By Danni Levy
Travis Ortmayer is 2 x America’s Strongest Man, with over 25 World Records under his belt. The first man ever to lift a 500-pound atlas stone, he’s no stranger to putting up a hard fight. But the biggest battle for Travis wasn’t faced in the arena.
An impromptu post-competition breakfast with the Texan giant unveiled an immeasurable fortitude that far outweighed that which was made apparent by physical feats I’d witnessed him perform. As I fought back the tears, I sat back and listened as Travis recited a series of events that have left a scar across his heart and a stone in his pocket.
“As a Strongman I’ve always got an injury or muscular pain somewhere on my body,” says Travis. “It was 2010 and I was really struggling with a few niggles.
I had a friend whose father was a nurse practitioner. He told me to come in and get some pain medication, because it would benefit my training. I thought, ‘Yeah, here’s my chance, I get the hook up on painkillers.’ In the back of my head, I knew it was wrong. But it’s easy to justify when you have a doctor telling you it’ll help you train.
“I started taking Hydrocodone, 15 milligrams, extra strength. I had no idea how quickly you become addicted.
“It made getting out of bed enjoyable. I’d get up, take a painkiller, and then sit on the couch while it kicked in. A warmth washed over me every time I took my pills and I started to feel good. A few hours later, I’d go to train. But I soon found myself stuck in a trap from which I couldn’t escape. I was miserable.
“The pills served as more than just painkillers. Even in social situations they made things easier. It was like having a mask on.
“I was willing to do anything to get off the painkillers and get my life back on track. That’s when an old girlfriend introduced me to her new thing- crystal meth”
“I tried several times to get off them. The withdrawal from opiates is fucking miserable. My wife had moved from England to be with me in Texas and our son Misha was just a baby. Painkillers don’t just numb your body, they numb your emotions. My wife and I started to grow distant and she wanted to be back with her family.
“I was in denial, and when your own wife starts to encourage you to get help, you don’t want to hear it.”
Travis was spiraling out of control.
“I was taking a lot of painkillers,” he says. “I‘d knock back eight of the 10 milligrams with five Soma, a muscle relaxer that increases the intensity. I was going to two different doctors to get my monthly supply.
“That’s when I came face to face with the worst day of my life. I was taking my wife and son to the airport. We planned to move to England together and the idea was they were going to set up whilst I sold the house in Texas. I remember getting to the airport, dropping them off, and giving my son a hug. He’d just turned three. He wrapped his arms around me and I cherished the little smile on his face and the little Cars backpack he had and his little suitcase. I remember them turning around and walking through the doors at the airport. I knew we weren’t going to be together again. That was the single most painful moment in my life. I mean, I’ve broken so many things, torn so many muscles. I’ve been hurt. Nothing came close to that. Not even close.
“Meth is a hell of a drug. It was a far, far worse monkey on my back”
“I was at rock bottom and I was willing to do anything to get off the painkillers and get my life back on track. That’s when an old girlfriend introduced me to her new thing- crystal meth. I was like, ‘Well, whatever, I’ll try this just to maybe give me some energy and help me train.’ With the crystal meth, I didn’t need the painkillers anymore. I thought, ‘Holy shit, here’s a way out of this fucking hell. Here’s getting this monkey off my back.’ I gave myself a week to get as messed up as I wanted, as high as I wanted. I said to myself, ‘Travis, we’re going to stop it at a week, get straight, and get the fuck over to the UK.’ That week turned into four years.
“Meth is a hell of a drug. It was a far, far worse monkey on my back.
“I lost everything piece by piece. My wife and son were gone, my friends and family turned their backs on me, the sport turned its back on me, and I lost my lifelong passion for training. Then I eventually lost my house.”
As he sat among the wreck he’d created, Travis came to the crossroads between life and death.
“The bank had foreclosed on me and I had two months until eviction day,” he says. “I was trying to box everything up and get it in a storage unit. I just remember looking around at the I was sitting on the side of my bathtub, and I had this Beretta, 40 caliber, with these hollow point, nasty frickin’ bullets. And I was thinking, ‘I don’t want to do this anymore. I fucking don’t.’ It was like staring the devil in the face and him asking me if I was ready to give up. And I remember looking back and saying, ‘I’m not ready. I’m going to keep fighting.’ It was that moment of realization, when I had a gun in my mouth and I was like, ‘What the fuck am I doing?’ I put it down, shaking and thinking, ‘How the fuck did I get here?’ Thankfully, I’ve always had that little guy in the back of my head, taking notes and charting my progress.
“It was that moment of realization, when I had a gun in my mouth and I was like, ‘What the fuck am I doing?”
“I was living on a box with my feet up on a shelf with just a yoga mat for comfort. I survived by eating a cheap takeaway once every other day.
“I planned to drive to Reno to visit my parents because my mum was sick. I saved up some money and took ten days to drive from Houston to Reno. I remember pulling into the Grand Canyon at midnight one night in the snow. I pulled off to the side to take a nap, and on New Year’s Day of 2016, I woke up to the sun coming up over the rim of the canyon, right in front of me. It was kind of a new beginning. It was one of those life-changing moments.
“Ironically, losing my house hadn’t been rock bottom. It was the key to my freedom. The house had become my prison. I was still way addicted to meth, but I’d stopped injecting and started smoking it. I’d become conscious of my addiction and I was smoking several times a day.
I was in the process of redirecting my life for the better, but I had lost all my strength and it’s a long ride. But that little voice in the back of my head just kept on saying, ‘You’re going to start over,’ and that’s exactly what I did.
“I’d taken the little meth with me I had left, but I had no money and I’d smoked it all. I last took meth on January 5th, 2016.
“I’d already been tapering off a lot and after a couple of weeks, I was fine. I finally got to the gym, weak as a kitten, but it felt great to actually lift weights again. I deadlifted 90kg for three reps and felt like I’d broken my back! I gained 60 pounds in just four months taking me to 227 pounds, the exact same weight I was when I did my first Strongman contest back in 2002.”
Travis kept himself on track by practicing daily gratitude and implementing a technique to ensure he didn’t veer off course.
“I have a little trick,” he says. “I keep a little stone in my pocket, so that every time I reach into my pocket, I feel that stone and I go over my gratitude list. I name five things I’m grateful for, every single time I touch it.”
Travis competed at 227 pounds for his comeback event and continued to go from strength to strength. Today, he tips the scales at 330 pounds and at the age of 40, he’s in the best shape of his life.
“I looked at my feet and I saw my toes move, and I started to move my feet around, and I thought, ‘You know what? There’s something. My feet, I’ve still got my own two feet”
“I realized I’d been looking at the world in a negative way. I’d been focusing on everything I’d lost, everything that had been taken, and all the pain that I felt. And the more I focused on it, the more of it I seemed to create. A downward spiral of negativity just creates more negativity.”
“I took another look around and there was nothing. Three and a half years of meth addiction had left my house in shambles. I needed to reverse the downward spiral and find something positive to climb my way out of there.
“I was sitting on the side of my bathtub, and I had this Beretta, 40 caliber, with these hollow point, nasty frickin’ bullets. And I was thinking, ‘I don’t want to do this any more. I fucking don’t’”
“I remember putting my head down to think, and I saw my toes move. At this point I was an IV meth user, so your feet get fucked up. The skin gets messed up. It’s not pretty. And I looked at my feet and I saw my toes move, and I started to move my feet around, and I thought, ‘You know what? There’s something. My feet, I’ve still got my own two feet. They’re kind of fucked up, but with these two feet, I can get the fuck up and I can walk out of here.’
“I got this sudden surge of joy and it kind of shot its way up to the center of my chest, into my throat. And it was the first time in years that I had felt joy.
“Ironically, losing my house hadn’t been rock bottom. It was the key to my freedom”
“I remember going to bed and getting up the next day and saying, ‘I want that feeling. That’s the feeling that I want.’
“I said, ‘Okay, if I could use my feet as an example, I still got my two hands as well and they’re fucking strong. And with these two feet and these two hands, I can get up and go anywhere and I can do anything.’ I got that feeling again. That surge of joy shot through me again. It was like, ‘This is what I need. This is what I fucking want.’
“On the third day, I found something else to be grateful for, on the fourth day, I found a fourth thing, and so on. Each day I got that same feeling. I’d learned to retrain my outlook on life through gratitude.
“Suddenly, I was looking at the same world of shit and loss and pain through a completely different lens. I started to instead see joy and hope. And that was the beginning of my ascent from hell.”
Travis ended up living in a storage unit, which just so happened to be the same one that housed his Strongman equipment.
“After my first night sleeping rough, the owner came over the next morning and said, ‘Travis, you know you can’t sleep here, right?’” says Travis. “But he and I both knew I was there to stay.
“All that’s left for me is my greatest wish; to be reunited with my son,” he says. “That’s one of the driving forces behind continuing Strongman into my forties.
It means I get on TV in the UK, so I can give him a shoutout every time. I just hope that someday he asks about me and reaches out to me, or sees his dad on TV calling his name and comes looking for me.
“I turned things around because I’d woken up to the fact we all have the miracle inside of us. That’s where my story ends.”
Travis’ Training Split
Four sessions per week for three hours each time
Monday: Volume Pressing
Triceps, Chest, Shoulders, Upper-back 4-5 sets of 6-8 reps
Wednesday: Squats and Deadlifts
3 sets of 4-5 reps with 705lbs for squats
3 sets of 3 reps with 805lbs for deadlifts
Friday: Heavy Pressing
Triceps, Chest, Shoulders, Upper-back 4-5 sets of 1-3 reps
Sunday: Pressing Technique
Emulating events/exercises from Strongman
70% of 1 rep max. 4-5 sets of 3 reps
Travis’ Food Intake
7000kcal per day average 6 meals per day
90o OZ protein per meal
Berries, cottage cheese and oatmeal
Chia seed pudding with chia seeds, yogurt, ground beef with coconut oil
Carbs, protein and veg (pre-workout)
Egg white shake with dextrose (post-workout)
Protein shake with fruit
Steak, veg, fruit and chia seed pudding from meal 2
Join Travis on Instagram @travis_ortmayer for his Monday gratitude videos, designed to help and inspire others in times of adversity.
Fellow strongman Eddie Hall has a very different type of fight on the horizon. Inspired by his loathing for arch-nemesis The Mountain, catch up on the latest from their long-running feud in EDDIE HALL’S TOP FIVE TIPS FOR DESTROYING YOUR OPPONENT WITH ONE PUNCH.