Updated: May 16
Meet our blog’s first neurodivergent athlete, Alfie Poyser.
Following in the footsteps of his strongwoman mother Carly Poyser, Alfie is training and competing as a strongman, and at only 18 years old he has already competed and medalled at multiple competitions in the beginner, amateur, and now open categories. Although I spoke to Alfie via video chat, I could tell by the size of his traps that he was big – 6 foot 1 and 120kg to be precise – and with a perfectly coiffed Essex haircut to top it off… and he says his brothers even bigger!
Alfie is currently studying Strength and Conditioning Rehabilitation at Anglia Ruskin University and has dreams of opening his own strongman gym in the future. Dreams that aren’t just idle fantasies – he described well thought out plans and contingencies showing foresight and pragmatism way beyond his years. It may therefore surprise you to know that Alfie actually has ADHD. Alfie readily admits he wasn’t very attentive at school, and it was this behaviour that led one of his sixth form teachers to suggest an ADHD assessment. Once assessed, Alfie was successfully diagnosed, but this late diagnosis is something he attributes to his lack of traditional ADHD characteristics: Alfie has never been particularly hyperactive.
Although his diagnosis allowed him to gain a much greater understanding of his attention issues, Alfie had already learnt many lessons ‘the hard way’. Years of hard work and input from caring friends and family, teachers, and supporters taught Alfie how to not only manage his attention issues, but to master them and use them to his advantage. He attributes his extreme goal driven mindset the hyperfocus aspect of his ADHD – yes, you read that correctly. Alfie does not experience physical hyperactivity, but instead experiences a sort of mental hyperactivity. He oscillates between his attention being everywhere at once, and then intensely focused in one place. It doesn’t take much empathy to imagine what an emotional rollercoaster this must feel like.
Fortunately, Alfie found a way to channel both his attention and his emotions through sport. For Alfie, Strongman has provided him with a safe and consistent space to socialise among likeminded people and to receive the kind of recognition he wasn’t able to earn at school – recognition for his hard work, determination, and unusual, yet impressive achievements. And he’s not done achieving. Alfie wants to be a professional Strongman and compete on the world stage! And after coming 6th in the men’s open category at the Arnolds in September (deadlifting 312kg and chucking 127.5kg over his head), he certainly looks set to achieve this ambitious target. Yes, if you thought ‘I wonder if the Arnolds have anything to do with Arnold Schwarzenegger’, then you are correct! It’s Arnold Schwarzenegger’s competition series!
Listening to Alfie describe it, the Strongman world sounds absolutely riveting, and I got the sense that it’s growing in popularity. Although sponsors have been few and far between, and prize money barely adequate to cover the cost of competitors food bills (which are far higher than average as you can imagine), it feels like people are really starting to notice how vibrant a community it is. Alfie describes huge personalities such as his coach, idol, and 11 x World’s Strongest Man competitor Laurence Shahlaei, or Big Loz for short (see photo of Alfie and Loz below), and an environment in which high profile athletes wouldn’t bat an eyelid at lending a helping hand to their fellow competitors.
According to Alfie, the sport is as much about an athlete’s personality as their ability to lift or pull unusual and heavy objects. But when Alfie talked about personality, he wasn’t just referring to the cliched, prefabricated and frankly grey personalities you often see in mainstream sport… he was in fact referring to the raw, fascinating, and uncensored personalities that seem to gravitate towards niche sports like Strongman. And not that I’m biased and making a shameless connection between good personality and neurodivergence, but Alfie swears by the fact that most Strongman competitors are neurodivergent, like for instance 2 x Worlds Strongest Man, Tom Stoltman, who is openly Autistic.
Alfie’s ADHD may cause him to procrastinate between sets, and become distracted when reading his programme, but he also attributes it to his various strengths, such as his determination, pragmatism, and hyperfocus. What is clear is that the Strongman ethos and environment have had a hugely positive influence on Alfie, and when you delve a little deeper, you begin to understand why. The ethos is welcoming and the environment vibrant. People are free to be themselves, and ‘different’ is even encouraged. Athletes and coaches alike are understanding and willing to adapt their approaches (always with the long-term goal in sight). Perhaps other sports should be looking to Strongman for ideas on how to be more neuroinclusive.
I’d just like to say a big thank you for reading, and an even bigger thank you to Alfie for being so open and honest, and a really great person to chat to. It makes advocating, designing websites and writing blogs on a weekend worth it, and I will definitely be revisiting this athlete in the future!
If you want to know a bit more about Alfie and what he’s up to in the meantime, please follow him on Instagram @asg.strong