Written by Chris Boyle Friday, 12 April 2013 00:00
Tipping the scales at a meaty 270 pounds at the tender young age of only 19, powerlifter Matt Sohmer is poised to hit the big-time- literally.
A graduate of Farmingdale High School, Sohmer played on the football team his junior and senior years, where he was a defensive tackle. And while always considered the ‘big kid,’ he said that once he started playing on the gridiron, he discovered that he needed to be even bigger.
“When I went to high school, everyone eventually started to catch up to me in terms of size,” he said. “I wanted to keep that edge, so started to lift weights to try and increase my strength.”
Sohmer was fortunate enough to have an uncle who was a former Olympic lifter, and under his tutelage, he said that he started to make rapid progress.
“I found that my strength level really went up high...in my senior year I was already lifting over 500 pounds,” he said. “That gave me an edge that a lot of the other football players didn’t have.”
Sohmer did well enough his senior year to earn a partial football scholarship to Becker College in Massachusetts, majoring in Physical Therapy. However, an unfortunate injury on the field changed his plans of playing college ball considerably.
“I took a late hit and blew out my ACL, and that pretty much ended my football career,” he said. “I had started playing football when I was 4 years old, and I looked forward to playing it in college...it was disappointing, but I had a good ride.”
However, instead of a set back, Sohmer saw this as a set-up for a comeback. After transferring to Indiana University of Pennsylvania, he started capitalizing on his enormous success in weightlifting by entering powerlifting competitions, which focus on lifts such as the squat, deadlift, and bench press. Before he knew it, he was making and breaking records- often against competitors twice his age.
“I found it very easy...it came very naturally to me, so I started doing some of the bigger meets, and the set me up for the Junior Olympics last July,” he said. “I set six world records and won three gold medals there...everything really started to come together after that.”
Sohmer currently holds 24 United States and World powerlifting records (including an 800 pound squat without knee support wraps), spread throughout several different powerlifting federations, and he takes pride in having done it all drug-free.
“I’ve been tested at meets before,” he said. “It’s very important for me to show people that you can do this on your own...you don’t have to take illegal substances.”
His star is rising so quickly in the strongman world that he’s even considering a run in the Olympic Games; however, as powerlifting is not currently an Olympic sport, this path would necessitate a change in his style.
“They’ve currently trying to get powerlifting as a demonstration sport, but that might be a few years away,” he said. “My trainers think that, because of the amount of weight that I can move now, it would be an easy transition to Olympic weightlifting, which involves more technique and less brute strength.”
If Sohmer decides to try and compete on that level, he would need to modify his training, start competing in Olympic qualifying events, and, perhaps most importantly, acquire the support of sponsors.
Many people go their entire lives trying to discover where they fit in; Sohmer says he is fortunate enough to have been able to do so early in life.
“I’ve been very blessed that I’ve been able to do this,” he said. “I’ve always had the support of my family, and I just have a love for it; when I don’t do it, I miss it. When you go to a meet, there’s a room full of people that are cheering, that want to see you make that lift, and it’s such an adrenaline rush.”
And as for the future?
“I’m just looking to re-write the record book,” Sohmer said. “I want to be known as the greatest powerlifter of all time, and I’m hoping that I get the opportunity to go to the Olympics and prove that to the world.”