The annual Gladiator Challenge drew athletes from around the state Saturday to flip 600-pound tires and lunge with weighted plates, all amid a heat index topping out about 105 degrees.

The strength-sports event hosted by Union Hospital’s Fitness Center kicked off at 8 a.m., running through 4:30 p.m. in conjunction with the annual Clabber Girl Brickyard BBQ Festival.

Pools of melted asphalt stuck to participants’ shoes like chocolate bubble gum inside the Clabber Girl loading docks area. Coolers filled with towels soaked in ice water steamed in the heat waiting for competitors, along with those containing cold watermelon, oranges and apples.

That morning’s Pump Fest drew 30 athletes to the 8 a.m. callout, where they ran through a series of circuit-style workouts, competing for time and repetitions.

Lucas Thompson, a trainer with the Union Hospital Fitness Center, said the organization is in the final stages of opening a CrossFit facility at 1839 N. Fourth St. That morning’s contest was in fact a CrossFit competition in substance, if not yet in name, he said.

CrossFit is a style of functional exercise which includes both free weights, cardio and gymnastics. In one series of drills, competitors had to complete as many “thrusters” as they could with weighted bars, shooting the bar up above their heads repeatedly. Once they dropped the bar due to fatigue, they then ran about 30 yards carrying a 45-pound plate over their heads before going back to the thrusters. The goal of that particular series was to get as many thrusters as possible in 10 minutes.

Other drills included “double-unders” with a jump rope, where the competitor had to perform 50 repetitions where they made the jump rope pass beneath their feet twice in one skip. Once the 50 were achieved, they picked up 45-pound plates and performed 40 lunges, then a series of power snatches followed by shoulder-to-overhead presses with weighted bars. In that series, competitors had 5 minutes to complete as many motions as possible, with extra points given for each “pistol,” or one-legged squat, performed.

“The biggest thing about CrossFit is the community. . . the screaming at each other, for people who you don’t know,” Thompson said, adding the club is offering free workouts each Saturday between 9 and 11 a.m. for those interested. Thompson said email is a good way to obtain more specifics, and his is

Shawn King, 32, Evansville, won the men’s division of the Pump Fest. A personal trainer at the Evansville CrossFit, the 155-pounder said he’s been training in that style for about a year.

His teammate Brittney Salpietra, 34, Evansville, won the women’s division. The pair brought several competitors from their club to participate.

Strongman competition began at 1 p.m. as competitors pressed axles laden with tires over their heads, flipped tires as heavy as 800 pounds, and pulled a Clabber Girl box truck. Other events included lifting a 220- or 275-pound concrete ball over a bar and carrying a yoke with 700 pounds for distance.

Northview High School senior Jed Thomas, 17, took third in the lightweight men’s division, weighing in at 195 pounds. The Knights’ linebacker hopes to play college football next year and competes in strongman events in Indianapolis, Ohio and Illinois.

“Love it,” he said, trying to catch his breath after spending 60 seconds tossing a 220-pound concrete ball back and forth over a bar. “It’s raw strength. It’s not just some number in the weight room.”

At the other end of the age spectrum, Marty Capps, 50, won the master’s division, while Ben Tipton, a 2011 Purdue University graduate from Merrillville, took first in the lightweight category. Kyle Richard, 27, Indianapolis, won the heavyweight division.

Jana Hoffman, Rensselaer, a nationally-ranked strength athlete who competes throughout the Midwest, won the women’s division.

Brian Boyce can be reached at 812-231-4253 or

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