SHEPHERD-- In the sweltering heat of a July afternoon, Chad Lowry drips with sweat just off a gravel road in Shepherd while literally gaining a new grip on his life-changing passion.
"He's doing a 600-pound yoke and we do 50 feet for speed," his coach Ron Wilson tells MTN Sports as Lowry hustles while clutching a metal frame holding 600 pounds in weights. "It's a timed event."
Lowry is grinding through multiple reps of various training methods for an upcoming strongman competition.
"Basically, when you lift, you're trying to get under here as much as possible, then you're going to lift it up to here and into your lap," he explains while demonstrating technique in another event with a 250 pound concrete atlas stone.
"With strongman events, we've got the atlas weights, we've got yokes, we're dead lifting cars, we're flipping cars," Wilson said.
Lowry is an Air Force veteran who has been training less than a year at this new endeavor.
"I worked on F-16s loading bombs and missiles and working on the weapons systems, mostly in Italy," he recalled.
Now, he's working on a lifestyle change.
Lowry recalls how physically fit he was in the military, but says he slipped into a rough pattern after stepping away when he went to work as a floor nurse before shifting to computer work at Billings Clinic.
"(I) slowly let myself go," Lowry lamented. "Life happens and you know, sitting at a desk all day then (you) go home and watch TV. I got to about 295 (pounds)."
Harshly, Lowry's rut wasn't just physical.
"It was affecting my life, my marriage, everything. I got depression. Just got to the point where I was getting back into bad habits. I was eating horrible," he said.
"He was about 300 pounds and, not trying to be mean, but (he was) soft," Wilson said of when he first met Lowry. "Heavy set, overweight, getting in a rut."
Before tracking down Wilson, Lowry had eased back into weightlifting. But to no avail.
"I had never even thought of doing strongman before," he said. "So, I started looking online and found Ron. He said, yeah, come out this Saturday and we'll see what you've got. I've made probably one of the best friends in my life here with Ron, and his family, and the other lifters I have here."
They've formed a small, tightly knit strongman team.
Two months ago, Lowry drove to Bozeman for his first competition. There weren't enough competitors in his Masters Division, so he had to compete in the Open Division against guys a lot younger and stronger. He nailed it.
"Twenty-year-olds, 30-year-olds and (he) almost won. He took second place and only lost by a point," Wilson said.
Lowry's next competition is set for Saturday, August 28, in Billings.
Now, nearly every day of the week, Lowry shows up at Wilson's place grasping a new life challenge in his 40s. He says the effort has made a remarkable difference in his demeanor, confidence, and his marriage. And the ambition is back to keep up with his kids.
"I'd go hiking and half mile in I'd just dying. Now I go hiking and I can do five miles standing on my head. I can go fishing and hunting and all the great things that they like to do," he said.
"It's just a wonderful thing to be able to come out here, get your aggression out and then go home and be the best husband and father that you can be."