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Strength of purpose

Michael Hemlepp, 41, finished second in his age division last weekend at the North American Strongman master's contest in McPherson, Kan. In this photo, Hemlepp competes in a strength showcase last year in Myrtle Beach.
Michael Hemlepp, 41, finished second in his age division last weekend at the North American Strongman master's contest in McPherson, Kan. In this photo, Hemlepp competes in a strength showcase last year in Myrtle Beach.

When he hoisted the 42-pound weight from between his legs and hurled it over his head toward a raised bar, Michael Hemlepp injured his right shoulder.

But pain -- even the kind that requires an MRI -- is the price of being the world's second strongest lightweight over 40.

That's where the 41-year-old attorney placed last Sunday at the North American Strongman master's contest in McPherson, Kan.

A former prosecutor with the 6th Circuit Solicitor's Office, Hemlepp now works for the Chester law firm Hamilton, Delleney & Hemlepp. He also represents the towns of Fort Lawn and Great Falls.

He's battled in strength competitions since 2002. A sturdy cube at 5 feet, 7 inches tall and around 240 pounds, he's lifted cars, giant stones and huge metal tubes.

Hemlepp, who lives in Winnsboro, recently sat down with Herald reporter Charles Perry to talk about competing in the world of muscle-powered glory.

Comments have been edited for brevity.

Q: How did you get involved in this?

A: "I'm just a gym rat. I've always been a gym rat. And I'll tell you, I worked for the solicitor's office for many years. Practicing law is very stressful. And I've always found that the best thing I could do to deal with stress is to get myself into the gym. I started competing really just to get a goal."

Q: What do you bench press?

A: "450 (pounds). Raw."

Q: When you say 'raw,' what does that mean?

A: "It means I'm not wearing a bench shirt. ... A bench shirt is a kind of very tight shirt that a lot of power lifters use that helps them with benching. And you can get anywhere from 50 to 150 pounds (more) out of a bench shirt."

Q: Did you play any sports in high school or college?

A: "When I was little, everybody said that I was no good at sports because all the sports that were out there involved a ball. ... I can't throw a ball. I can't catch a ball. I was never any good."

Q: What are some strength events you competed in Sunday?

A: "In this contest, we had five events. The first one was an overhead medley where you had to lift four implements over your head for time. They ascended in weight from a 90-pound dumbbell that you did with one hand to a 220-pound log. ... They said, 'Go!' and you went as fast as you could to take it from the ground over your head. And whoever did it in the fastest amount of time won. And actually, I won that one."

Q: What's another event you participated in Sunday?

A: "There was another event called the Fingal Finger. ... These are big metal things filled with rebar (a rod used to reinforce concrete), and they're all lying on one side. They're 380 pounds. And you pick them up, get under them and drop them over. And that's also timed. The thing about strongman, it's not just about strength. It's about strength and speed. And that's what I like about it."

Q: How many contests do you participate in each year?

A: "At most, four. They take a lot out of you. And you've got to be able to recover. For instance, this week I'm not even going to the gym because I injured my shoulder and I'm going to give myself enough time to heal before I go back into the gym."

Q: What does your family think about these competitions?

A: "My wife loves it. She went with me to Kansas, and she had a great time. She's been to every contest I've been to. My children, I think, are proud of me. They don't really like the contests because they last a long time and they get bored.

Q: Do your kids think you're a nerd?

A: "I've been doing it long enough that they just take it as second nature. I'm the guy around the house that, when you have to put the riding mower in the back of the truck, I pick up the riding mower and put it in the back of the truck. They're just used to, 'Dad does stuff like that.'"

Q: How long do you plan to compete in strongman contests?

A: "As long as my body holds out."

Q: Why do this?

A: "The challenge of it. We do things that people say can't be done. And we do it routinely. And I'll also tell you that the people that I have met in this sport are some ... of the most incredible people I know. Disciplined, driven, smart. Incredible athletes who do incredible things."

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