Following his graduation from Foxborough High School in Foxborough, Mass. in the late spring of 2010, Zach Hadge intended on going to Springfield College to play football. After showing up for preseason camp and battling the 100-plus degree turf, sweat-inducing humidity, and blazing sun, Hadge decided his heart was no longer with the sport that he grew up playing, and his main focus at the high school level.
Nick Hadge, Zach’s younger brother, was visiting Springfield College when the two decided to stroll into the relatively new Richard B. Flynn Campus Union, attempting to find out more information about a Power Lifting Club that had been advertised throughout the buildings on Alden Street.
Sitting at the front desk of the Campus Union was sophomore Athletic Training major Rob Kearney. Little did Zach and Nick know, but Kearney, at the time, was actually the vice president of the Power Lifting Club headed by Exercise Science graduate student Daniel Jaffe.
Upon being asked about the club by the brothers, Kearney’s response was simple but enthusiastic.
“Perfect! I am the vice president,” said Kearney.
“Sparks flew; it was love at first sight,” said Nick Hadge jokingly.
Little did the three of them know that four years later they would all be competing in Strongman competitions at the national level – and winning them.
The location for the 2013 North American Strongman Competiton was at Smitty’s Bar and Grille in Denison, Texas on October 18-19. Five representatives from Springfield College’s very own Team Ironsports represented at the competition, including Kearney in the 231-pound Lightweight Open division, Zach Hadge and Dustin Slocum in the 200-pound weight class and Matt Lacroix along with Dr. Pat Davidson in the 175-pound weight class.
At days end, Kearney had convincingly won the Lightweight Open division, received his American Strongman Corporation Pro Card, and punched his ticket to the World Championships in Columbus, Ohio in March of 2014.
Now his third time competing at the national level, Kearney attributes his success to being not only an experienced athlete, but also his lifestyle consisting of strict dieting, hard work, but most importantly, dedication to the sport that he loves day in and day out.
“It was awesome,” exclaimed Kearney. “This was my third year competing at nationals and it was by far the biggest year. In all weight classes, there were 189 athletes competing throughout the weekend. This contest was the largest organized Strongman competition in the world, in the history of Strongman competitions. It was really cool to be a part of that. There is not much that is special about Denison, Texas, but I will tell you what, we had a blast going on this trip and spending time together as a team.”
Although Kearney and Zach Hadge were able to win their separate weight classes and their own national title, the road to this success was not necessarily a smooth one.
Kearney, who is currently an Athletic Training graduate student at Springfield College and working at Deerfield Academy in Deerfield, Mass., was able to take what he learned from a disappointing loss in 2012 and focus on what he needed to improve upon in order to make 2013 his time.
Kearney hired Mike Jenkins, a 6-foot-6-inch, 400-pound professional Strongman competitor to be his coach, as well as a nutritionist in order to be at an elite performance level for the 2013 Nationals.
“For me, I was expecting to win last year when I went down to nationals,” said Kearney. “Things didn’t work out as planned, which was really tough. It was a tough pill to swallow after last year’s loss. So, I really just went with a different coach in preparation for this year’s nationals. I just pulled out all the stops for this contest and really made sure I was in the best place to win, which I was.”
After winning, Kearney received his ASC Pro Card, which are not handed out with ease.
According to Kearney, there are only three pro cards handed out a year. In order for someone to receive professional recognition, they must win one of three competitions.
“In order to get your pro card you need to win a Platinum-Plus competition or one of two national competitions. There are only two Platinum Plus and one national competition in a year.
At last year’s national competition, in June of 2012, Kearney went for his Pro Card against his best friend and lost by a point and a half.
“Last year I went down to nationals, was in first place by 13 points going into the last event and ended up losing on the last event and took second place,” said Kearney. “Then I waited 11 months to go for my Pro Card again in 2013 and ended up winning pretty convincingly.”
Zach Hadge, a senior Exercise Science major at Springfield College, was able to win the 200-pound weight class at the 2013 North American Strongman Competition, also taking a national championship home to Springfield.
Last year, in preparation for the 2012 national competition, Hadge’s training was brought to an abrupt halt.
An incident in which he was jokingly wrestling his coach at the time, Pat Davidson, resulted in Hadge’s shoulder separating, limiting his training. With the 2012 Nationals only six weeks away, Hadge was able to recover enough, while also training in order to pull out a top-five finish, placing fourth in the 200-pound weight class.
“Competing in Nationals were both life-changing experiences,” added Hadge. “Last year we learned a lot – we were inexperienced, we were young. Six weeks prior to competing last year I got injured and placed fourth and I realized that if I can place that high with an injury then next year I could do it. And I did.”
Just like Kearney, it was the familiarity with competing at the national level that allowed for Hadge to be successful this time around.
“The first year we saw what we need to get good at and we learned what we needed to get strong at,” said Hadge. “We did a lot of weight room type strengthening, but that day we realized that you need to be strong at those exact events. We trained specific this year and with a little more knowledge, it was a little easier.”
Nick Hadge, Zach’s younger brother, won a national championship of his own on September 19 at the 2013 Teen National competition in Long Neck, Del. Being only 19, this was the last year for Matt to compete in the Teenager Nationals, therefore the sophomore Exercise Science major at Springfield College wanted to establish himself with a Teenage Heavyweight National Championship.
“It felt great,” said Nick. “I wasn’t even expecting to do this competition. My friend pulled me into it last second and I saw my brother Zach and Rob going for national championships so I said, ‘You know what, you guys are motivating me and I will motivate them back,’ and I went out and took one home for these guys. I literally did it for them.”
Luckily enough, Team Ironsports is able to travel 20 minutes down the road to Lightning Fitness in South Windsor, Conn. a gym that possesses the necessary equipment for ideal Strongman training.
“I actually met the owner of the gym, Matt Mills, at a small-time competition four years ago and I mentioned I went to Springfield College, so he invited me down,” said Kearney. “He has absolutely every piece of equipment that we would ever need. Atlas stones from 72-425 lbs., a car deadlift platform and even weights to do farmer carries. Any piece of equipment, he has it. We are pretty fortunate.”
A full-time employee at Lightning Fitness and coach of Team Ironsports, Matt Lacroix, graduated from Springfield College in the spring of 2013 and intended on going to graduate school, but landed a job doing what he loves most. Now he is coaching, training with, and competing against national champion worthy individuals as well as a newly-awarded ASC professional.
“It was pretty unreal,” commented Lacroix. “I kind of expected it from both of them. They were both experienced, with it being Rob’s third time and Zach’s second. Just seeing what kind of competition they compete against during the year and how they have placed previously, they put in all the work [and] they just needed to execute once they were there.”
Lacroix shows off his knowledge of exercise science and strength and conditioning to write workout plans for national champions such as Zach Hadge all the way to fitness models that decided to join Team Ironsports.
When writing plans for the Strongman competitors, Lacroix takes the knowledge that he has learned from his mentor, and coincidentally a member of Team Ironsports, Dr. Pat Davidson, assistant professor of Exercise and Sport Studies at Springfield College.
“He got here my junior year,” said Lacroix. “Before that I thought I had a good grasp on things, but after meeting and talking with him he opened the door to me and brought my attention to a lot of different concepts. Some of the stuff he does is unconventional and you don’t know until you try it, but he has shaped 80 percent of my philosophy. He is convincing people. If he can convince you to try it, you will buy into it.”
As for the future, Zach Hadge will be finishing up his Bachelor of Science degree at the end of this semester and will return home to Foxborough, Mass. to work full time at the gym that he completed his internship at this past summer, Elite Performance Systems.
Nick Hadge would eventually like to follow the footsteps of his brother, interning and then eventually getting a full-time job at EPS, but for now, he is at school, trying to soak in as much information as possible not only because he wants to be a better athlete and competitor, but also a more knowledgeable coach.
Being able to watch his older brother Zach and Kearney, Nick Hadge is excited for his future due to the support he has from his elder role models.
“It is ridiculous,” said Nick. “My first competition ever competing was the first competition that Rob ever won. I am just doing what I am seeing. I want to be a pro, so I watch a pro, and do what the pro does. It’s that simple. I couldn’t have better knowledge. I have nothing but the best in the field above me telling me what to do. I could not ask for a better position.”
For anyone that would like to join Team Ironsports, the club meets on Mondays and Wednesdays at 6:45 p.m. in the Field House.