St. Charles strong

Local competitors power up to showcase their strength at the North American Strongman Championships held at the St. Charles Convention Center

By Brett Auten

Power was paramount.

Men and women from all 50 states and Canada descended into St. Charles recently as the North American Strongman Championships were held at the St. Charles Convention Center.

Strongman Corporation – a St. Charles-based company that has been in the area for nearly 20 years – hosted the event. The company has been at the forefront of the sport for a number of years and promotes events all over the globe. But this was the first time it held its North American Championships in St. Charles and two St. Charles residents more than proved their mettle.

Richie Stecker took first place in the men’s lightweight division and Jamie Schamma placed third in her group and 10th overall in the women’s middleweight division. The competition was spread out over two days with the athletes competing in a total of five events.

“It was really nice to see our local athletes do so well,” Dione Masters, president of Strongman Corporation said. “Now they get the opportunity to compete against the best and the strongest in the world.”

Stecker and Schamma both qualified for The Arnold, slated for Columbus, Ohio in early 2019. The Arnold in an annual, multi-sport event that is considered the Mecca of the strength sport world. Stecker and Schamma will compete in a number of to-be-determined events like the axle press, deadlift variations, hoisting Atlas Stones, keg carries or vehicle pulls.

Strong from the start

Stecker, 30, is a lifelong St. Charles resident who is the Research Laboratory Coordinator at Lindenwood University in its Exercise and Performance Nutrition Laboratory. Growing up, Stecker dabbled in a bevy of athletics including hockey, soccer, wrestling and cheer. But it was in gymnastics where he really soared, becoming a state champion gymnast and a multiple national qualifier. He has been lifting weights for as long as he can remember but didn’t start getting serious until he started attending Lindenwood.

“I started off by training with the Olympic weightlifting team and after a few months the coach – now one of my good friends – suggested I may be better at powerlifting,” Stecker said. “Once I started powerlifting, I fell in love, and then through the people I met and trained with is what led me to Strongman. Growing up, I always enjoyed watching Strongman on TV so I was very eager to give it a try.”

At nationals, of the five individual events, he won two of them, the frame carry and the medley. In the frame carry, Stecker carried 615-pounds 60-feet faster than anyone in his division. In the medley, he carried a 270-pound block 30-feet, then immediately carried back to the start a 325 weight (known as a “duck walk”) before pulling a 295-pound sled 30-feet to finish. Stecker’s accomplishments at that weight was something that Masters was particularly impressed with.

“The smaller guys are pound-for-pound the strongest ones here,” Masters said. “When you see a large guy, 350-pounds, moving the weight around that’s one thing. But the smaller guys are really impressive.”

First place was the only thing Stecker had in mind. Once it was accomplished, he wasn’t sure how to feel.

“It’s almost hard to believe that I won with all of the other tremendous talent that competed alongside of me,” he said. “Obviously, I am very pleased with the outcome and humbled with the experience to be able to compete with so many other strong men and women.”

Finding the place to train for Strongman isn’t as simple as going to your neighborhood gym. Both Stecker and Schamma have found a home at JD’s Gym in South County St. Louis. Stecker also credits O’Fallon’s Powerbody USA, and Chesterfield’s House of Pain as locations.

“These gyms have a totally different atmosphere that you cannot find at local gyms such as Club Fitness or Gold’s Gym,” he said. “When someone is going for a max effort lift or is about to set some form of PR, the entire gym will typically stop what they are doing to come watch, yell, scream, and show support to make sure you hit your attempt.  These type of environments are electric and only push someone to get better each and every day.”

Mother of two, stronger than you

The 37-year-old Schamma was born and raised in Wright City before moving to St. Charles.  She is an RN for Mercy HomeCare and has a son who just completed his second year in the Marines and a daughter who just enlisted in the Army. Her foray into health and fitness began with Crossfit, a strength and conditioning program consisting mainly of a mix of aerobic exercise, calisthenics (body weight exercises), and Olympic weightlifting. The high-rep, high-impact training system took flight seven years ago and Schamma was right there with it. But soon she realized that she had a body and a mindset more suited for short bursts of extreme power rather than an endless volume of excursion.

“I was looking to get healthy and find a smart outlet for my downtime,” Schamma said.  “The plus with Strongman is that you really don’t have to run. That’s what appealed to me. You have stuff that you have to run like the Yoke Carry and the Farmers Walk but I’m not running 400 yards and then doing burpees and that.”

At Nationals, Shamma was her usual steady self, consistently scoring in each of them. She finished third in her subgroup of under 160-pounds and 10th overall for all middleweights. Her highlight came in the frame carry when she hoisted 475-pounds and carried it 60 feet for a first-place finish. Schamma had already qualified for The Arnold at a meet earlier in the season. But when the opportunity arose to compete in the nationals in her backyard, it was impossible to pass up.

“My goal was just to go and have fun and try not to zero (no score) anything,” she said. “I PR’d on everything I needed to, held my own. I wanted to do something with my training partners, so being able to go as a group and support each other, that’s the biggest thing,”

Schamma returns to The Arnold where she placed 10th overall last year. She will know about 12 weeks out from the competition what events she will have to train for.

“I try not to compare myself to other people. I want to go and do it for me,” Schamma said. “But beating out some of those 180 (pound) girls last year was a cool accomplishment. You feel pretty good about it.”

Schamma’s surroundings in training consists mostly of  barrel-chested, protein-infused alpha males all heaving exorbitant amounts of weight. But at the varied meets that she attends throughout the year, the women’s divisions are starting to fill up.

“The women’s group has doubled, tripled in size,” she said. “Last year, we matched the men as far as the number of competitors. I think people have come over to it because they’ve tried Crossfit or have tried powerlifting and by rotating (sports) it decreases injury and burnout.”

Her dedication to the improving is tough to question. She makes the 30-mile drive to JD’s Gym three-to-four times a week just to train and to be in that environment. But for her and Stecker, it is more than worth it.

“The people here support you, they have your back. Last year, going to The Arnold, it costs a lot when factoring in your hotel, travel, and food. So I did a fundraiser here and raised enough that it paid for the whole trip. It is like a family. I enjoy being a part of something that helps motivate other people.”

CUTLINE: Brett Auten photo
Cover-Strong1 St. Charles’ Jamie Schamma hoists a 135-pound boulder on top of a platform during training at JD’s Gym. Schamma placed third at the North American Strongman Championships held in St. Charles to earn a place at the 2019 World Championships held at The Arnold in Ohio.

Brett Auten photo
Cover-Strong2 Jamie Schamma lifts a 95-pound dumbbell during a training session at JD’s Gym.

Submitted photo
Cover-Strong3 Pictured (from left) are Jamie Schamma, Richie Stecker and Bret Wray at the Strongman Corporations’ North American Championships held at the St. Charles Convention Center.