Meet the Harrogate man who could be crowned the world's strongest
Meet the plucky Harrogate man who at 22 years old is hurtling towards being crowned the World’s Strongest Man.
Consuming 6,000 calories a day and constantly pushing himself to reach new physical extremes in training, Luke Richardson also manages to juggle this with his day job, working part-time at Starbeck swimming baths as a lifeguard and swimming teacher.
On Saturday, Luke competed in Britain’s Strongest Man at Sheffield arena, finishing fourth, where crowds numbering 10,000 shouted and cheered him on as he shows off his astonishing strength - but as staggeringly difficult as the contest is, it is still ultimately a warm up and scene setter for the worlds.
Clocking up numerous national and European titles in powerlifting from the age of 18, Luke has been training intensively for strongest man over the last six months, and hopes to bring back the highest global accolade in his field for his supportive home town.
Luke said: “In strength sport, there isn’t a title that is bigger than this, and it is exactly what it says on the tin - when you think of how many people there are on this Earth, nearly eight billion, to be named the strongest would mean everything.
“My sole reason for being on Earth right now is strongest man - it’s my world, it’s my life, from the moment I wake up, to when I go to bed.”
So what does it take to be a strong man? And what is it like having thousands of people riding the waves of such an extreme journey with you?
Luke said: “You feel like a rock star going out in front of a sea of people to show what you can do - seeing a packed stadium, you get such a buzz.
“If I had to describe what it’s like doing this, you have to completely turn off all natural instincts and be completely focused. It’s like putting your hand over an open fire, and all you want to do is take it off, but you keep it there.
“The training sessions are not conventional gym sessions, everything is maximum effort, and you’re in that place where your brain is telling you to stop, your body is telling you to stop, but you just have to keep pushing through.
“I have always been extremely obsessive and competitive, and one-track minded. The bigger the goal, the better. It’s just the way I am programmed, I’ve been like that ever since I was a child.”
Luke was inspired to throw himself into the world of strength sports after watching TV powerlifting giants and meeting industry heavyweights face to face.
He dropped out of university to chase his dreams after completing two-and-a-half years of his degree, to concentrate on a world powerlifting competition - a move which Luke said he knows went against the grain at the time, but was absolutely the right decision for him.
He said: “If I had got a degree and came second, I wouldn’t have been able to live with myself. Everyone should always do what’s right for them and follow their dreams.
“Through my whole life I have had people maybe trying to stop me from doing what I want to do, saying that it doesn’t make sense, and it’s very easily misunderstood as a pipe dream. I want to show people that I am never giving up, that I’m just going for it.”
With a social media following of more than 30,000, Luke’s profile within the strong man circuit is ever-rising, as he shares photos and videos of his attention-grabbing training. But no matter how well-known Luke becomes in his profession, he is determined to always stay grounded and remember his roots.
Luke said: “There can be a bit of stigma around it, people thinking that you’re a hard man, but I’m a softie. Another more personal misconception is that because of how focused and driven you are, people can feel like they are not important in your life, which just isn’t the case.
"I’m aware that as a 22-year-old I’m not following the usual route, where you’re cracking on and settling down in life, looking at a 9-to-5 job - I’ve taken a different route.”
Despite his cool demeanour, Luke still gets nervous before competing, and insists that anybody who says they don’t is lying. He said: “So much can go wrong, and there is a thrill that it can go so wrong. Obviously it’s never a goal to get injured, but if you’re going to keep pushing your body to such an extreme, stuff is going to pop eventually, it’s unpredictable.
“If you say you don’t get nervous, you are lying. People deal with nerves differently, but if you care about something, and you’re about to showcase the last half a year to a year of training, it’s natural to get a bit of nerves, anxiety and self-doubt.
“But you can use those nerves and channel them. My parents are proud of their little boy for doing what he loves in front of 8,000 or 10,000 people, but naturally they do worry with the unpredictability of it and the risks of getting badly injured.”
Luke pours hours upon hours of time into his training to prepare himself for the sheer breadth and versatility of the World’s Strongest Man competition - from log ladders and the infamous Atlas stones, to lifting and pulling quad bikes, he is testing himself to the max.
Luke said: “Strong man is so diverse, but that’s why it is so fun to do. When I do these challenges, it’s like an out of body experience. When people ask me what it’s like, I can’t really tell them - when I think about it afterwards, it’s like I’m watching myself doing it rather than feeling it.”
One of the most difficult things about Luke’s career is the calories he needs to consume. He said: “Eating is difficult - I don’t enjoy eating all the food, it’s not enjoyable at all.
“You are always eating, even when you are full. But you’ve just got to keep going and focus on your goals.”
Luke has travelled the world for competitions, and now has his eyes set firmly on being named the World’s Strongest Man.
How Luke is raising the town's profile
At Britain’s Strongest Man, Luke was rubbing shoulders with the likes of five-times winner and 2017’s World’s Strongest Man, Eddie Hall, who will be presenting the evening’s action alongside Bill Kazmaier, himself a three times winner of the world title.
Luke said: “It would mean everything to do well in these competitions.” He thanked everyone who has helped him along the way, including Harrogate sports therapist Mark Holmes of MH Sports Therapy.