WATCH: I am Clint Darden

TAGS: team elitefts coach, i am, Chronic Disease, Ulcerative Colitis, House of Biceps, team elitefts, clint darden, autism, elitefts.com, coaching, coach, strongman, arthritis, recovery, training, Video, Nutrition

Interview conducted and written by Sydney Schulte & filmed by Josh Goedker and Dominic Stacer

“I am Clint Darden, and I am an elitefts coach.”

Though he lives in Cyprus, Clint Darden is originally from Murray, Kentucky, a place most people haven’t heard of (save for their basketball program on occasion).

Following A Girl Across the Ocean

When he was around 24, he met his now-wife, Nefi, and followed her out to her home country of Cyprus for a new life and opportunities, and never looked back.

“My four-year degree was the greatest eight years of my life.”

Once he graduated college, Clint didn’t find many jobs that were of interest to him in the states. Cyprus, on the other hand, had more opportunities. His wife already had a really good job out there and a place to live. Plus, the strongman opportunities were an added bonus.

But that didn’t mean Clint had a smooth transition. Coming from a small town in the states to a city of 175,000 was a big shock. People there also tend to think he’s an American tourist, usually from three locations in America: New York, California, or Disneyland. At least with Kentucky, they know what KFC is.

The official language of Cyprus is Greek, so that’s another shock — not to mention the Greek language is very dramatic and loud. And culturally, Cypriots are expected to live at home until the day they get married.

“I would think a lot of the island life there is how we imagine the United States was in the ‘50s. Several times I’ve gone to the supermarket, checked out, and realized I left my wallet at home... the guy behind the counter just takes my name and writes it down on a piece of paper, doesn’t know who I am... writes down my name and phone number and says, ‘Come back tomorrow and pay me.’”

It’s a small community that lets you live at your own pace, whether it be wild and crazy or slow and tame.

Losing Weight Strongman-Style

Around the year 2000, Clint decided he wanted to weight 300 pounds, no matter what.

Clint remembers the day he hit 300 pounds by date: December 26th, weighing in at 306 pounds. But as a result, he was incredibly out of shape. Walking from the couch to the bathroom or anywhere else in the house would have him out of breath.

A good friend of his had a book called Dinosaur Training, and this guide talked about picking up sandbags, farmer’s walks, grip work, flipping tires — which Clint thought sounded a lot like manual labor. Not exactly an area of interest for him at the time.

But when it came down to losing weight, everything in that book sounded like the only physical activity he could do and it sounded kind of cool. He ended up making a pair of farmer’s walk implements out of EZ crowbar handles and found a tire to flip. He flipped the tire and did farmer’s walks every day. At first, the tire flip took him an entire minute to do — and that was just one flip.

Once he got the hang of these exercises, Clint wanted to apply what he could do in his garage and yard to something else — and hopefully, something that wasn’t manual labor.

He found out about a strongman competition in McKenzie, Tennessee, which was about a 45-minute drive away. Despite having no experience, Clint signed up to compete anyway.

“I went and I took last in every event they did, took last out of everyone but still managed to qualify for nationals. Went to nationals, took second, and from then on, I kept making huge leaps and bounds of progress.”

These competitions helped Clint meet other strongman competitors who became more than his fellow competitors — they became his friends and family. They also would tell Clint where they’d be competing next, and he’d follow them. Before he knew it, he was a pro strongman competitor in the United States. After that, he moved overseas to be with his wife. His friends put him in touch with other strongman athletes in countries like Hungary, Poland, Germany, and others.

Being able to compete in other countries helped him make more friends in the strongman circuit who became family.

“It’s a vicious cycle that goes on and on for a couple of decades.”

Training with Chronic Illnesses

In 2006, Clint was diagnosed with ulcerative colitis, a chronic illness that causes inflammation and ulcers in the digestive tract and an inability to absorb certain nutrients. As a result, he took a hiatus from training from then until 2009. He tried a lot of different medications, many of which had bad side effects that negatively impacted his ability to train and perform.

To work around his ulcerative colitis, Clint has had to change his diet, pull back his training when he needs to, and push whenever he can.

He also has arthritis, which causes a good deal of pain in his joints.

“All of my joints hurt, but I want to train probably more than anything else than I can imagine, and I will find a way to adapt as long as I possibly can. As long as I can adapt faster than I have to quit, that’s what I’m going to do.”

For anyone who has chronic illnesses and wants to train, Clint says there’s no answer, just as there’s no cure. He’s had several people contact him, including a handful of his fellow Team elitefts coaches and athletes, and he’s hesitant to say they’ll be fine or that things will go well.

“The truth is, nothing’s going to be great. You’re probably never going to be without pain. You’re probably never going to want to be very far from a bathroom. Nausea is going to always be with you, but I think if you want to do something, you can find a way to do it.”

One of the ways Clint is able to do it is through recovery. He’ll take a day off if he needs it.

Some might say that goes against a speech Clint gave four years ago about going all-in or quitting. But Clint says anyone who thinks that took the speech the wrong way. Most people took it as that you have to go all in and do something, even if it means giving up everything to go for it.

But the point Clint was trying to make was that if your heart isn’t into it, don’t be afraid to quit. If it hurts too badly, quit — even if it’s just for today.

“If you’re not in love with your sport or what you’re doing, don’t be afraid to walk away. There’s no shame in saying, ‘This isn’t for me. I’m going to walk away.’”

And Clint has no shame in taking the day off in terms of training. It’s OK to sleep on the couch instead of going to the gym.

On the flip side, he also is fine taking cortisone injections so he can properly move his fingers and train. He admits it’s not the smartest thing to do, but “it hurts a lot just to sit on the couch when my mind says, ‘Hey, I want to go train.’”

“I was diagnosed in 2006, and it’s 2019, and I haven’t quit yet. I’m still going. So if I can do it, I think anyone else can do it as well.”

Connecting Through Openness and Honesty

For anyone who’s read through Clint’s coaching blogs, they’ll notice how he talks about his family — his wife and kids — whereas other coaching blogs don’t have any mention of family. So why does he talk about his day-to-day life?

“I think someone has to talk about it. I think those are the things people can relate to. At the end of the day, you find yourself in a situation... I don’t know how many times we’ve all been in that situation where we just think to ourselves, ‘Nobody understands.’ And I think that’s where people get really sad and give up.”

He compares the ability to relate and understand to listening to music. Out of every single song you listen to, there’s at least one song or one lyric that speaks to you, regardless of genre or mood. Having that connection is a powerful thing, so finding someone who’s been in a similar situation can help people keep going.

His openness about his life also ensures that his clients don’t give him excuses. They know he doesn’t get much sleep, they know his joints and stomach hurt... and despite all of these things, Clint gives it all he has.

Plus, it shows his clients and readers who he is and who and what he cares about: his wife and kids. They’re part of his life and what he goes through; to not talk about them would be erasing part of his identity and his life.

Barely Scratched the Surface

Most people tend to believe that as they grow older, they know more. But that’s not the case for Clint.

“The older that I get, the more I start to think that I know nothing when it comes to coaching and training.”

With each competition he’s been in, he’s learned more and more. He continues to study training methods, and what he’s learned makes him think that he’s got so much more to learn... so what does that mean he can share in terms of training and coaching?

If he did things differently in his 20s, would his 30s have been different? That’s a question that sits in the back of his mind, though it’s not one he tries to reflect on too often.

Instead, he looks to the things he’s learning now and how to apply that information to extend his career.

“I’m at the point now to where most people’s careers are finished. They’re absolutely done, and I’m not ready for that to happen. Every year that goes by, I start to feel like the last contest was my last contest... unless I change something really fast. Someone has to have the answers somewhere, and all I have to do is get out and find it, and that’s what’s going to keep me on the field.”

Recovery in Retrospect

Looking back to his younger years, Clint does wish he’d been more mindful of his diet in his 20s and paid better attention to everything from the waist down.

As someone who fought in martial arts for 20 years, Clint’s broken every finger on his hands at one point or another and every toe. His left kneecap’s been broken, and so has his nose.

“I came into lifting already partially broken from other sports, but no one ever set me down and explained, ‘Hey, let’s get an ice bath. Let’s get a massage and work on recovering a little bit faster. Let’s work on the importance of nutrition and calories.’”

At one point, Clint wanted to be a bodybuilder, and his bodybuilder friends emphasized getting the most nutritious foods he could possibly get. But when he found himself in the strength training world, everyone emphasized calories.

Now, he’s trying to find a balance between nutrients and calories. That means he’s working on getting the most nutrient-dense, calorie-filled foods he can find.

When he started getting into strength sports, foam rolling wasn’t a thing. And now, you won’t find Clint going anywhere without a foam roller on his person.

Still, he wishes he did more recovery in his 20s because that might have helped him avoid some injuries in his 30s.

“Or it might’ve just been a Band-Aid. If I would have recovered more, I might have continued to do more, worked harder in the gym, and done more dumb stuff, and got injured more.”

Regardless of what his 20-year-old self would have done, at the very least, he could have spent more time taking care of his body.

Autism and Education

If you’ve read Clint’s bio on elitefts, you know he’s a YouTuber, a trophy husband, and the director of Autism Assessment Support Practice. But what exactly does that last position entail?

Clint says he’s mainly a figurehead. He doesn’t work directly with children, but he does sign insurance papers that help get uninsured children insurance and help get grant money. He claims that autism is his wife’s passion (it’s hard to deny that since Nefi is the first person to teach a classroom that only has children with autism), but it’s safe to say that it’s something he cares deeply about, too.

Sure, he doesn’t work directly with children, but he does work with a child — his three-year-old son — and he’s clearly passionate about what his company is doing, which will indirectly help a lot of children:

“What our company does, and what we’ve done for the past couple of years, is we get grants to go to other countries throughout Europe that are trying to become part of the European Union, but their standards in these special education areas for their country is not high enough to get into the European Union, so my company goes, and we work on contract with the educators in that country to help them bring up their standards so they can get into the European Union. It’s absolutely amazing work.”

Clint’s seen a stark contrast between students in the United States that “need a computer and an iPad” to the students in these other countries whose schools don’t have windows, AC, running water, and electricity. The kids and teachers are absolutely thrilled to go to school once those necessities are there.

“If they don’t matter, I don’t really care.”

Like any parent of a child with autism, Clint’s gotten his fair share of judgmental looks — and perhaps even more in Cyprus.

“I’m six-foot-two and I’m a large guy. I have no tattoos at all. I have a long gray beard and I don’t really like going out and doing a lot of stuff unless it’s with my kids or the gym or going to the market or things like that. I’m not a party kind of guy. My wife is five feet tall, covered from head to toe in tattoos, she wears jeans and tennis shoes to work as a teacher, and she’s a complete rebel, and we stick out like a sore thumb everywhere we go. We look completely opposite from each other, but we are so much alike on almost everything.”

How does Clint deal with the stares? Simple. He doesn’t care what people think.

Yet another difference between the United States and Cyprus is how people in the U.S. are more understanding about autism and kids with special needs. He hasn’t seen that in Cyprus and other countries.

If people in the States see his three-year-old son wearing headphones on and an iPad in front of his face, they might judge Clint and Nefi for the screen. But if Clint just says, “That’s my son; he has autism” people get it, or at least have an understanding and will cut some slack. They nod and carry on with their day.

In Cyprus, the response is usually, “What’s that? I’ve never heard of that before.” That makes things more challenging, so he has to explain it — and explain it in Greek, which “is always a fun experience.”

To other parents who have children with autism, Clint says:

“Don’t quit. Don’t take anything personal. My son yells and screams nonstop. It’s just the way he is. And as a parent, when your child just screams, the first thing you want to do is yell back even louder. ‘Be quiet! Stop that!’ And then I look over at my son, and he screamed but he wasn’t angry. He was really just making a noise. That’s all it is. So I’ve learned not to get offended by anything that he does. Don’t take it personal. And if another person on the street says something about my child, don’t take it personal. It’s only important if I let it be important.”

It doesn’t matter if you don’t know that person; if it’s someone you know, chances are, they already know about the situation. They’re not going to be judgmental. So why care about the jerks like that?

Enter The House of Biceps

People tend to think Clint’s House of Biceps is really large, and they’re not entirely wrong. He has enough room for his squat rack and a deadlift platform and lots of room outside.

It does tend to run pretty hot there, and there’s no heat or air conditioning (which is standard in European countries), and there are mosquitos buzzing around the place in February and March, which are the most tolerable months of the year (and therefore, is not too hot for mosquitos to survive). The first three months of the year are the coolest and most tolerable — and are pretty much the only months where grass and weeds will survive.

It’s his place, and he doesn’t know what he’ll do if he has to go somewhere else. It’s a safe place to train, to listen to music, to sing and dance, and to say whatever he wants.

“I don’t need a psychiatrist. Give me a squat rack and a deadlift platform and a bench and a couple of Atlas stones, and that’s my psychiatric chair right there.”

Legacy

Clint doesn’t know if he’ll leave a legacy behind or what he’ll be remembered for. But he does have a message he wants to leave behind:

“Be kind to people. Be nice to people. Understand people. Love people. Don’t judge them for anything. You have no idea what everybody else has gone through that day, that month, that year. If you’re going to point a finger, stick all of them out and shake your hand. Help someone before you push them. If they’re worth pushing down, push them down later. But give somebody a helping hand first.”

WATCH: I am Vincent Dizenzo

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