When graduate student Pat Castelli strolls through campus on his way to teach a functional anatomy class, nothing about his 5-foot-9-inch, 180-pound frame would signal he’s any different than an average Western student.
Even when he’s lifting 49,395 total pounds in preparation for his next strongman competition, he puts his head down and goes to work quietly.
It’s that focus and humble attitude that has made Castelli a two-time North American Lightweight Strongman National Champion and Arnold Amateur Lightweight World Champion, both at 175 pounds. He is currently the No. 1 ranked lightweight strongman in the world and at 25 years old is working toward a master’s degree in exercise science.
Castelli’s first love wasn’t strongman or powerlifting — it was wrestling.
In seventh grade, Castelli was playing basketball and fouling out of every game. His coach told him he was too aggressive for basketball so his best friend spurred him to wrestle, Castelli said.
He wrestled throughout high school and on club teams in as many different styles as he could. Castelli fell in love with the sport and started lifting simply to become a dominant wrestler, he said.
Castelli started at Western in 2008. Back then, Western didn’t have a wrestling team so he was wrestling unattached, meaning he could still compete against other schools. He went on to make it to nationals as an 149-pound competitor.
In his senior year, he and his friend decided to resurrect the wrestling club after its 31-year hiatus. The team qualified six wrestlers for nationals that year.
“I was pretty damn proud of that accomplishment,” Castelli said. “We got like $50 from the school and didn’t have wrestling mats or anything.”
In 2009, Castelli met people who were doing strongman and powerlifting and was encouraged to do a powerlifting contest. He won his weight class and finished second overall, but his focus was still on wrestling.
After focusing on wrestling for a final year in 2013, Castelli switched his focus strictly to strongman due to the pressures of having to go back and forth between 150 pounds for wrestling and 175 pounds for strongman.
Less than a year later, he won his first strongman national championship. Castelli was surprised by his win, because his goal was just to make the top 10.
Strongman is an eclectic strength competition broken down into six event categories: squatting, deadlifting, clean and press, loading, carrying and flipping or pulling.
Fellow powerlifter Max Broburg said he is amazed at Castelli’s work capacity.
“I’ve witnessed him squatting 500 pounds on an off day,” Broburg said. “I’m just kind of blown away by his strength relative to his size.”
Junior Justin Manipis, an assistant at the Wade King Student Recreation Center, echoed Broburg.
“If you just looked at [Castelli], you would not expect him to be that strong,” Manipis said. “It’s ridiculous that he can bench double his bodyweight.”
Manipis, a kinesiology major, said what sets Castelli apart is his approach to training and the programs that he writes for himself.
“It’s sound and sport specific,” Manipis said. “He can direct his training to his weaknesses and it makes him a more well-rounded athlete.”
Castelli takes a scientific approach to his training. Reading translated Russian texts from the 1950s has helped form his workouts, Castelli said.
“There are plenty of people out there who will research the minimum effective dose when it comes to training,” Castelli said. “I’m a little crazy. I’m kind of on the total opposite end of the spectrum. I want to know what is the absolute most we can push our bodies to.”
Manipis said Castelli convinced him to do a strongman competition last fall.
“I would definitely say [Castelli] is one of the people that I’d aspire to be like,” Manipis said.
After Castelli gets his master’s he wants to coach, Castelli said. He has already had some practice helping out Sehome High School’s strength and conditioning for the wrestling, baseball and football teams in 2012 and 2013.
Sehome’s football coach Bob Norvell said when Castelli approached him, it didn’t take long for him to want Castelli to run his team’s summer workouts. Sehome’s strength and conditioning improved while Castelli was there, Norvell said.
“It definitely gave us a solid foundational base that we didn’t have before,” Norvell said.
Batool Abdi, owner of Lift Haus Strength and Conditioning where Castelli teaches an Olympic-level weightlifting class, said it’s rare to find someone who still has humility and doesn’t have a huge ego when it comes to athletes at his level.
“I’m surrounded by a bunch of dudes who have huge egos and it’s just refreshing and really nice to be able to work with someone who doesn’t act all egotistical,” Abdi said.
Manipis said he was shocked to learn he had been sharing a gym with a competitor of Castelli’s caliber.
“I was like, ‘Wow, we have a world champion strongman in here and you wouldn’t even know it,’” Manipis said.