Shaun Hairston

Getting a Lift: Shaun Hairston is in training to return to weightlifting competitions.

Shaun (née Shanice) Hairston ’14 is one of the top amateur heavyweight competitors in the United States.

Since 2016, Hairston has been using his training and discipline as a former shot put and discus thrower on Virginia Tech’s track and field team to meet his goals in weightlifting competitions across the country.

Hairston competes in events sponsored by the Strongman Corp., a series of competitions created by Arnold Schwarzenegger to challenge athletes in endurance, strength, and agility. These events usually require athletes to compete in multiple challenges for up to three days. Athletes are tested in overhead press, deadlift, and movement and loading categories.

Hairston lives in Roanoke and works as a children’s services act coordinator with a local government office, while training. Currently, he is rehabbing a back injury and hopes to return to competition this summer.

Hairston recently discussed his sport and accomplishments with Virginia Tech Magazine.

How would you describe your time at Virginia Tech?

During my time at Tech, I learned a lot about myself. In a school as big as Tech, it was important for me to find groups that I identified with. I spent time participating in HokiePRIDE groups as well as the POC (People of Color groups) on campus. I learned so much from them and was able to have so many great experiences. I would encourage new students to seek out groups of their interests. Also, for alumni to give back to these groups if they are able.

How did being a Virginia Tech athlete prepare you for bodybuilding competitions?

If it wasn't for my time on the track team, I don't think I would have sought out strength training after college. My love for lifting heavy came from the days in the weight room, training to gain strength and speed to improve our performance on the field. After graduation, I didn't have the desire to throw as much, but I wanted to continue strength training. I came into the sport with a huge strength base from the work I put in on the track team. Also, there is a level of camaraderie that comes along with all strength sports. Being on the (Virginia Tech) team introduced me to this mindset on how to not only be a humble competitor, but how to cheer on fellow competitors by appreciating the level of strength they have reached.

How do you train for competitions?

I train year round, being sure to take time to rest when needed. Leading up to a competition, I will train for the specific events of that competition for 12 weeks, training four days a week, with two days being upper body strength-focused and two being lower body. I usually train in a linear periodization powerlifting program (which is exposing parts of the body to different stressors). More recently I have used the conjugate method and loved the results I saw with it. (Conjugate training uses multiple methods within one workout, or over the course of one block of workouts.)

What part of these competitions are your strongest? Is there a certain area that you do best in?

I love pressing, in all forms, overhead. I always have. Most people love deadlift, but I feel overhead is just as much as a whole-body exercise, especially when it gets heavy and you get into push and split jerks. I'm fairly consistent in the other events, but pressing is usually where I can grab lots of points with a first or second place finish. Loading events, such as stone loading, are a second favorite and also a strength.

What is your ultimate goal in strength competitions?

My immediate goal is to rehab an injury and get back to Strongman Corp. Nationals, place, receive my pro card, and qualify to the Arnold World Championships again. I placed second at this competition this year and missed my pro card by one place. Afterward, I would like to venture into the other federations of Strongman, receive my pro card in them, and place well among the current "heavy hitters" of my weight class. I want to show that I am capable of placing with some of the best in the world. (A pro card is given when an athlete makes the top three in in an “open division” amateur show, such as the Arnold Strongman Classic. Once given a pro card, athletes can compete in professional level shows for money and make a career out of the sport.)

What does it mean to you to participate in these competitions?

I’m doing it for myself and for the communities that I am a part of, too, so that anyone can feel like they can be a strongman. I’m a firm believer in that.

Haley Cummings, a senior majoring in public relations, is an intern with Virginia Tech Magazine.