Ruth Attard meets Paul Grima and Tony Farrugia, who are better known as the strongmen duo for charity, Tony and Cool. You would expect them to be aggressive and somewhat stand-offish. However, this is far from reality Tony has a quiet, thoughtful personality, while Paul is the more outgoing of the two. We quickly eased into the conversation about steel bending, people lifting, and almost superhuman strength.
1. HOW DID YOU START GETTING INTO FEATS OF STRENGTH AND FOR HOW LONG HAVE YOU BEEN DOING THIS?
P: I started from a very young age lifting things and moved on from there. Eventually, I started lifting things with my hair, teeth, neck, and beard and I’m still going strong at the age of 68!
T: I started lifting things from as early as age 12, but only when I turned 18 I realised I must have inherited my grandfather’s strength and that’s when I started taking it more seriously. I followed in my grandfather’s footsteps and was also inspired by the Maltese strongmen of the past like Joe ‘Powerful’ Falzon, Charles ‘Ironman’ Saliba, and Tony ‘il-Walker’ Zarb to become an old time performing strongman like the circus strongmen of old who were natural athletes and who were free of performance enhancing drugs, steroids and supplements.
2. WHAT MADE YOU DECIDE TO JOIN FORCES AND BECOME TONY AND COOL?
P: There were many strongmen in the past competing for the title of ‘the strongest man’ in Malta. I could never understand that rivalry and the antagonism between them as in my opinion, we should be working together and not working against each other. So when I heard of Tony, I reached out to him on Facebook, we met up, and the rest is history.
T: Before I met Paul I knew about him and his charity shows in the past but I thought he had retired a long time ago. I was surprised when one morning out of the blue he contacted me and asked me if he could join me in doing charity shows together which I agreed to immediately. I was really happy about teaming up with Mr. Cool as I respected him a lot and saw him as one of the Maltese legends of strength. Now we’ve been working as a duo for over a year and half and we’ve never looked back.
3. PAUL, WHERE DID THE NICKNAME MR. COOL COME FROM?
P: It’s a funny story, really. I used to work in construction and during lunch time I would go off for a walk around the area where we’d be working. One day I met a woman who had a punctured tyre and I helped her change it. When it was time to lift the car and take out the jack from underneath it, I simply lifted the car with my hands and she was impressed and told me what I did was a cool thing. From then on I decided my nickname would be Mr. Cool, and I’ve been known as that ever since.
4. DO YOU EXCLUSIVELY PERFORM AT CHARITY EVENTS? WHY DON’T YOU PERFORM FOR MONEY?
T: Yes, we only perform at charity events for Maltese charities and Maltese crowds. Our aim isn’t to make money out of our strength, but rather to use our strength to help raise funds for people in need especially people with serious illnesses and disabilities and also to give a show that people will enjoy since it interview interview is not something that one sees every day.
P: Usually, it’s the people taking care of the charity events which approach us and we’ve worked with a number of different ones such as ALS Malta, The Puttinu Cares Foundation, Malta Autism Centre, Hospice Malta, Alive Charity Foundation, Qalb it-Tfal, Dar Tal-Providenza etc.
6. WHAT ROUTINE DO YOU KEEP TO MAINTAIN YOUR STRENGTH AND PREPARE FOR A SHOW?
P: I train every Monday, Wednesday and Friday, and do a little bit of everything for a number of hours to maintain and improve my strength.
T: I have some weights and other equipment at home but I mostly train outdoors with whatever I find whether it be a skip, stone, abandoned car, or someone’s old washing machine or fridge-freezer. However, mainly I train with stones because stone lifting is a family tradition passed onto me by my grandfather. I also practice bending steel objects and ripping books which can be quite a costly training method but one that is essential for me so that I can bend steel nails, frying pans, spanners, and tear thick directory books in my charity shows.
7. WHAT’S THE HEAVIEST THING YOU’VE EVER LIFTED?
T: Probably one of the hardest challenges was flipping over a car weighing 885kg which I did to raise money for Qalb It-Tfal. I also hold the Maltese record for the heaviest dumbbell lift and can lift well over 100kg over my head with one arm.
P: In terms of lifting with my teeth I think one of the heaviest objects was a motorbike weighing 110kg. But I’ve also lifted 130kg barbell with my teeth, and definitely in terms of pulling at the top would be the time I pulled a bus weighing over 12 tons by using just my teeth, and also the time I pulled an airbus plane 7 feet forward, also with my teeth. T: Recently the heaviest thing we’ve used our strength on was pulling a water bowser weighing over 16 tons at a show to raise money for kids with cancer.
8. DO YOU HAVE ANY PARTICULAR GOALS YOU WANT TO REACH?
T: There are always heavier things to lift and pull but my ultimate goal in pulling would be to pull a jumbo jet of over 40 tons and also to pull the Gozo ferry or a large cruise liner. In lifting there are many, but I would like to lift over 123kg with one arm over my head which I am currently only 10 kilos away from achieving.
P: For me, even if Tony manages to pull a jumbo jet by himself, I would consider that to be of great satisfaction as his coach. However, I would still consider it an achievement if we pulled it together. As a personal aim, I would like a car to drive over me. It is a dangerous feat but one that is not as impossible as it sounds.
9. WHAT SATISFIES YOU THE MOST WHEN PERFORMING SUCH FEATS?
P: Our performances come from the heart and all we want is for people to enjoy watching our shows of strength.
T: For me the most satisfaction I get when performing such feats is that I am doing something I love and helping people in need at the same time. Also when successfully completing a feat such as, for instance, lifting a car, it gives you a great adrenaline boost especially when the crowd is enjoying the show and reacting positively to it.
10. WHEN IS YOUR NEXT SHOW?
T: Our next show is going to be for a variety of charities as it is an open charity event where any Maltese charity can go and collect money from the spectators at the event. Mainly, it will be for Hospice Malta and will take place at the Monte Kristo Estates, on the 3rd of June at 11:00 in the morning. We hope to see a lot of people there as it is for some very good causes.
11. WHERE CAN PEOPLE FIND YOU IF THEY WANT TO KNOW MORE ABOUT WHAT YOU DO?
T: They can follow us on our Facebook pages ‘Tony and Cool’, ‘Mr Cool’, ‘Tony Farrugia’ and ‘Traditional Maltese Stone Lifting’, or they can find us on our personal Facebook accounts as Paul Grima, Tony Farrugia, Tony Farrugia II and also on Instagram as tonyfarrugia1 and also on Tumblr as tonyfarrugiastrongman and finally on Twitter as @TonyStrongMalta.
© 2018 – VIDA Magazine – Ruth Attard