300-pound stone.
Learning to hoist logs, axles and stones proved a learning curve for Burns, who had limited experience with the less traditional lifts.
“I was first overall after the first two events. I had everyone beat. I was at the top of the game,” Burns said. “Then came the farmer’s hold. I had never done it before and wasn’t prepared, and I came in next to last. The guys were close to me and did much better, so it was impossible to win the entire competition.”
Burns also holds the Illinois records for overhead press (305 pounds) and 18-inch dead lift (800).
He admitted that during competitions, he doesn’t know if records are being broken. The organizers have told him days later that he set new marks.
Burns spends most of his time lifting at home and at Matside Sports in Seymour.
The workouts take place during the day five days a week.
He is a family man whose support system starts at home with his kids and wife, Trisha.
“I lift with my kids,” Burns said. “I have a 5-year-old and a 2-year-old. They will go out to the weight room or play in the yard when I’m lifting weights. I’m self-motivated. I don’t have a weightlifting partner. I don’t have anyone. I just love it.”
While he knows it will take years of training, Burns hopes to take the world’s biggest stage one day.
“Once I start winning the state-level competition, I will look to move up higher to nationals,” Burns said. “Nationals goes to Americas and Americas go to worlds. I have a long way to go. My max has to increase toward 200 pounds to get to the strongest man max. I’m lifting really heavy weights, but they’re lifting a lot more than me.
“If I could even qualify for the World’s Strongest Man, that would be great. I don’t know if it will ever happen, but that’s the end goal. I got in it too late to probably ever win. I would have needed to start around 25 (years old). I can really do it. Give me 10 years and I can do it.”