The battle to be crowned Emirates Strongest Man took place at Strong Gym HQ in Al Quoz on June 26 and saw the title go to 25-year-old Palestinian Salem Herzallah. With impressive feats, including pressing a 155kg log above his head and walking 40 metres whilst holding 140kg in each hand, Herzallah took the victory convincingly.
Having previously won the title in 2019, Herzallah has had a tumultuous 2 years. An injury to his knee prevented him from competing in the Middle East’s Strongest Man later that year, something that he struggled to come to terms with the help of his coach, former Britain’s Strongest Man, Mark Boyd, Herzallah refocussed and set his sights on Emirates Strongest Man 2020. This, too, wasn’t to be, however, with a false positive PCR test the day before his competition putting pay to his ambition. His victory 2 weeks ago was a fitting return to winning ways for the man Mark Boyd believes could be ‘the next big thing in Strongman’.
Born in Abu Dhabi, Herzallah has lived in the UAE his whole life. While studying for a bachelor’s degree in engineering at the American University in Sharjah, he discovered a passion for lifting weights. Initially leading his university powerlifting team, he switched to Strongman in 2017, meeting Mark Boyd via a mutual friend. This meeting was pivotal for Herzallah, ‘I felt that Strongman was more fun, it’s more complete, and each competition is different- I had found my thing’. He said.
Herzallah’s story is the consistent dedication that will hopefully take him to the top of his sport. During the lockdown, he stayed with his family in Abu Dhabi and determined not to let up his training. Buying second-hand weights and a squat rack and even making homemade sandbags, he used the time wisely. ‘All I did was sleep, eat and train; it was the perfect environment for an athlete', said Herzallah. Ramadan didn’t stop him from training either. With a full-time job and being based in Abu Dhabi over the Holy month, he commuted to Dubai every night after Iftar, returning home in time for Suhoor, ready for his working day to begin again. This dedication to training has taken him from deadlifting 330kg to 400kg within less than two years.
The sport of Strongman may well be seeing a perfect storm with Salem Herzallah. With a supportive family, one of the world’s best strength and conditioning coaches in Mark Boyd and a bucket full of natural talent and determination- he is definitely a man to watch.
Watch Salem in his next competition, Middle East’s Strongest Man- October 1st and 2nd at Strong Gym HQ. Streamed live on YouTube.
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