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The World’s Strongest Man Has Autism

Tom Stoltman's inspiring journey as the 2021 World's Strongest Man showcases the power of embracing neurodiversity.


Growing up in the contemporary world where tolerance has been replaced with intolerance and being unique or different is frowned upon by many quarters of society. So it gives me great pleasure to say that the world’s strongest man has autism. A clear win for those that dare to be different, unique or qualities that are not easily visible.

Christmas and New Year in the UK are synonymous with films like ‘The Great Escape’, Mary Poppins (I am referencing the GOAT, 1964 Mary Poppins and not 2018 imposter Mary Poppins Returns), The Sound of Music, and the Home Alone (franchise). Whilst the festive TV programming has been changing over the years, with the advent of Netflix, Amazon and other TV streaming services, one program that has remained consistent is UK Channel 5’s World’s Strongest Man.

2021 World’s Strongest Man

Throughout history, mankind has been obsessed with physical strength and the strongest man. However, without wanting to appear sexist (scared of the cancel culture, ask Joe Rogan), history also shows that womankind has been obsessed with physical strength and being the strongest woman. I have not inserted womankind to fight back the political correctness brigade. Still, I have a daughter and would be more than happy to encourage her to pursue her quest to become the strongest woman on the planet, aka ‘a bad ass’.

I digressed just a tad; however, mention the festive period, and most people in the UK will be able to tell you the world’s strongest man competition begins a day after Christmas Day (Boxing Day) for the heats and it climax on New Year’s Day with the final.

The 2021 World’s Strongest Man was the 44th edition of the World’s Strongest Man competition, an event in Sacramento, California, from 15 June to 20 June 2021 (pre-recorded and replayed over the festive period).

I am a proud Brit and always have my union jack on, so I supported the British competitors. This year was particular as Britain’s Tom Stoltman was champion and this world’s strongest man has autism.

World’s Strongest Man 2021 Final Competitors lined up in a row

Tom Stoltman – The World’s Strongest Man Has Autism

Tom Stoltman is a British strongman competitor born on 30 May 1994 in Invergordon, Scotland. He is the younger brother of the 2021 Europe’s Strongest Man and five-time Scotland’s Strongest Man Luke Stoltman.

Going into this year’s competition, Tom was confident of winning; before the heats started, he, along with all the other competitors, spat out the old mantra of, ‘I am here to win, and this is the year’. But you just knew that this could be the year for Tom. This is not born out of blind faith for a fellow Brit; he came pretty close the year before.

Culminating in a week’s worth of punishing tests, peppered with challenges intended to test the superhuman limits of human strength, Tom stepped up to the final test, the Atlas Stone.

With one foot firmly placed on the top step before the final event, Tom knew these stones were the only thing standing between him and becoming the World’s Strongest Man for the very first time.

Heart pounding, trying to keep calm in the sweltering heat of California in mid-June, Tom crouched down over the Atlas Stone in his starting position, waiting for the gun to go. The Atlas Stones are often regarded as the signature event in the contest.

The Atlas Stones are five heavy, spherical stones that increase weight from 140kg to 210kg. They need to be placed on top of five high platforms that span 4.9 meters to 10 meters, with each competitor racing to load all five stones onto platforms in the fastest time possible.

It is essential to appreciate just how heavy 210kg is in all matters. I have a personal affection for sea creatures, so 210kg in everyone’s language is equivalent to; 4 Giant Pacific Octopus (50 kg each), Arapaima Fish (200 kg), Atlantic White-Sided Dolphin (200 kg), Southern Sea Lion (200 kg), and Melon-Headed Wale (206 kg).

Tom lifted all five stones faster than anyone, more importantly, faster than Brian Shaw, the only other man who could have prevented him from not only becoming the world’s strongest man but the world’s strongest man that has autism.

World’s Strongest Man Has Autism, World’s Strongest Man Podium with all top 3

Tom’s Challenges with Autism

Autism is defined as;

Autism, or autism spectrum disorder (ASD), refers to a broad range of conditions characterized by challenges with social skills, repetitive behaviours, speech and nonverbal communication.

Tom’s achievement is a win for large parts of society because being so-called different is not a negative. I personally have experience with this with my firstborn. He has higher elevated levels of energy, and as a result, people often see and view him differently.

What I find interesting is that, by what my mother tells me, I was not too dissimilar to my son, with very high elevated energy levels and highly strung. In the ’70s, ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder) was not around. Still, I am sure that I would have been a perfect match for such a diagnosis.

It has been suggested by many that my son be tested. Yet, the professional phycologist (seen) does not deem this necessary. My son has high academic attainment. He can sit and play the piano for hours. He has attention when performing sports to a high level. However, from the outside, this elevated level of energy is seen as a negative, and he gets ostracised. Which is no doubt I also encountered when growing up. After winning, Tom opened his door to the world to share his experience growing up.

I didn’t have a clue that I was doing anything wrong… All my behaviours and the stuff I was doing, like in the house, out of the house, to my parents, siblings, etc., I thought was normal.

I thought the other kids, doing different things, were the ones that were in the wrong.

As he got older into the teenage phase of life, he shared this with his friends.

Something just clicked in my brain…I stood up and took my seven or eight best mates into a room and said, ‘Look, I have autism… And that day is when a weight lifted off my shoulders and I felt normal. Like a normal member of society. I felt just normal around people, and they all just treated me the same as them… That was the day that changed my life. When I was open about having autism.

His friend’s response to him made all the difference; it changed his outlook on life.

And they said, “Look, there’s no problem at all. We’re still going to like you for who you are.”

Having a disorder is a gift

Simone Biles, arguably the best female gymnast, revealed she has ADHD and how this drove her to the success she has experienced; Elon Musk revealed that he has Asperger’s. A while back, I remember reading after the London 2012 Olympics, lots of the athletes who won medals in the UK said they had ADHD. I also remember reading about business leaders in the City of London saying that they all operate on the spectrum.

Still, society believes that being different is a curse; I was the recipient of many family and church members laughing at me as I could not read. Subsequently, I was identified during University at the age of 21 to have dyslexia and dyscalculia (Dyslexia is a learning disability that impairs reading ability. dyscalculia makes math difficult).

For being a person with marginal ADHD, dyslexia and dyscalculia, I also consider myself, as do others who have observed me from my early years, to have OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder). Which is a common, chronic, and long-lasting disorder in which a person has uncontrollable, reoccurring thoughts (obsessions) and/or behaviours (compulsions) that they feel the urge to repeat over and over.

With all these, which I have always considered a gift, I have an undergraduate degree and a PhD in Engineering from Loughborough University, a top 6 University in the UK, and one of the best for Engineering. In addition, I have an innate ability to distil complex problems into simple problems, this skill I attribute to what society considers to be negative.

When I sit and observe my son, I see the same qualities that other kids just do not possess. My son happens to also be very good at drama, and when we go to auditions, he has the directors eating out of the palms of his hand.

How can these be seen as a curse and not a gift? As with most things in life, it is crucial to control them, which is the key. Building control and boundaries allow these so-called negatives to develop into a positive. If society wants to shine a light on it, it should be more at the shortcomings of understanding and supporting these traits as gifts.

Of course, some children are more prone to aggressive behaviour or elevated energy levels than others. The child’s surroundings are also vital; they help determine how a child can be nurtured for future success. There is no one size fits all as Tom has demonstrated with harnessing autism to succeed.

Success does not mean being the best in any field, but personal success. Understanding Multiple Intelligences and identifying a child’s Signature Strengths can be the key.

In a unique or different society, you will take some bumps now and then, but you bounce back as long as you don’t get defeated inside and are supported on your path.

Tom Stoltman, thank you for being a beacon of a light buddy!



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