Rob Kearney is an elite professional strongman. He’s competed with the best and at the biggest events in the business, qualifying for World’s Strongest Man on four occasions and the Arnold Classic on three occasions. He’s also the first openly gay man to compete at the highest level of the sport.
Rob sat down with Myprotein recently to talk about the strength it took to come out, how proud he is to represent the LGBTQ+ community, and his commitment to leaving a lasting legacy.
“My sexual orientation has absolutely no bearing on what I can do as a strongman athlete.”
Rob has been an athlete for most of his life, but he’s spent much of it alone. He never saw anyone like him, so didn’t think it was possible for someone like him to get to the top.
It was only after coming out in 2014, Rob fully realised that it didn’t matter, and that to be the best strongman he could be, he needed to live openly and be honest to himself.
“Gay, straight, lesbian, trans — it doesn’t matter. What you’re doing is to make yourself feel good and ultimately I do have this amazing platform to show the world that my sexual orientation has absolutely no bearing on what I can do as a strongman athlete.”
With this weight off his shoulders, Rob was able to focus 100 per cent on his training, as he was no longer spending so much time and energy hiding such a big part of himself.
But it took a lot of strength to come out. As there were no other openly gay professional strongmen, Rob didn't know what the reaction would be.
“I didn’t know if it was going to be something that was really positive or even career ending.”
“I didn’t know how I was going to be perceived. I didn’t know if it was going to be something that was really positive or even career ending because it can be so polarising.”
Fortunately, his fellow professionals were incredibly proud and accepting.
“Strongman is such an amazing group of athletes. It kind of is like a brotherhood, especially at the top level, where we all understand the pain and the sacrifice and the time that it takes to get to this level, so when I came out the people that were the first ones to support me were the people in the sport.”
“The spotlight was kind of thrust upon us really quickly.”
Rob was positively surprised by the blanket support of his fellow professionals, having anticipated a more mixed response. What he also didn’t expect was how much attention it would bring from outside the strongman arena.
“When I came out, it wasn’t my goal to be an influencer and to have influence in this space, or to that person that people look up to. It was for me and for my husband and for us to be able to celebrate our love openly and authentically.
But he seized the opportunity, recognising he could promote inclusivity and equality, and be a role model to other aspiring LGBTQ+ athletes.
“But what we quickly realised was the spotlight was kind of thrust upon us really quickly because being the first of anything is always a big deal, but we also had this platform to really promote inclusivity, equality and the loving nature of the sport and try to project that onto the world.”
“It isn’t about wins or losses necessarily. I want to leave a legacy.”
Being the best is the number one focus of most athletes. Rob’s the same, but he also has other achievements on his mind.
“For me, it isn’t about wins or losses necessarily. I want to leave a legacy that people remember me for the character I brought to the sport. Every single time I do an event I have this realisation of ‘holy s***, I get to do this’.
“Obviously I want to perform, and I want to do my best and I want to win, but when I’m able to look into a crowd of 10,000 people and have that realisation that I am lucky enough to do this and compete in front of these amazing fans that want to come and see me, I want them to feel that as well.”
Take Home Message
Rob’s a true trailblazer. His journey to the top of his sport, courage to be its first openly gay competitor, and commitment to proudly representing people like him prove that he really is one of the world’s strongest men.
Want more inspiration?
READ THESE NEXT:
LGBTQ+ Rugby Helped Bring This Man Out Of His Depression
How he came to accept himself and find his tribe.
Training After Top Surgery | Advice & Workout Plan From NRG Fitness
How Em introduced chest workouts back into their routine.