LAKE GEORGE — Strongman Eric Moss grunted and gyrated his body and eventually bent a piece of steel into a horseshoe shape.
Moss said he tried to do that same trick with a wrench in his first professional show, but was not successful because the tool had been tempered. He considers that a metaphor for life.
“I believe that the hardships and setbacks and struggles we face in life are the fires that temper the steel that we are made of. The hotter the fire, the stronger we are,” he said Thursday at the Students Against Destructive Decisions Conference at the Fort William Henry Conference Center.
Moss said obstacles in life are not there to break you.
“It is there to toughen you up. To make you stronger, so when you find what your true purpose is, you’ll be ready,” he said.
Moss told the roughly 120 students about how he ended up becoming a strongman, author and motivational speaker.
Moss struggled with attention deficit disorder and shyness and was bullied in school. When he entered high school, he got into martial arts and weight training, and that led to a career as a personal trainer.
He met a girl and fell in love. However, after one year of marriage, she left him for his best friend.
“I was in such a bad place that I didn’t have the strength to walk. I had to literally crawl out of bed,” he said.
Moss found that strength — both figuratively and literally — after a chance encounter in a gym with strongman Greg Matonick, who was once known as “New Jersey’s Superman.” Matonick offered to take Moss under his wing and train him.
Moss said he found that it is as much about mental strength as it is physical strength. It is important to have a laser-like focus.
He recalled a time when Matonick asked him to close his eyes while he added more weight to the barbell. Matonick asked him to continue to bench press with his eyes closed. Moss was able to do it, even as the weights were piled on.
Then, he asked him to open his eyes.
“The amount of physical strength it takes to lift that weight is more than the physical strength it takes to bend that steel,” Moss said his trainer told him.
Moss was holding himself back when he thought it was impossible. Matonick asked him to give it 5 more seconds past when he thought he had to quit. Sure enough, he was able to bend the steel.
“Don’t focus on the immovable object. Instead, be the unstoppable force,” Moss said.
Moss moved forward with his life. He remarried and has an infant daughter. And he did eventually bend that wrench.
“Sometimes you fail, and it’s humiliating and it sucks but it’s okay,” he said. “It is okay to fail because you only truly fail when you quit.”
Moss showed how he could rip a deck of cards in half. When he was learning how to do that trick, he started with half a deck and added one card at a time.
“Just about every big goal, just about every big achievement is a bunch of little achievements that add up over time,” he said.
Students liked his presentation.
“You can do anything — mind over matter,” said 15-year-old Queensbury sophomore Ellie O’Connor.
Mike Fuss, a sophomore at Hadley-Luzerne, said it was a positive message.
“It’s inspired me to not give up,” he said.
Students in the SADD and Natural Helpers (a peer-support group) chapters participated from Argyle, Glens Falls, Granville, Greenwich, Hadley-Luzerne, Johnsburg, Lake George, North Warren, Queensbury, Salem, Warrensburg and Whitehall.
In addition to the keynote speech, students took part in team-building exercises, including learning about each other’s personality and trying to build the tallest freestanding tower using marshmallows, string, 20 sticks of spaghetti and tape.
“It’s all about working together,” said Amanda West, executive director of the Council for Prevention, which sponsored the conference.
Brook French, a senior at North Warren Central School, enjoyed the exercise.
“It gives everyone a chance to get involved and do something, and I like competition,” she said.