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By Jeffrey Cretz ('03)
As Mike Jenkins ('04, '05M) gets ready to step into the spotlight of his next North American Strongman competition, a quick glance at a small photograph of his late uncle or reading a text message from a family member, especially his little brother, is all he needs to get his adrenaline going. The constant reminder of all the people who have been important in shaping his life keeps him grounded as he continues to showcase his extraordinary physical strength at both state- and national-level competitions.
Ranked as the No. 1 U.S. amateur, Jenkins outlasted a field of 57 amateur strongmen from 20 nations to win the inaugural Arnold Amateur World Strongman Championships on March 57. The event, held at the Greater Columbus Convention Center, was part of the 2010 Arnold Sports Festival.
With the victory, Jenkins earned his strongman pro card and the first spot in the 2011 Arnold Strongman Classic, the prestigious professional strongman contest that annually attracts 10 of the world's strongest men.
Jenkins is athletics director for Silver Oak Academy, a high school for youth offenders in Keymar, Md. He and his younger brother, who currently plays Division-I football at the University of Virginia, grew up together in Westminster, Md.
As a child Jenkins was just too big to play Pee Wee Football, and today, at 6-feet 6-inches, he weighs in at 350 pounds. Clearly he has a good work ethic. He consistently goes above and beyond specifically prescribed workouts which, back in the day, caused a JMU football coach to "ban" him from UREC.
A member of the 2004 JMU National Championship football team, Jenkins says, "My favorite memory was being on the field that night in Chattanooga looking up at the clock as time expired and we were up 3121. It was amazing to be able to share that moment with all the fans who came to see us, my whole team that has been through 29 seasons, and most importantly, my family."
Jenkins didn't begin his collegiate football career at JMU. After attending a university in Ohio for a year, he decided to transfer to a Division IAA school to fight for playing time right away. After making a trip to Harrisonburg, meeting football coach Mickey Matthews and seeing campus, he fell in love with Madison.
Jenkins vividly remembers watching strongman competitions on ESPN when he was younger. "I thought it was cool how strong these guys were, and that I would love to try it," he remembers. On Mother's Day 2007, Jenkins located a nearby competition and convinced his mother to attend with him, telling her he wanted to see what he was getting himself into. Months later, Jenkins won Maryland's Strongest Man title, which qualified him for a national tournament in Las Vegas. In just his second competition, Jenkins placed sixth and has been hooked ever since.
After Vegas, he dreamed of earning a pro card. He had an opportunity in New Orleans in October 2009 at the North American Strongman National Championships. Jenkins finished second overall. "I was a few inches from turning pro," he says. He took top honors in two of the five events: The Yoke/Farmer's Medley and the Carry/Load/Drag Medley.
The Farmer's Walk and the Yoke Walk, usually two separate events, are his favorites. "I am good at both of those because they're moving events, and I am fast for my size," Jenkins jokes. The grueling events and training haven't come without a price. He estimates that he has missed between six and eight competitive months due to various injuries, including sciatica, a torn meniscus, and multiple muscle strains and tears.