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Challengers flex their competitive muscle at Strongest Warrior Competition


In its second year, the Strongest Warrior Competition upped the difficulty for challengers and formally welcomed female entrants.

At the back end of the Watertown Fairgrounds YMCA’s parking lot, Jeffery Kloss yelled out as he struggled to flip a 600-pound tire for the third time.

“Ahh you suck,” he yelled as he pushed the tire over, as the tire hit the ground with a loud thud. He then rushed to push a 225 prowler for 30 yards.

The tire Kloss flipped was 150 pounds heavier than the one he had flipped during last year’s competition.

“It sucked then, and it sucks even more now,” he said after afterward.

The competition is used as a fundraiser by the National Association of the 10th Mountain Division’s Fort Drum chapter.

“For it to come together, it’s the fruits of our labor,“ said Jeffery Reynolds, who helped organize the event for the past seven months with his son, Jeremy.

New events for this year’s event included a stone lift, overhead log press and an event requiring entrants to pull an 11,000 pound truck 50 feet.

The competition drew about 40 entrants, a slight increase from last year, ranging from 17-year-old Frank Valletta, a rising high school senior from Baldwinsville, all the way to 52-year-old Brooks Haynes, a gym teacher at Immaculate Heart Central School.

This year was the first with a specific category for female entrants. The competition had five female competitors grouped together into an open competition. Last year’s competition had a single female entrant, who competed with men.

Catherine Toniatti-Yanulavich, of Turin, who entered the event with her brother, Jeff Toniatti, who lives in Evans Mills, said the event was a rare chance for them to compete together. She said she had been competing in strong woman events for three years.

“A lot of the times it’ll be for me, and he’ll be taking pictures,” Toniatti-Yanulavich said.

Her performance in the truck pull event drew quick praise, as her time bested the first group of male competitors that completed the event.

Also challenging was Tracy Stankavage, winner of the women’s lightweight division at the 2012 North American Strongman National Championship.

Going against women that in other competitions would fall in larger weight categories, Stankavage, a personal trainer in Syracuse, said she focused more on hitting certain performance marks in each event.

“I have to keep that in mind or I get quite angry,” she said. “I’m pretty competitive.”

She said her favorite event of the day was the stone lift, which she called her “bread and butter.”

Money raised during Saturday’s event supported the chapter’s scholarship fund and division’s Wounded Warrior Project.

Beforehand, competitors heard from Michael Schlitz, a retired sergeant first class that lost both hands and suffered major burns in a 2007 improvised explosive device attack near Baghdad, Iraq.

Schlitz, who previously served in the 4th Battalion, 31st Infantry Regiment, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, said fundraising events like the competition were an important way for soldiers “to remember their service is not forgotten.”

On Friday, Schlitz spoke to members of Fort Drum’s 3rd Battalion, 85th Mountain Infantry Regiment, better known as the Warriors in Transition Battalion, and many of the unit’s cadre participated in Saturday’s challenge.

The winner of the men’s lightweight category was Lucas Bryan, and Jason Stowell was second. Gary Gebo won the men’s light-heavyweight category, followed by Cean Olsen. The men’s heavyweight champion was Corey Clark, with Justin Poirier next.

The winner of the women’s division was Toniatti-Yanulavich, and Stankavage was runner-up.

More information about the scholarship and the organization can be found at

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