JBER infantryman ranks among strongest in world

Wednesday, February 28, 2018 - 11:33
  • U.S. Army 1st Lt. Max Pippa, an infantry officer stationed with U.S. Army Alaska, performs a dead lift at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson on Feb. 20. Pippa competed in the 2017 World’s Strongest Man competition in Raleigh, N.C., Dec. 16 and 17, where he achieved a second place finish in the 198.4-pound weight class. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Curt Beach)
  • U.S. Army 1st Lt. Max Pippa, an infantry officer stationed with U.S. Army Alaska, competed in the 2017 World’s Strongest Man competition in Raleigh, N.C., Dec. 16 and 17, where he achieved a second place finish in the 198.4-pound weight class. See story, page 6. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Curt Beach)

JBER — All or nothing. It’s pain and stress management. There’s a constant little bird in the back of your mind chirping away that you might not make it. If you don’t make it, you just spent months of training and a bunch of money to watch your dream pass you by.

U.S. Army 1st Lt. Max Pippa’s mind was racing as he pushed his body to its limits during the final stages of preparation in an arduous journey for greatness.

Max, an infantry officer with the Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 1st Battalion (Airborne), 501st Infantry Regiment, 4th Infantry Brigade Combat Team, 25th Infantry Division, U.S. Army Alaska, battled against 29 of the toughest warriors from around the globe in the 90-kilogram weight class (198.4 pounds) at the 2017 World’s Strongest Man competition in Raleigh, North Carolina, Dec. 16 and 17.

The competition’s first day of events included a log clean and press for max weight, an 800-pound yoke carry for 50 feet, a deadlift of a Jeep Wrangler for max reps, and finally a timed-carrying medley. The medley consisted of carrying a 650-pound metal frame, a 325-pound metal tombstone and a 265-pound sand bag carry, each for 50 feet.

“This was the event that tests endurance and speed,” Max said. “My forte is conditioning-based events, so I knew I could make a push in the standings in that one. It’s pretty high up on my list.”

The St. Louis, Missouri, native said one of the keys to success in this style of competition is recovery and knowing how to manage energy and adrenaline between events.

“It’s a long day of getting yourself amped up, then coming back down, and then repeating that cycle,” said Max. “Most people don’t work out that way—they warm up, exercise for a couple hours, then cool down. Knowing how to ‘redline’ repeatedly throughout the day and recover effectively is everything.”

Between events Max would sit down and eat a cup of white rice, a few ounces of beef jerky and drink some Pedialyte to prevent dehydration. Then he would listen to non-aggressive music to relax and conserve energy.

“As soon as an event’s over, bring yourself down and get right back into rest and relax mode,” Max said. “That’s what I did for each event I competed in, and after each event I would get better.”

After nearly eight hours of rigorous competition, the bottom 20 athletes in the standings were eliminated, while Max, currently in third, and the other top 10 advanced to the second day to determine the champ.

“That night was nothing but restless sleep,” he said. “At 3 a.m. I decided to just stay awake and focus on getting in the right mindset for the coming events.”

The last day of competition included two events; the first was a timed pulling of a Ford F-350 truck with an attached trailer holding four more vehicles across a 50-foot course.

Secondly, competitors would race to lift a series of six concrete stones, increasing in weight from 250 to 375 pounds, onto successive platforms.

“Day two was my jam,” said the infantry officer. “I had been awake for most the night, visualizing those two events and watching silent videos of past competitions. I was mentally focused.”

To help him stay focused, he thought about his 10-month-old son Cassius and his wife Corinna and all their support throughout his time preparing for the competition, which often included three to five hours of training three days per week.

Often training at JBER’s fitness centers, Max said he owes much of his success to John Limon, Buckner Physical Fitness Center director, who supports JBER’s many athletes by procuring necessary training equipment, such as concrete stones, not often found at typical gyms.

“People like Max get me excited. He’s set a heck of an example around here,” said Limon. “Lots of military guys and gals come to the fitness center with aspirations to achieve great things within their military lives and outside the gates. Max shows people around here what’s possible when you’re disciplined and dedicate yourself to achieving your goals.”

Max has a bachelor’s degree in exercise physiology, so fitness, diet and health have always been a passion for him. He developed an interest in Strongman in 2006 with some friends in St. Louis.

“I feel fortunate and blessed to have been able to perform well in something I’m passionate about,” said Pippa. “It’s been a long road, but it’s one I’m grateful for. I feel a lot of people don’t ever find something they’re truly ambitious about. To know what makes me happy, gets my blood pumping and to be lucky enough to be recognized as one of the top in the world is super humbling.”

Competing with purpose, the family man won both of the second day’s events. Combined with the points he had accumulated the first day, the 27-year-old fitness enthusiast brought home a second-place overall finish in the prolific competition.

At the end of the contest, Max found himself standing on the podium with a silver trophy in one hand and baby Cassius in the other.

“I’m a pretty lucky guy,” he said. “I just feel blessed that all the variables lined up the way they did, especially my wife who has been extremely supportive, taking on a lot to enable me to pursue this.”

Now Max plans to spend time with his family, pursue a career as a firefighter, continue to compete and to inspire others to pursue their passions.

“Regardless of what it is that drives you, I hope other people find what they’re ambitious about. Find something that fires you up and pursue it, see where it goes. I feel so happy, humbled and grateful for this experience, and I hope other people can enjoy this same feeling.”

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