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July 23, 2004

Larkin Wins Bergen Catholic Strong Man Competition

It was the moment they had been waiting for. After weeks of throwing kegs, dragging sleds, carrying "torpedoes", flipping tires and battling each other in tug-of-wars, the Bergen Catholic Strong Man Competition was down to two finalists - Brian Cushing and Dan Larkin.

Separated by about 15 feet of three-inch thick rope, they waited for a signal from trainer Ben Tonon. The winner of the best-of-three tug-of-war would be crowned champion.

A few feet away, free spirit Wolfer Jean-Pierre - who was eliminated minutes earlier - egged on the crowd.

"The extravaganza we have all been waiting for!" yelled Jean-Pierre, drawing laughter from his teammates. "This is for bragging rights!"

Tonon gave the signal. Round 1 quickly went to Cushing, the #3 outside linebacker in the country. He barely had time to enjoy the victory before his teammates began questioning his choice of footwear - cleats. Larkin joined the jovial protest, and soon Cushing caved into the crowd's demands and traded shoes with another teammate.

Round 2. This time, the victory went to Larkin, who used his 85 pound weight advantage to quickly pull Cushing over the line.

"That's what happens when it is fair!" joked Larkin, pointing to Cushing's shoes. "Cush, were you even on the other end of that rope? I didn't feel anything!"

"I'm 215, he's 300!" exclaimed Cushing as he switched back to the cleats.

Round 3 was about to begin. Jean-Pierre pulled within inches of the rope, taunting both competitors. The footwear advantage went to Cushing - the size advantage to Larkin. Tonon gave the signal. Larkin slipped forward, but leaned back and swiftly pulled Cushing over the line. A champion was crowned.

The tug-of-war was the culmination of a unique training program adopted by the team this year. Led by former Bergen Catholic standouts Ben Tonon, Dave Cavalluzzo and Joe Defranco, the players were challenged to push themselves in ways that they had never dreamed possible.

"It is conditioning, and it is "man" strength," said Tonon. "You always hear about these guys in Nebraska who aren't strong in the weight room, but they get their strength from bailing hay all those years."

Larkin was humble in victory and quick to point out the advantages of the workouts.

"The workouts help us get stronger, more explosive, but they are also about lightening it up and getting us out of the weight room."

The rounds leading up to the final tug-of-war between Larkin and Cushing involved a series of events that should have carried a "Do not try this at home" description. The team was divided into two groups, under 200 pounds and over 200 pounds. The first event was the keg toss, where participants gripped an empty beer keg and tossed it over their heads. Jean-Pierre won for the under 200 group, while Larkin won for the heavyweights. The next event was the tire flip, where participants were timed as they flipped a 575 pound tire 5 times. Joe Dottino and Adam Watson led the pack. Then it was on to the sled pull, where the athletes pulled a 265 pound sled for 60 yards. Winners were Brian Walsh and Greg Demarco. The final event before the tug-of-war finale was the farmer's walk, which involved carrying two 120 pound "torpedoes" across the field while zig-zagging through cones. Brian Walsh and Cushing were victorious.

Of course, then it was time for what Jean-Pierre called "the main event". The seeding gave Cushing and Larkin a relatively clear path to the final, which didn't disappoint onlookers.

With the trophy in-hand, Larkin thought about another battle on the horizon.

"The strong man victory is fun and a good confidence boost, but nothing can compare to beating Bosco."


Stay tuned for more pictures from the Bergen Catholic Strong Man event.

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