Rob Kearney says the Strongman community is more supportive than we realize

Rob Kearney says the Strongman community is super supportive
Rob Kearney says the Strongman community is super supportive

A person donning the title of World’s Strongest Man might not be the first one you’d think would be an out and proud athlete, but the World’s Strongest Gay, Rob Kearney, is one to step out of the mold.

Kearney became a pro weightlifter in 2013, then wound up coming out as gay the following year. He won the Giants Live North American Open in 2017, then competed in his first World’s Strongest Man competition in the same year. He married his husband, Joey, in 2019, then achieved the American record of log pressing 475 pounds in 2020.

Although retired now, Kearney accomplished everything in his career as the Strongman’s first, and only, gay athlete.

“Like most men, I lived a very heteronormative lifestyle up until 2014,” he told Men’s Health, noting he’d already turned into a professional of the sport by the time he did so.

He said he came out to respect his relationship, but he didn’t realize the impact it would have until after. “There was definitely a lot of anxiety and fear around that because I didn’t know what that would mean,” he said.

Despite the pressure, he also said the Strongman community has given him some amazing support, saying, “They didn’t care that I was gay — they cared that I was a good athlete and was worthy enough to be at these big competitions. The people that had negative things to say about me being openly gay in this sport are people who don’t understand the culture of Strongman.”

Kearney also admitted that it’s intimidating to look at the Strongman world from the outside, saying, “It looks like it’s this impossible, hyper-masculine scary thing to step into.” Despite that, he insists the sport is “truly about being your best self. At the end of the day, everybody in it wants every other competitor to be their best [selves]. We champion success.”

We definitely love to hear that, because queer athletes still have a lot of hurdles to jump over — or weights to lift, depending on their sport.

“As LGBTQ+ people, we are constantly told ‘we can’t’ because of who we are, regardless of what that means,” he said. “We can’t be a Strongman, we can’t do this, we can’t do that. A lot of times, LGBTQ+ people feel so alone. Find that one person who can give you light, and that can change everything.”

Within the search to find inclusion, Kearney also noted that companies like the Out Foundation make it a point to make fitness more inclusive and welcoming, which is great.

“They ultimately realize that it comes down to business,” he said. “And gay money is the same as any money in the world, right? But I do feel like a lot of organizations are making a cognizant effort to make everyone feel like they have a voice and have a spot in their sport.”