After an exciting and grueling final lift-off against four-time former winner Brian Shaw, Tom Stoltman has achieved what once seemed impossible to him – the title of ‘World’s Strongest Man’. What makes this win all the more remarkable is that the 27-year-old is an autistic man with intense social interaction and communication issues.
Growing up, Tom told CNN, he had no clue that his behavior was atypical. Instead, he believed his other neurotypical friends and classmates were the ones doing things differently. As he became a teenager, his issues intensified, and he became aware of his disorder. That’s when his elder brother Luke, who was already participating in strongman competitions asked Tom to join him at the local gym.
“I went to my local gym and hated every single minute of it. I didn’t like the people staring at me. But I kept going and kept on pushing myself and Luke kept on pushing me,” shares Tom. During this journey, he found that being an autistic man was a valuable asset for him. As someone with autism, Tom appreciated the routine that came with going to the gym. He enjoyed waking up at the same time, eating the same meals, going to the same gym at the same time, and doing the same things every day.
On the flip side, however, in his relentless quest to achieve this feat, being an autistic man also presented certain unprecedented challenges. He would find himself constantly thinking about a missed lift, not talking to his wife, and ending up in a negative headspace – something he still struggles with at times.
Despite the challenges, he believes that this journey has filled him with a positive outlook towards autism that he wants to share with other autistic people. “I always say to young kids and parents of young kids to use it as a superpower. You know, we’re different. But now we’ve got an advantage over people that aren’t different. We’ve got a superpower, they don’t,” he adds.