Arnold Schwarzenegger flexes his muscles on Santa Monica Pier to raise money for firefighters

Story by Andy Vasoyan | Photos by Ted Soqui

Arnold Strongman USA competitors pulled an antique firetruck along Santa Monica Pier, deadlifted as much as 950 pounds, hoisted a 385-pound log and shouldered a 375-pound Atlas stone while chasing the trophy captured by Martins Licis.
Local firefighters (pictured: SMFD’s Andrew Klein) competed by stacking hoses, lifting weights and moving 150-pound sandbags.
Sofía Vergara, Joe Manganiello, Lou Ferrigno and X-Pole USA athletes also joined the festivities.

Arnold Schwarzenegger is not a small guy. The now 71-year-old actor, ex-governor and seven-time Mr. Olympia checks in at around 6’1”, and he’s no frail senior. It takes a certain kind of person to stand next to the Terminator and make him look svelte. Last Saturday, such physically imposing people were out in force at the Arnold Strongman USA competition on Santa Monica Pier.

Ten of the world’s strongest powerlifters came together in the qualifier for the upcoming Arnold Strongman Classic, considered one of the top two events in the sport of powerlifting. Powerlifting is heavy people lifting even heavier objects; 950 pounds of deadlifted weight thumped the wood, louder than the rollercoasters and the ocean, but not the crowd.

Part of the event’s excitement was star power: Sofia Vergara helped noted buff actors Joe Manganiello (her husband) and Gerard Butler throw T-shirts into the crowd, while Matt Iseman of “America Ninja Warrior” shared hosting duties with Schwarzenegger. They were joined by Thor Björnsson, the 6’9” reigning world’s strongest man, who plays a giant, bloodthirsty knight called The Mountain in HBO’s “Game of Thrones.”

Another draw was the charitable nature of the event, its $75,000 in ticket sales (and merchandise proceeds still being tallied) benefiting the Santa Monica, Ventura and Cal Fire benevolent funds. In late November, Schwarzenegger visited firefighters battling the Camp Fire in Central California wildfires, offering financial and moral support.

Firefighters from up and down the state, including Santa Monica’s downtown firehouse, competed in their own version of the strongman events to crown “The World’s Strongest Firefighter.” Decked out in firefighter’s gear, ten of California’s bravest took turns stacking heavy hoses, running with 150 pound sandbags, and doing a whole bunch of deadlifts as Schwarzenegger counted out their reps.

“It’s an incredible experience,” said Jason Silva, one of the competitors from the Santa Monica Fire Department, right after blasting out 35 deadlifts on a 265 pound weight. “When I was a little kid, I don’t think I ever thought my life would be at this point: lifting in front of Arnold, in front of him and Thor.”

Silva came up in the SMFD recruit class of 2014, three years before the Thomas Fire charred almost 300,000 acres and prompted Cal Fire officer Scott McLean to disavow the very idea of fire season: “Take the ‘season’ out — it’s year-round.” Then-Gov. Jerry Brown later called the threat of wildfire “the new normal.”

“We all come together as a fire department as a whole in California, when all these huge fires break out,” Silva said, “but to see the community gather
around us, for a charity event like this? It’s pretty awesome.”

While the fire department may come together during fires, they do no such thing on the topic of their favorite Schwarzenegger movie. Silva prefers the 1996 Christmas classic “Jingle All The Way,” while 27-year-old Tim Scott from Mariposa County, the eventual winner of the event, called dibs on both “Terminator” 1 and 2. Fellow SMFD competitors Dominick Bei and Andrew Klein vouched for “Conan the Barbarian” and “Kindergarten Cop,” respectively.

The Mountain, he’s a fan of the Terminator as well: both the movie and its star.

“He is a huge inspiration to me and many others,” Bjornsson said of Schwarzenegger. “This is a great cause here, and he’s doing a really amazing thing. It’s great to be part of it.”

It would be pretty hard for a powerlifting event on the pier with the name “Arnold Strongman” not to be a really amazing thing, really. The original Muscle Beach, that legendary mecca of strongmen that helped launch Schwarzenegger’s career and others, was just below the pier, and its successor in Venice is not far down the coastline.

Martins Licis (aka “The Dragon”), a Latvian native who now trains in California, delivered five full reps of lifting a 375-pound Atlas Stone from the ground to his shoulders and ended up winning the competition.

The reality of California wildfires, and the firefighters that help contain them, isn’t far off either. In the middle of it all was Arnold Schwarzenegger, once Mr. Olympia, once a governor, now helping to raise money for relief funds … and also helping out on a deadlift.

“Let them concentrate!” Arnold would jokingly chastise the crowd, in his unmistakable accent. “QUIET!”

Arnold Schwarzenegger cheers on a competitor pulling an antique firetruck during last weekend’s Arnold Pro Strongman USA competition on Santa Monica Pier.  The event raised more than $75,000 for local firefighters.
Photo by Ted Soqui.