ARHS grad Martins Licis was World’s Strongest Man

  • 920ECD4B-9E2F-4474-BB54-6395F286AFD5
    Martins Licis (ARHS '09) won the Rogue Invitational in 2021.
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    An endorsement Martins Licis did with TYR Sport glasses.
  • 25918405-E3B6-421E-93E3-011FA432E0CC
    Martins Licis was recently in the Basque country filming Strength Unknown.

How did ARHS grad (‘09) Martins Licis, named the World’s Strongest Man in 2019, become the strongman he is today?

Licis was born on September 28, 1990, in Riga, Latvia but found his way to Western Mass at the age of four, when Licis and his parents moved to Amherst so his mother could attend college to study architecture.  

Licis would sometimes attend his mother’s architecture classes, drawing to pass the time. This became a hobby he called “my version of toys.”  

Licis attended the now-closed Marks Meadow Elementary School where he built “magical memories, the best of them,” and noted “no other school can compare.”

At 12, Licis traveled back to his grandfather’s farm in Latvia in the summers where he ended up helping the stone sculptor and former weightlifter to gather heavy stones for his projects. This inadvertently helped Licis to really build up his strength, and his father helped him maintain it with a weightlifting regimen.

By high school, Licis was the only freshman on varsity football, a sport he played for just one year at ARHS. He recalled Coach Kenneth Jacques as “a bright spot during a rough time.” He also fondly remembers wrestling with coach Kelly Olanyk, another ARHS grad, during his sophomore and junior years. 

Many people find high school to be difficult and Licis was one of them. He described school as “feeling like cattle, stuck in cubes all day.”  

“I was having a tough time in high school,” he remembered. “One of the ways I would get through classes was to draw all the way through them and ignore the work.” 

Between those early moments in his mother’s architecture classes and finding art as an escape at ARHS, Licis was eventually remembered by his ‘09 classmates as their Picasso in the superlatives section of their yearbook.  

He said art classes with Ben Sears and English with Chris Herland helped him along, with a critical moment happening in Mr. Herland’s class. 

“He was the one teacher who pulled me aside and said, ‘Listen, man, just make it through high school. Get through to the other end. You’re not going to remember most of these classes anyway and you’re going to do just fine and live a good life,’” Licis said. “Him, just him pulling me aside and encouraging me that way kept me going. I couldn’t be more grateful.” 

After graduating from ARHS, Licis tried his hand at computer science, spending a year at Springfield Technical Institute, and he also picked up a job at Athena’s Pizza. 

Eventually, he packed up everything and moved to California with his friend Mikel Monleon. “Mikel said he couldn’t take the idea of another winter in Amherst so he was moving to LA. And I thought, ‘Shoot, well can I come with you?’ I couldn’t stand it here anymore either and I needed to figure out what I was  going to do with my life.”’ 

After giving Athena’s Pizza his two weeks’ notice, Monleon and Licis packed into Monleon’s Mitsubishi Eclipse, with Licis’s knees at his chest; the car was so packed he was unable to see out the rearview window.

They ended up staying in the Inglewood neighborhood of Los Angeles in a hostel, and Licis began to earn money by painting “whatever wall the other workers from the hostel pointed at as well as getting into demolition.”

While working in demolition, Licis also completed a certificate in personal training and began applying for jobs as a personal trainer. He got a job pretty quickly in Hollywood. “You know what? If you really want something, go for it,” he said, because the pieces do seem to come together.

So how did Licis become a strongman, someone who competes in weightlifting events requiring incredible mental and physical strength? 

Seeing strongman competitions on television, working as a personal trainer, and thinking about training and weightlifting on his grandfather’s farm all came together. ”The sport of strongman [felt like my] magnum opus,” he said, “and I decided I needed to find a community.”

Licis had heard about strongman Odd Haugen’s Strength Classic in LA. When Haugen invited him to train at his gym, Licis said he was “starstruck” but excited, and began training with him. 

For three years, he competed in the event and eventually won, “earning my pro card.” 

“I was invited to Giants Live [which hosts the World’s Strongest Man Arena Tour each year], met my colleague, friend, and fellow competitor Hafþór Björnsson, and placed in the top three. Then I was invited to The World’s Strongest Man in 2016. The rest is history,” he said.

He won the World’s Strongest Man title in 2019 and won the Rogue Invitational title in 2021; Rogue is an annual sporting event that includes a CrossFit competition and a strongman competition. In 2022, he won the Arnold Strongman Classic Champion (created by Arnold Schwarzenegger, Jim Lorimer, and Terry Todd) and he was the 2022 World’s Strongest Man second-place finisher.

Along with winning these prestigious competitions, Licis has found himself on TV, doing a Geico commercial, serving as an “obstacle” on the show Game On, and appearing on a game show called To Tell the Truth. He even squatted 245-pound former New England Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski, and he has earned countless sponsorship opportunities. 

He has made many friends and acquaintances along the way, most notably training with famous rapper, chef, and wrestler Action Bronson and participating in a grappling {hand to hand combat) session with grappler and jiu-jitsu champ Gordon Ryan and Icelandic strongman Hafþór Björnsson at the UFC Apex, an events center in Enterprise, Nevada. While there, he met legendary grapplers and fighters such as mixed martial artist Nick Diaz. 

Licis said in 2023 he plans “to dedicate more time to grappling.” 

One thing Licis said he has learned reflecting on where he came from and where he is headed is that not everyone needs to be an academic all-star. 

“Amherst is an academically prestigious area to grow up in where everyone places so much value on academics,” said Licis. “The message I got growing up was that if you don’t get good grades you’re not going to make it in life.”

Realizing that he could achieve outside of that system was “a huge victory in my life,” he said. 

In the past, those standards caused him anxiety. Now he said he is proud to have “success and a life that I love and am comfortable with,” and that life “is opening so many doors for me.”

Thank you, Martins Licis, from ARHS, for not only representing Amherst on the global stage but doing it with an unwavering positivity– and for teaching us how many ways there are to shine.