BEND, Ore. » It’s the title Robert Oberst really wants: America’s Strongest Man.
It was almost his at last year’s America’s Strongest Man competition in Phoenix, Arizona, but Oberst, now 30 and living in Bend, was done in by his final deadlift, when he failed to lift over 900 pounds.
"Log press I can do easily, but with deadlift my back just wasn’t built up through all the years of training like everyone else," said Oberst, who has been competing in Strongman events for a little less than four years.
The bar, he recounted, was "stuck right there on my knee, and just sat there. It felt like years, but I think on the video it was six seconds."
Failing to complete the lift cost Oberst eight points; he went on to finish second, trailing Bulgarian Dimitar Savatinov by half a point.
At a workout earlier this month, Oberst said he is determined that the same will not happen at this year’s championship, which will be held in Atlanta on Oct. 31.
"When my son is 15, I don’t want him to be like, ‘Well, my dad was good,’ I want him to say, ‘My dad was the strongest man in America,’" Oberst said, referring to his newborn son, Atlas. "I want that so bad. And right now, I would be grateful if I got that title, even if that was the last time I ever touched Strongman."
There is plenty for Oberst to be grateful for; a former football player for Western Oregon University and the San Jose SaberCats of the Arena Football League, he was working security at a club when he first tried Strongman — in the process, he said, he broke the amateur world record for the log press. Less than four years later, his schedule is packed with competitions, globe-trotting trips to China and the United Arab Emirates, and even commercial shoots.
But his success does not come without a cost. Oberst and his wife, Kristin, moved to Bend seven months ago, but he has been home for barely four weeks since. And while he can deadlift a car and pull a truck, as he did while filming a commercial for 5-Hour Energy, Oberst says the resulting aches and pains are constant, and he sometimes needs as long as 15 to 20 minutes after he wakes up to loosen his lower back enough to walk.
"The decision to do what I do — you’re accepting the fact that you’re breaking your body," Oberst says. "Whether it’s slowly or quickly, that depends on how lucky you get. There’s a point where it stops, though."
His current strategy to reduce the toll on his body is to lift lighter weights for more repetitions during his regular training sessions.
"I’m trying to do a lot more of that stuff, but there’s only so much you can do to avoid throwing up big weights if you’re going to do it in the show," Oberst said.
And Oberst says he is preparing for his post-Strongman career with the thoroughness of an Eagle Scout. He is currently writing a comic book about a character named Atlas, and he is hoping to parlay his current commercial gigs into more acting work.
Oberst would not be the first Strongman competitor to make such a jump: Iceland’s Hafthór Björnsson, who took second in the 2014 World’s Strongest Man competition, now plays the character Gregor Clegane on the television series "Game of Thrones." Oberst said he believes he has numbers on his side — of the thousands of talented actors in Hollywood, few who can comfortably handle a boulder.
"Nobody looks like me, either," Oberst added, referring to his 6-foot-8-inch, 410-pound frame and long brown beard. "There’s no going to an interview and being told, ‘Oh, we cast the part with this other guy who looks just like you, so we can’t use you.’"
Whether Oberst moves on to acting, comic book writing or even, as he jokingly suggested, writing bohemian poetry in the mountains, his second act might not be too far off.
"No, I can’t stay in one place long. I can’t stay with one idea or job," Oberst replied when asked if he sees himself becoming one of the grizzled veterans of the Strongman world. "I am a gypsy soul to the core."