Williston’s Head Athletic Trainer Rob Kearney stands out in a crowd. He sports a lizard-like Mohawk haircut and a bright pink tie. He exudes confidence and strength. And that’s because he’s strong. He’s one of the world’s strongest men, having appeared on televised “World’s Strongest Man” competitions and having pulled busses and airplanes and having deadlifted 925 pounds. Here’s his WSM profile.
During an all-school assembly on Oct. 18, Kearney told the Williston community his story with insight and good humor. In high school, he was an athlete and a weight-lifter. He was in a band. He was a really good cheerleader (he was even recruited by Division I schools for his cheerleading abilities). He dated girls. It seemed the perfect high school existence. But something was not right.
As he continued his “hyper-masculine” hobby of lifting heavy things, he attended college, and then graduate school. It wasn’t until grad school that he realized he was living a lie, and that it was exhausting. He came out as gay. He said that when the metaphorical weight was lifted from his shoulders, he could focus all that energy on lifting literal heavy objects. And his strongman career blossomed. “It made me a better strongman,” he said.
Surrounded by other strongmen, he worried how they would take his coming out. But he needn’t have. “Everyone said, ‘We don’t care who you love. Just pick that [heavy thing] up.’” He described the community of heavy lifters as a “brotherhood” who stood by him and had his back.
Meanwhile, the media focused on the first openly gay “World’s Strongest Man” contestant. News outlets such as the Huffington Post, the UK’s Independent, and Out Sports covered his coming out. Kearney joked that he had been dating his boyfriend (now fiancé) then for only six weeks, and that the media attention was a little unsettling. “It was a lot of pressure on a new relationship,” he said, smiling. But the outpouring of support from people all over the world gave him a sense that living authentically, and inspiring others to do the same, was worth it.
After his address, Williston students, staff, and faculty gave Kearney a sustained standing ovation. Stepping up the the podium to follow the heavy lifter, Head of School Robert W. Hill III said to Kearney, “Your talk shows what real strength is. It’s a privilege for us to have you here. That’s Williston.”