This Viking can lift forever
ODD Haugen's name is descriptive of the man, in a sense, though it isn't pronounced odd, as in, "that's odd." It's "ode," as in, "Ho, da ode-ess guy still can lift all that weight!"
Odd Haugen can, even if, at age 55, he will be 20, 30 years older than most of his opponents at today's finals of the Hawaii's Strongest Man Competition.
Yes, that's right -- 55. Still going, um ... strong. Still pushing, pulling, flipping, carrying, lifting. All that crazy strongman stuff. You may have seen him on ESPN. He's still one of the best in the world in these strongman contests. You may have seen him around town. He lived in Hawaii for about 10 years, in the '90s, until 2000, has a son in the seventh grade at Punahou.
He's been Hawaii's Strongest Man three times, after taking up this sport in his mid 40s. He says today -- at the 31st annual Spring New Products Show at the Blaisdell -- he wants to be the first person to win it a fourth.
"Ode," indeed. So much for that.
"If you decide to give it up then you give it up," he says. "And then you die."
It appears he isn't close on either count.
He isn't the favorite, today, but you can't count him out. His friends and fans call him a Viking, a nickname he embraces. Age is his advantage now, he says: "Maybe I'm a little smarter now than I was before."
Yes, in all that pushing and pulling and flipping and carrying and lifting and such consistency and mental strength and strategy and experience count for more than most of us will ever know.
THE ODE TO ODD begins in Norway, where he was born and raised, a young boy who somehow got his hands on some American books and magazines on lifting weights. He started lifting when he was 10, "by myself, nobody telling me what to do." He's a vice president for Apex Fitness Group, in California, now, and its Web site says young Odd made his first weight set himself by crafting equipment out of Norwegian birch.
He was into all sports, as a kid. Running, jumping. Wrestling. Especially skiing. Anything athletic. Anything to be active. But it was like falling in love, lifting those weights.
After graduation, Haugen was coming to America like Eddie Murphy. He went to Western Maryland (now known as McDaniel College), a Division III school. He was on the track and field team -- was a conference champion three years in a row. He wrestled -- heavyweight, of course. He played football -- a guy from Norway who had never played the game.
He was just walking across campus, he says, minding his own business. Being the Viking, and they grabbed him. This was something he should try.
He was such a good athlete that in college he ran the 100-yard dash -- at 255 pounds. He's in the McDaniel record book for kicking two 50-yard field goals in one game, against Susquehanna, Nov. 13, 1971.
He was inducted into McDaniel's athletic hall of fame in 1992.
Afterward, football called. He was a free agent with the Redskins after stunning them in a tryout camp. But he had an old injury and not even George Allen would take a chance when Haugen failed the physical. Later, he would play a few preseason games with the 49ers.
So he went to graduate school, instead. Got another degree. Made a life in America.
"I came here for college," he says, "and never left."
HE STAYED IN school, got his MBA, started in business, did well. It was, he says, "five or six years out of a life that I didn't lift."
He actually got a little bit out of shape -- well, for him. For most of us, he was doing fine.
"I played a lot of tennis," he says. He skied.
Then he got back into it, the lifting, the being strong. He'd always loved that. His business did well, he was a big wheel in a company that owned a string of Gold's Gyms. He moved to Hawaii. He was coaching another guy for the Hawaii's Strongest Man Competition, and when Odd went to cheer him, it was like he was bitten by a bug. "I can do this," he said. And so he did, and he won it three times (2000, 2001, 2003).
Then he was going all over for these contests, was on ESPN. He was in his late 40s. Then 50s. Still the Viking. Getting up at 5 a.m. to lift, so it wouldn't take away from home or work, like the kid in Norway with the American magazines and the homemade weights.
Yes, he is Odd, but he is not old, no matter how his name is pronounced. Still the Viking. Still lifting, pushing, pulling, flipping, carrying, all that crazy strongman stuff. Having the time of his life.
He's hoping for win No. 4 today -- win No. 4 at age 55.
"It's a lot of fun -- if it wasn't fun I wouldn't do it," he says.