by Brenda Black
141 pp. (Biography)
Steve Schmidt is an an impressive strongman. He holds several United States All-Round Weightlifting Association (USAWA) records, including a 2,520-pound hip lift and 7,253 back lifts of 1,115 pounds each (for a total of over 8 million pounds) in under three hours. He's in the Guinness Book of World Records for lifting a 100kg (220-pound) weight fifty times in a minute—using only his teeth. He routinely puts on strongman shows at fairs and festivals, where he bends horseshoes, steel bars and rebar, and donates the proceeds to charity. (He also bends steel bars across the bridge of his nose without any padding, which . . . wow.)
As a tribute to Schmidt, Heart & Steel shines. The book covers Schmidt's strongman feats in admiring detail, as well as providing some insight into his childhood, work ethic, faith and family life. Apart from being devoted to his wife, Schmidt appears to be a fundamentally independent soul: he avoids doctors, is deeply religious but seems mildly distrustful of formal worship, and seems to be generally self-sufficient on his Missouri farm. He is a believer in both hard work and fair play; early in his lifting career, he traveled to prisons to compete against the inmates, even though "I had to go through seven doors and competed with some pretty scary guys," because "[t]hose were fair competitions … they couldn't get the drugs" (steroids). Years later, he agreed to attend a competition (and potentially set some new records) only if it happened to rain on the day of the event, because otherwise he had work to do on his farm. In sum, Schmidt comes across as genuinely decent, humble, and highly focused.
Even so, the book has its limitations. It is clearly meant as a celebration of Schmidt rather than as a "warts and all" biography; indeed, Heart & Steel goes out of its way to avoid anything difficult or unpleasant. For example, Schmidt married and divorced before meeting Kitty, his current wife of twenty years. We know of this first wife only from a single sentence in the book: "While his first wife did not understand his passion for strength training and competitions, Kitty championed it." The first wife is never mentioned again, and we are left with a number of questions. Did Schmidt's focus on strongman events play a role in the dissolution of his first marriage? Did the dissolution of that marriage cause Schmidt to either question or reaffirm his commitment to his sport?
Heart & Steel goes nowhere near such issues. But then again, they wouldn't really fit within the book's upbeat narrative. This is assuredly not a tell-all work, but there's something to be said for Schmidt's decision to keep his private life private. If you're looking for a complete picture of both the triumphs and the tribulations of being a modern-day strongman, you may want to look elsewhere. But if you're looking for a well-crafted homage to an interesting and talented strength athlete, Heart & Steel is a worthwhile read.