‘World’s Strongest Gay’ ending strongman career in Myrtle Beach. Where you can watch him

While walking along Ocean Boulevard this week, don’t be surprised if you come across a muscled man with a mohawk and a rainbow beard. That’s Rob Kearney, the “world’s strongest gay.”

Kearney, 32, is a professional strongman who will be ending his 15-year strongman career after the 2024 World’s Strongest Man contest in Myrtle Beach which runs through May 5. He is also the only openly gay strongman in the world, Kearney said.

He came out publicly in 2014 after he started dating his boyfriend, who is now his husband. His husband was out of the closet and Kearney said he thought it was unfair to keep his sexuality a secret.

At the time, the New England native was an internationally-known middleweight lifter and his coming out reached more people than he expected. He said he remembers The Huffington Post and TMZ talking about him coming out.

“Shortly after the news broke is when a friend of mine was like, ‘Hey, like, I hope you know what you just did.’ I was like, ‘I have no idea what I just did,’” Kearney said. “It kind of put me into the spotlight in a different way that I didn’t expect but was also excited to take on that challenge of really using my voice as a platform for LGBTQ+ visibility and underrepresented sports, like strength athletics.”

Overall, Kearney said people reacted very positively to him coming out, especially his fellow strongman competitors. When he got negative reactions about his sexuality, Kearney said other strongmen were often the first to defend and support him.

If you want to watch Kearney during the World’s Strongest Man competition, it will run through May 5 at the Burroughs and Chapin Pavilion Place, 812 N. Ocean Blvd. Available tickets range in price from $60 to over $300.

Kearney will be competing in the webster stones, deadlift ladder, sandbag steeple chase, viking press, car walk and stone off.

The iconic rainbow mohawk

In 2019, Kearney said while planning his trip to Florida for the World’s Strongest Man competition, he wanted a way to celebrate his “gayness” while competing in the state, which is known for being primarily conservative. His decision was to dye his mohawk to resemble a rainbow, which comes from the rainbow flag or pride flag that is a symbol of LGBT pride.

“I really wanted to come in and again just be unapologetic in who I am and not be fearful of being able to be my full self, so I decided to show up with a rainbow mohawk,” Kearney said.

The mohawk got such a positive reaction that he continued dying his hair for more competitions until the bleach and dye began to damage his hair. Then he moved on to dying his beard. Kearney said it takes him four hours in the salon to turn his beard into a rainbow and he usually only does it for competitions.

Along with the hair, Kearney also dons patterned leggings for every competition. He said he used to only put on the fun pants during training because he was afraid to wear them during competitions. That is until his husband started coming to events and asked Kearney why he toned himself down.

“It’s kind of like a different layer of armor for me, where I feel like I can really be myself and give my full self to the competition while also showing some personality and having some flair,” Kearney said.

He’s also written a children’s book based on his coming out journey as a strongman called “Strong.”

A shift away from competitions

Kearney has been competing in strongman competitions since he was 17, working his way up from a light-weight to a heavy-weight competing in World’s Strongest Man contests. Now at 32, he’s ready to retire.

“It’s a lot of time and energy where I just feel like I want to put in other places in life,” Kearney said.

He and his husband opened a cross fit gym in Massachusetts this year and Kearney also works in a high school as a certified athletic trainer. He said he and his husband, Joey Kearney, want to start a family soon.

Another reason for retiring now is because he still loves the sport. Kearney said he always planned to quit when he was still “hot” and before he developed negative feelings about strongman lifting.

Kearney said he’s grateful for everything the sport has provided him, including the community he’s joined and the places he’s been able to travel.

“I have so much love for the sport,” Kearney said, “but I’ve kind of gotten to a point in my life where I don’t feel like I can give it the attention it deserves.”