EAST LONGMEADOW, Mass. – In the past four years, personal trainer Mike Zolkiewicz has broken the world record in Highland games competitions for the 56-pound weight toss five times — four of those besting his own records.
His most recent record-breaking throw came on June 8 at the Rhode Island Scottish Highland Festival in Richmond, R.I. He beat his previous world record of 19 feet by a single inch. The weight over the bar competition required Zolkiewicz, 35, to use just one arm to throw a 56-pound block weight (with a handle attached to it) up in the air behind him over what looks like a pole vault bar.
“I knew I was going to break it again that weekend. Practice was good and my weight training during the week was perfect,” he said. “I also promised my dad (Ed Zolkiewicz) that I would break it since he missed the previous record. He’s been there to see them all.”
Zolkiewicz’s first record-breaking throw came at a Highland games festival in 2009 in Antigonish, Nova Scotia, Canada, at 18-feet, 9-inches. Since then he has broken his own record twice in 2012 at heights of 18-feet,10-inches at a competition in Rhode Island and 18-feet, 11-inches in Chicago.
Prior to hitting the 19-foot 1-inch mark on June 8, Zolkiewicz set the record at 19 feet on May 18 at the Fairhill Scottish Games in Fairhill, Md. There, his next closest competitor’s toss reached 17 feet.
As owner of PowerClean Fitness, 167 Shaker Road, Zolkiewicz said he is able to put in the hours required to practice and keep his 6′ 4,” 290-pound frame in top shape for the competitions. He can be found at PowerClean, working with clients seven days a week, except for when he is competing, he said.
While attending Southern Connecticut State College, Zolkiewicz competed in the shot put and discus throw, sports he has been involved in since junior high school in Wallingford, Conn. His college coach was from Scotland and introduced him to Highland games competition, which was the team’s offseason training program, he said.
“I just love competing, period. And unlike track and field where you could do two events, in the Highland games, we can do up to 10 events in two days,” he said. “By far the Highland games is the greatest sport I’ve ever participated in.”
Highland games date back centuries to celebrate the Scottish and Celtic cultures and include other events such as the Scottish hammer throw and the stone put, similar to the shot put. The games are often part of Scottish and Irish festivals featuring music and dance.
Zolkiewicz said one perk of competing in the games is making friends with people he meets all over the world, including during his travels to Norway, the Ukraine, Scotland and Ireland.
He opened PowerClean Fitness in December, and he, along with trainers Carmen McNeil and Jeremy Provencher, work with men and women to, among other things, lift weights, ride stationary cycles and participate in cardio workouts in the 6,200-square-foot facility.
“I am the antithesis of what a personal trainer looks like,” Zolkiewicz said. “I look like the guy from the Planet Fitness commercials and just lift heavy things all day.”
Ruthann August, 46, of Holyoke has trained with Zolkiewicz for the past five years, including power lifting. She said with his knowledge of exercise science and his dedicated training routine, she’s not surprised that he keeps breaking world records.
Through Zolkiewicz’s training, August said, she recently reached her goal of powerlifting a total of 500 pounds in the bench press (110 pounds), deadlift (245 pounds) and squat (145 pounds).
“As a trainer he has gotten me to do things I never thought I would be able to do. I always had a weight problem,” she said. “He made it so I feel confident in myself. He is very motivational and supportive.”