HAMMOND — I walked up to an obstacle course here the other day and quickly realized the error of my ways.

I had agreed to take part in a strongman competition at Purdue University Northwest because ... I never say no to anything these guys ask me to do.

But no one told me there'd be pushups!

The school's intramurals department was holding the competition as a fun fitness activity and to test the relative strength of the student participants. (How I fit in I'm still trying to figure out.)

"It's fun. It's a good workout. It's always good to challenge and push yourself," intramurals staffer Josh Moore said after he completed the five stations: the farmer's walk (walking while carrying barbells totaling 140 pounds); the sled (pushing a 150-pound weighted sled); the tire flip (200 pounds, 10 times); 20 pushups; and a bow-and-arrow shoot (successful shots got time knocked off your score).

"If you work out in general, it makes all the difference for activities like this: deadlifting, squats, high intensity cardio," Moore told me. (Uh-oh.)

Exercise specialist Nate Lewis said they designed the activities so that people of all fitness levels could compete.

"We set them up on what we thought the average student's ability was," he said. (What about the average — i.e. out of shape — newspaper reporter?)

He assured me that this would be nowhere near as difficult as an actual strongman competition, where events include the truck pull.

Still, he noted that cardio, total body strength and athleticism all come in handy for an activity like this.

"And you have to be flexible," he said. "If you don't have flexible hamstrings, you're not going to be able to get low enough to pick up the tire." (Did I say uh-oh yet?)

As he labored for breath after his round, Joe Madrigal, a junior from Lake Village, called the tournament "slightly worse than I expected."

What was the hardest part?

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"The tire and the last two reps of it," Madrigal said.

Intramurals director Matt Dudzik, who was directing the contest, called on me next. Apparently he didn't forget I was there. Shoot.

Remarkably, I got through the first activity — the 75-foot farmer's walk — thinking to myself, This ain't so bad.

Then, two-thirds of the way through the sled push, the sled stopped, seeming to push back. Can I do this anymore?

But I had committed. I pushed through, literally.

Then it was time to flip tires.

Luckily, I had done this before, when I tested out Purdue Northwest's replica of Muscle Beach last year.

Part of the way through, a female student reminded me to put my legs into it, which helped me finish.

Next it was pushups, the activity I was dreading the most. Mercifully, Dudzik said we could do them on our knees, which is how I did the second half of mine (and even those were difficult).

Then I picked up a bow and (rubber) arrow and suddenly realized ... I had no idea what I was doing. My first shot just missed the target; the second ended up in a different atmosphere, or, more accurately, on the ground, like a pitcher in baseball throwing a ball in the dirt.

I wrapped up the competition in a cool 2 minutes and 9 seconds, good for last place. (I did this, of course, because didn't want to show up any of these "kids.") The winner, Merrillville freshman Aaron Griggs, finished in 36 seconds.

After the event, I've decided to officially announce my retirement, as The Times' fitness-experimenter-in-chief, from any exercise activities that involve weightlifting or have the words "strong," "man" or anything masculine-sounding for the matter, in the title.

"Sleepy yoga" and "lazy yoga" — two of my recent conquests — are more my speed nowadays.


Health Reporter

Giles is the health reporter for The Times, covering the business of health care as well as consumer and public health. He previously wrote about health for the Lawrence (Kansas) Journal-World. He is a graduate of Northern Illinois University.