Chickasaw strongman competitor going strong during pandemic
February 3, 2021
PHOENIX – Jerry Pritchett, currently ranked fourth in the world among strongman competitors, is proud of his Chickasaw heritage. His impressive feats of strength include lifting a bar loaded with more than 1,100 pounds off the ground.
Strongman competitions are growing increasingly popular, which offers the opportunity to share his heritage with a larger audience.
"Recently, I did an interview with CBS, and they asked me about my Chickasaw heritage. I was pleased the crew asked and was proud to tell them about my tribe," he added. Interest in strong man competitions also grew as Hafthor Bjornsson drew attention for his role in "Game of Thrones," Pritchett said.
Bjornsson was cast as Gregor "The Mountain" Clegane from 2011-13. Recently retired, the Icelandic-born muscleman bested a 1,000-yearold record at the 2015 World's Strongest Viking competition by carrying a 33-foot-long, 1,430-pound log a total of five steps.
Twenty-five men qualified to compete in five heats. Ten earned the honor to go head-to-head in the 2020 World's Strongest Man finals early last year.
The Chickasaw strong man won the right to compete by winning heats and placing in heats during the Giant's Medley competitions, a cornucopia of differing competitions that include deadlifting, stone lifting, keg toss, Hercules Hold and carrying trees.
Pritchett deadlifted 1,122 pounds; finished third in the physically punishing Hercules Hold. It requires the strong man to hold up two giant pillars weighing 350 pounds each for as long as possible. He finished second in Log Ladder, where the competitor carries five logs weighing between 280 and 402 pounds and finished seventh in Atlas Stones. Competitors must hoist five stones weighing between 300 to 460 pounds and place them atop a structure approximately 5 feet tall.
Pritchett became interested in strong man events at the age of 15.
He entered a gym to "get bigger and stronger for football," he said with a laugh. Little did he know fate took a turn in his life when the man who managed the place asked if he would join a powerlifting team for national competition.
"So, I said, 'Yeah. What do I have to do?'" He was informed it required squats, bench press and deadlifts. A week later, he competed and was hooked.
"I was powerlifting for years," Pritchett said. "As a teenager, I won three gold medals at Junior Olympics."
In his 20s, Pritchett entered amateur strong man competitions in the Phoenix area and finished in the top two positions in his introduction to the sport.
In 2011, he turned professional and began competition on the national circuit. It was not long until he was competing internationally against some of the fiercest opponents of all.
"There are guys on the international competition that are just a sight to behold. Man, those guys train all the time. They compete all the time. They live and train to win championships," he observed.
While he trains and helps others prepare for competition, Pritchett is employed as a metal fabricator for a public utility company in Arizona.
"The top five or six competitors in the world, that is all they do. I'm the only person competing who has a day job," Pritchett said, adding his employer has been wonderful about letting him off to travel and compete in the U.S. and abroad.
Pritchett has competed in 11 countries on six continents.
Most of the strong men he goes against have sponsorships. "Strong man competitions are well known in other countries and receive a lot of television coverage," Pritchett said. "(My competitors) are young, and it is relatively easy for them to get a sponsor. The sport is catching on in America."
Social media drives sport
America's interest in the sport is driven by social media, according to Pritchett, who celebrated his 40th birthday in December.
"Social media uses video clips, interviews, directing people to YouTube where a lot of the competition footage is located," he said.
In fact, go to YouTube and search "Jerry Pritchett Strongman." You will find many clips of the Chickasaw athlete competing in all forms of competition, including a cringe-worthy deadlift where the bar flexes, strains and bends under the sheer weight as Pritchett steadies himself beneath it.
However, even with all the new-found interest in America, the 6' 4" 370-pound Pritchett has found himself competing to empty stadiums due to the COVID-19 pandemic. "It's unusual to compete and not have anyone in the stands cheering for you," he said. "The organizers are taking COVID-19 very seriously and we're trying to keep everyone healthy. In a normal year, you might have an audience of 250,000 over several days of competition. COVID-19 pretty much shut that all down."
He made appearances in the United States in 2020 but travel abroad remains restricted. He has fond memories of international competition, however, and will be pleased when the pandemic is abated.
At Rome, Italy, two years ago, Pritchett earned a coveted spot in the Guinness Book of World Records. He did it by carrying an 1,110-pound frame up an incline.
"Carrying that kind of weight a few feet on a flat surface is difficult but doing it on an incline makes it a totally different challenge," he said.
Injuries are frequent. Pritchett has suffered many but has recovered each time. "Everything hurts," he said laughing. "In a given year, we would have eight to 10 meets throughout the world but not with COVID-19. I guess one of the good things is I've spent a lot of quality time in the gym getting stronger and building tolerance for when competition starts up again."