MADISON TWP. — Most who visit the nation of Iceland come with a list of tourist activities to do.
But Butler County’s Mike Diehl is no tourist. He’s an internationally acclaimed strong man competitor.
So, Diehl’s recent version of “touring” Iceland included yanking frantically on a rope — while sitting down — to pull a 6,000-pound truck nearly 20 yards in 18 seconds – all with just one hand.
That’s what internationally acclaimed disabled strongman do and that’s what Diehl, a former area firefighter who lost his arm in a fire truck accident, does.
And the Madison Twp. man, who in October won first place in an international event in London, came in second last week among dozens of disabled strongmen from around the world invited to Iceland’s World’s Strongest Disabled Man competition in the nation’s capital of Reykjavík.
Diehl said Friday he was disappointed in missing out on another first-place, international win and for letting his growing number of fans down.
“Competing again on an international level, and especially in Iceland, was a dream come true,” said Diehl.
But he added: “Finishing in second place overall in the world was not what I came there for and I was super disappointed in myself.”
The 6-foot-2, 300-pound father of two was an assistant football coach this fall at Madison High School and a Middletown Schools truancy officer. He will soon start a new job as a local corrections officer.
In 2015, the then-Franklin firefighter lost his right arm in a fire truck accident.
Diehl, a U.S. Navy veteran, said post-accident he drifted in life until he discovered training and competing in disabled strongman competitions that strengthened both his body and rejuvenated his spirit.
“There was a long period of time when I didn’t have any focus or direction on what I wanted to do and what my purpose in life would be,” he said, standing outside the Powerstation Gym in Middletown, where he trains and receives some financial backing.
“I went back to what had always been my guidepost, and that was physical activity and lifting weights. To be honest, it saved my life.”
“And now, because I’ve done it (strength training) for so long, I got into strongman competitions and power lifting as an extension of that. And I’ve had a lot of support from local people and local businesses that have done a lot to get me where I’m going,” he said.
“It’s given me a soapbox to stand on and talk about perseverance and never giving up and how I can be a positive role model to everyone in my community, and that gives me a purpose.”
Powerstation Gym owner Mike Ferguson saw up close Diehl’s recovery and rise to disabled strongman fame.
“Mike is outstanding, and for him to be able to do what he’s done — after what he went through — it’s unbelievable,” Ferguson said.
It wasn’t all work in Iceland as Diehl took in some typical sightseeing, but only after the competition.
He said Icelanders love their strongmen competitions and fans of the sport abound there. But audiences were limited to 50 people at the world championship because of government orders in wake of a recent coronavirus spike.
Up next for Diehl is more international competition in the spring, but this time closer to home in Columbus, Ohio, at Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Disabled Strongman competition.
And in preparation he has already re-defined his second-place finish in Iceland: “You never lose. You either win or you learn.”