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U of G grad finds success at World's Strongest Man competition

Mitchell Hooper made it to the finals, placed eighth overall
University of Guelph grad Mitchell Hooper competed in the World's Strongest Man competition.

It’s been almost nine years since Mitchell Hooper was with the University of Guelph Gryphons varsity football team for half a season.

“I remember it being a very intense time, probably the most intense time in my life which is saying a lot for the things I've done since then,” Hooper said in a video call from Barrie. “But as a 17-year-old moving out of home for the first time, going through training camp, getting immersed with the guys in that culture -- you're 17 and you're hanging out with 23-year-olds and lining up across from 23-year-olds and getting the (crap) kicked out of you by 23-year-olds. It's such a full-on experience and it really helped me grow a lot for the short time that I was there.”

Hooper was a defensive lineman from Eastview High School in Barrie, the same school that produced offensive linemen Cam Thorn and Jake Piotrowski who both went on to play in the CFL.

But football just wasn’t for Hooper and after going through training camp and battling for a starting position for about half the season, he walked away. A couple of days later he took his football cleats to then head coach Stu Lang and told him to give the shoes to someone in the community who could use them because he was done with the sport.

“I graduated with human kinetics. I stopped playing football because, one, I didn't enjoy it,” Hooper said. “I only did it because it was the sexy choice and sexy thing to do and I was good enough at it. But I was really there for an education. I always had that priority straight.”

And he got that education, graduating with a degree in human kinetics.

“One of the great things I do remember about Guelph football is the number of ways they tried to facilitate education taking place alongside the football,” Hooper said. “When I was there, we had mandatory study hours, we had free tutoring provided to us anytime that we needed it and if grades were below a certain level, we weren't allowed to play. I was actually fairly impressed by that.”

Hooper’s stats are simple. He played in the season-opening game against the Laurier Golden Hawks and he made a tackle. While he and a linebacker were always the two defensive players on the bubble as far as playing or not, the linebacker got the call the rest of the time.

“My first play ever, a special teams punt, I made the tackle,” Hooper recalled. “It's tough because my dad would've loved me to do more. The two guys who came out of my high school before me were Cam and Jake, the two offensive linemen who both went to the CFL. I had similar sorts of expectation and I felt the weight of letting people down for a long time.”

After giving up football, Hooper started to look for another athletic endeavour. He continued to look for something in Australia where he went to attend the University of Sydney to do his Masters.

“After I finished football at Guelph, I gained 40 or 50 pounds being depressed and just being a university kid,” he said. “Then I went from 300 lbs. and cut down 110 lbs. and did a body building show. Then I ran three marathons and then I moved to Australia and I just found a gym that I liked the environment and those guys did powerlifting.

“I took up powerlifting and six months later I won the national championship. (But) powerlifting is really boring because it's just the three lifts. Some other guys there did Strongman and sort of egged me into it. I just started getting involved and had a knack for it.”

That ‘knack’ carried Hooper to this year’s World’s Strongest Man competition in Sacramento, Calif., at the end of May.

“The World Strongest Man was my fifth competition ever because of lockdowns, COVID and whatnot,” he said. “The World's Strongest Man went really well.”

Hooper made it to the finals and placed eighth overall.

The preliminaries saw the 30 competitors placed in groups of six and the top two from each group advanced to the finals. Hooper was in a group with Mark Felix, Konstantine Janashia, Gabriel Pena, Brian Shaw and Bobby Thompson. Janashia had reached the final each of the previous four World’s Strongest Man competitions. Pena was thought to be a strong competitor, Shaw had won the title four times before and Thompson who had been the world champion at the 2019 Arnold Amateur.

“The average Strongman fan looking at the surface, they would've thought that I have no chance at all,” Hooper said. “Then I went out and I won the first three events and that was the first time that that was done in 29 years and the second time ever. I got myself to the stage where I won the group fairly easily.”

And he wasn’t really surprised by his showing in his first ever World’s Strongest Man competition.

“I very carefully walk the line between confidence and arrogance because in that group there were a lot of accomplished guys,” he said. “But I put out a prediction video beforehand and I basically said exactly what I was going to do. I know what I'm capable of.”

He repeated his thoughts to the tournament organizer.

“I basically said to him that if I don't make mistakes, I'm pretty sure I'm going to win the group,” Hooper said. “He looked at me like I had two heads for a little bit. There's a lot of fulfilment in knowing that you're physically capable of something and then going out and doing it. I see those as two very different things.”

Strongman will be his sport for a while, largely due to the environment at the competitions.

“The biggest thing about Strongman is that the community is just so good,” he said. “It's an individual sport, but it's all so positive and really enjoyable to be around. That's really what has me in love with it more than anything else.”

However, he takes more pride in being a finalist for the World’s Strongest Man’s Jimmy Pollock Award for contributions to the sport.

“To be considered a finalist for a character award for something like that, that means more to me than being a finalist for World's Strongest Man in the competition.”