It came as a huge surprise to professional strongman Rob Kearney — who is perhaps best known by his social media handles, @worlds_strongest_gay and @strongestgay — that Outsports named him our Male Athlete of the Year, given that he thought his lack of success in most traditional sports would stand in the way of him ever going pro.

“Thank you so much for this, and what an unexpected honor!!!” Kearney told Outsports in an email. I’ve been fortunate to have interviewed him and seen him lift in person, and it’s a feat like nothing I’ve ever witnessed before.

In September, the famously rainbow-mohawked macho man spoke with me shortly after achieving a longstanding goal: he was named by the official strongman website the pound-for-pound strongest man in the world.

“Growing up as an athletic kid, you wish you could be a professional athlete. But I never thought that I would be a professional athlete,” he told me, “because I grew up in the traditional sports settings of football, baseball, basketball, and I was never that good at those sports.”

Kearney is clearly good at what he does now. In June, Kearney set a new American record for log lift, 475.75 pounds. You can watch him do it here in this YouTube video. That shattered his 2019 record-setting lift.

And Kearney did it all with his husband watching.

In March 2019, days after taking first place at the 2019 Arnold Pro Strongman contest in Australia and being congratulated personally by Arnold Schwarzenegger, Kearney and his boyfriend Joey Aleixo wed on Half Moon Bay Beach.

And Kearney closed out 2019 by being named Outsports Male Hero of the Year.

So how did Kearney become this year’s pound-for-pound world’s strongest man?

“It was open to all athletes all over the world, and they didn’t have to be just strong and athletes, they could be Olympic lifters, powerlifters, crossfit athletes, or just your regular Joe in the gym,” Kearney told Outsports.

“It was a one rep max floor to overhead event, so you could choose any implement, whether it be a standard barbell; It could be a log, which is what I’m mostly known for,” he said. “Just pick it up from the floor standing up. So, the way the contest works is you had to do the lift, and immediately after, you’ve got to step on the scale to verify your body weight, and then you had to weigh every single plate, the clips on the bar and the barbell itself, in order to verify what you lifted was actually the weight you stated it was.”

“The contest is open for two months,” said Kearney. “I answered on August 31st, put my entries in and ended up coming out on top as the champion.”

Kearney, now 29, came out in 2014, becoming the first self-acknowledged gay man to be actively competing in pro-level, international strongman competition. He did so to proclaim that he had fallen in love with his now-husband, Joey.

The couple and their dog Glitter live in Massachusetts.

Our other honoree:

Anthony Bowens

Wrestler Anthony Bowens was also nominated for Outsports Male Athlete of the Year.

As our Brian Bell wrote in his QWI 100 chronicle of the year’s best LGBTQ wrestlers, 2020 was a good year for “The 5-Tool Player.” Bowens successfully defended his Battle Club Pro Franchise and WrestlePro Gold championships in multiple promotions. That put him on AEW’s radar, culminating in him signing with the company and forming the tag team The Acclaimed with Max Caster.

When Bowens tweeted about signing with AEW last month, the wrestler declared it was not just a personal accomplishment and fulfillment of a dream but something he hoped would inspire others who feared coming out. He’s living the message that we call #CourageIsContagious.

Click here to follow Rob Kearney (@worlds_strongest_gay) on Instagram, as well as his husband Joey (@worlds_gayest_strongman). Anthony Bowens is on Instagram as well. Follow him by clicking here (@bowens_official)

Outsports is unveiling the 2020 honorees every day through Wednesday, Dec. 30.

Prior Male Athlete winners

2019: 8 Out gay college football players

2018: Figure skater Eric Radford

2017: Rower Robbie Manson

2016: Boxer Orlando Cruz

2015: Figure skater Eric Radford

2014: Soccer player Robbie Rogers

Outsports has divided year-end Athlete and Hero awards to highlight accomplishments of people across genders. We understand that not everyone fits into the binary gender world currently established in sports, and we honor that identity with the Non-Binary Award.