AUGUSTA — There comes a point, during each of the five events at the Central Maine Strongman competition, when reality sets in for the participants. The reps slow, faces turn varying shades of red and purple, and the deep thousand-mile stare sets in.

Every muscle in their bodies, working overtime and begging to quit, burns with rage.

“That’s the point when you can tell the difference between the people who are doing it for fun,” said Skowhegan’s C.J. Viera, “and the people who are doing it for therapy.”

Viera, 23, was participating Saturday in his first Central Maine Strongman at GEvolution Fitness — just the second such competition he’s ever entered. A police officer in Skowhegan, Viera got the strongman bug while weight training to stay in shape for the job.

Once he got to a certain point, he was ready for the proverbial carrot hanging in front of him.

“I found out I liked being strong and getting stronger, and I wound up here,” said Viera, who grew up in Dover, and made his strongman debut this winter at the Maine’s Strongest Man in Brunswick. “I had kind of stalled out training on my own and didn’t have any more motivation besides just the job. I wanted something to kind of push me that extra little bit.”

He admitted to having surprised himself. Viera had been dreading the yoke squats — in which competitors, with a bar draped across their shoulders, lift weight which increases with every rep. His training with Savage Strongman, a group run by Brunswick’s Ryan Martin, has been helping prepare athletes specifically for strongman events.

“It’s not you against everybody else like you think it’s going to be,” Viera said. “You’re looking at everyone, but everyone is just as excited to see somebody else lift what they failed at. It’s not us versus each other — it’s everybody versus the weight.”

There were 50 competitors in the event Saturday, featuring a mix that was nearly evenly split between men and women in a number of novice and advanced divisions.

Across the gym from Viera, Topsham’s Amy Farrell was running through the rigors of her sixth Central Maine Strongman. With nearly two decades of weightlifting experience and having qualified for national and world strongman competitions, Farrell, 43, still took a similar philosophy as Viera.

She competes as much against herself as she does against the events and the competition.

“It’s the competition, the camaraderie, it’s setting a goal and working towards it and achieving it. It’s competing against myself to improve each time,” said Farrell, a physical therapist who runs a gym along with her husband. “I do surprise myself still. The events always change — there’s five events typically, but it can be any one of 20 different events… There might be things you have strengths and weaknesses in.”

The women’s side of the draw has grown exponentially over the years, Farrell added. She was hoping to use Saturday’s open women’s division, a qualifier, to advance to nationals.

“I feel like this is the right fit for me at this point in my life,” Farrell said. “When I first started lifting competitively 20 years ago, I was often the only woman competing in any (division). Maybe we weren’t as exposed to it then, or maybe we didn’t have the opportunity. I don’t know what it was.

“Everybody now is super supportive, and it’s empowering. Women are incredibly strong.”

The atmosphere at Central Maine Strongman, now 11 years running, is unlike any other in sports. It is loud, with music blaring throughout the small, open-layout gym. Spectators are literally only inches from the competitors as they roll through events, joining coaches and other athletes in vocal encouragement.

The bond between everybody is tangible.

“It’s something we all put a lot of time and effort into. It means something,” Viera said.

And what is the biggest key to being successful in a strongman event? It’s simple, according to Viera.

“You eat a lot of food and you pick up a lot of heavy stuff,” he said.

Travis Barrett — 621p5621

[email protected]

Twittter: @TBarrettGWC

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