Trading Benders for Bending Metal

FEB. 04, 2016

By Sharon G. Jonas

At age 13, Chris Schoeck was a student at an upscale private school, a member of the local swim team, a Boy Scout and an alcoholic.

For 10 years of his young life, Chris spent each day either secretly drinking, planning how to get alcohol, or figuring out where he could hide to consume it. The obsession dictated his friendships, plagued his daytime thoughts and nighttime dreams, and robbed him of fully experiencing key years of development.

Today Chris is known as Chris “Wonder” Schoeck, a 48-year-old professional strongman who inspires audiences of all ages and backgrounds by performing unimaginable feats of strength. His repertoire includes bending steel bars and spikes, ripping decks of cards in half and reshaping heavy steel horseshoes into heart shapes with his bare hands. Sober for over 25 years, Chris remains on the road to recovery and personal fulfillment by pursuing his unconventional passion.

Growing up, Chris recalls, “feeling out of sync.” He struggled with learning disabilities, shyness and being bullied. His social issues led to him harboring a disdain for group activities and team sports. Drawn to solitary endeavors, he found satisfaction by working out and lifting weights. Despite his reckless drinking, he even managed to earn a black belt in karate.

At seventeen, Chris’ parents encouraged him to attend Alcoholics Anonymous. “I carried a six-pack to the first meeting believing that my fellow drinkers wouldn’t mind. Even when a group of attendees encouraged me to relinquish them after the meeting, I didn’t give them up. Instead I drank them all before heading home. I wasn’t mentally ready to accept their message.”

It wasn’t until he noticed that his mental state was deteriorating and thinking clearly became difficult that he felt the necessity to quit. “What AA did was made me consider that drinking could be affecting me. I stopped cold turkey the summer before college. No drinking, no smoking, not even caffeine.”

But his first week away at college Chris attended a party and got drunk. Eventually he dropped out, attended rehab, barely escaped death after passing out on railroad tracks, suffered countless sickening hangovers and still drank. It wasn’t until the age of 22, when his body revolted and he could no longer hold down even a sip of alcohol that he felt compelled to quit.

While a monumental step in the right direction, the next 10 years of his life were profoundly empty. Chris managed to hold jobs, but realized he had lost out on normal development. “I was alive, but not really living. It was a distinctly long and bleak time in my life. I didn’t drink, but it still possessed me mentally.”

Unfulfilled by a career with the postal service and then in the restaurant industry, Chris turned towards the gym, the one place he felt comfortable. He worked at becoming a personal trainer and Olympic weight lifter and eventually began feeling more connected with the world. Then a shoulder injury impeded his ability to compete as a weight lifter, and he felt devastated.

An unusual turnkey—a 90-year-old strongman with a firm congratulatory handshake given to Chris after he won his last weight lifting competition—opened the doorway to a new path in life. “I was so impressed with the man’s hand strength that I inquired about him and his life. The notion of being a strongman took hold of me. I researched it, found a mentor and worked long and hard at learning to accomplish feats of strength. Each step of progress moved me closer to a more rewarding life.”

Chris served as a keynote presenter at NAMI Utah’s state conference in October 2015 where he spoke frankly to fellow peers about recovery and his personal challenges. Francisca Blanc, NAMI Utah’s Developmental Director said the conference’s title, ‘Power of the Mind’ was inspired by Chris after she saw the documentary “Bending Steel” which aired on Direct TV.

The award-winning film revealed Chris’ journey from an alienated loner practicing strongman feats in the remote depths of the basement in his apartment building to him breaking a world’s record for bending a formidable steel bar while on stage in Coney Island.

Viewers in the U.S. and abroad have contacted Chris via email telling him how his life story motivated them to return to school, change careers, volunteer and get more involved by taking action in life. One young man wrote: “I struggle with depression and “Bending Steel” has shown me you can conquer anything with motivation and support of friends. It showed me that I can overcome depression by changing the way that I think.”  

For Chris, becoming a professional strongman developed more than just his body. “I shattered psychological barriers along with the physical ones. My captivity to a badly introverted existence ended. I gained self-confidence. It opened the door to new friendships and ties to people that helped me develop social skills which I was sorely lacking.”

“Finding a passion, something that sparks an interest is vital for long-term sobriety,” says Chris. “Pressing on through failure, believing that change is possible and dedicating yourself to an activity you feel is worthwhile are cornerstones for personal progress. For those who feel they don’t have any interests, I say keep looking, never stop trying. For those who feel they have no talent, I say don’t believe that. You just haven’t found it yet.”

Even though addiction took its toll on Chris, he is living proof that change is always possible. “As the steel bends in my hands and transforms, I shed limiting thoughts. In a real sense, every twisted horseshoe or reshaped steel bar is a rebirth.”

Sharon G. Jonas is a freelance writer and publicist living in Long Island, N.Y.  She regularly contributes articles to newspapers and magazines and serves as the staff writer for the international publication UnconventionalAthletes.com

Comments

Comments
AUG, 10, 2018 06:05:25 AM
Justin Phillips
Just watched Bending Steel. What a great film! Chris's story is simply inspiring! I'm an armwrestler and an introvert so his story resonated with me in multiple ways.

FEB, 11, 2016 07:04:04 PM
Sandra Bedell
Thanks for sharing this awesome achievement

FEB, 10, 2016 01:14:27 PM
Michael Margolis
A very well written article about a very kind and incredible man. A very inspirational account of an amazing and incredible man.

FEB, 10, 2016 11:21:15 AM
Sandra Bedell
I am agent for Chriswonderschoeck if you would like a autographed piece of steel bent by Chris or motivational speaking or steel bending. Chris has overcome so much but all of it wouldn't have been possible without community support groups such as NAMI. There is always hope for change he has inspired so many. I receive letters every day from around the world thanking Chris rooting him on because of this documentary. Thank you Jamie Justice Nami Utah and staff

FEB, 08, 2016 02:00:33 PM
Henk Bakker
Very inspiring article great respect for this awesome athlete!!!

FEB, 07, 2016 03:09:04 PM
Frank DiMeo
I can relate to Chris in a number of ways.
I talked with him on the phone a couple of weeks ago and look forward to, hopefully, having him do a seminar at my gym in the future.

FEB, 07, 2016 03:00:40 PM
Kerry
Truly inspirational! Great story!

FEB, 07, 2016 02:40:14 PM
Sandra Bedell
For more information on Chris contact me at 5164289315

FEB, 07, 2016 02:22:42 PM
Sandra Bedell
I am the agent for the performing old time strongman Chriswonderschoeck.com subject of the award winning documentary bendingsteelmovie.com. Chris performs all around the world he has been featured in the Huffington post live Sports Illustrated Muscle and Fitness The Wall Street Journal Daily News NY Post Channels 5 and 11 Spike TV Desert News 20 other various media sources Chris has performed at Rutgers University Coney Island Sand Sculpture Contest The Hamptons Horse Classic street fairs corporate and private events . Chris was the keynote presenter for NAMI Utah this November the conference name was inspired by Chris called the "Power of The Mind" After this conference and after movie Chris receives letters emails notes from people from all of the world every walk of life saying how touched they were by his story about how they suffer also and felt a sense of hope some say they cried bad ass tears of joy. We look forward to a long term relationship with NAMI on a national level and have opened dialogue for motivational speaking at other locations. Anyone interested in seeing Chris speak or perform can contact me
Sandra Bedell my email is Sisterslee@hotmail.com 516 428-9315 Mix - Rip Phonebooks in Half & Bend Nails: How-To Guide with a Pro Strongman: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GI9kAhrJof0&list=RDGI9kAhrJof0 that is a small sampling of his steel bending abilities. Chris is sober for over 20 years we are honored to have been recognized by this prestigious group and look forward to speaking to and reaching as many fellow suffers as we can to be living proof that in sobriety and in life happiness can be found and there are people who are ready willing and able to help. You are not alone. Thank you to Jamie Justice ,Francessca and staff at NAMI Utah and Brandon from the Advocate for their vision to bring Chris and his documentary to the Advocate readers. STAY STRONG Sandra

FEB, 07, 2016 02:22:04 PM
Gary Grubbs
I enjoyed this well written article very much.139

FEB, 07, 2016 02:08:30 PM
Brooke
Very interesting read

FEB, 04, 2016 06:10:07 PM
Rose
Congratulations to Chris for such long term sobriety and finding a new better fulfilling way to live his passions out and learning to do it alcohol free. I too have long term sobriety and I've found it much more fun and free to live this way - no more feelings of guilt, regret or fear of the future. No more not knowing if I can complete a goal due to blackouts from alcohol, or wondering what happened last night due to amnesia from drugs or alcohol. No more hangovers. We are Free from the obsession to use alcohol. I'm able to focus on others now and appreciate other people and their unique abilities and struggles. It isn't all about me anymore. Thanks to God and to therapists who helped me find my way out. Thanks to my parents' support. Thanks to knowing I wasn't alone... seeing other alcoholics and drug addicts who were also working hard to stay sober in AA and NA. Although I don't attend meetings regularly now after 3 decades of sobriety, I still use the principles learned there and try to enjoy every day here on earth and look for the good instead of doom, gloom and disaster. I still have contact with friends I met in AA years ago. Oh yes, Recovery International helps me a great deal also, learning coping skills that help me to this day. The people in NAMI have also helped me deal with close a family member's illness and helped me understand when no one else could, and gave me hope when I was losing it. NAMI helped me realize I wasn't alone and helped me work through denial. Thank you Chris for your inspirational story.. keep on keeping on!

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