There's no route into Invergordon without seeing the name Stoltman.

Road signs punctuating either side of this placid Highland town, home to around just 4000 people, are a mini-shrine to its two favourite, or, should I say, strongest, sons. They are Tom and Luke Stoltman; collectively known as the World’s Strongest Brothers.

Happening upon either of them, you’d be in little doubt as to who said signs are referring. It’s an odd sensation, feeling physically dwarfed by two men with whom you are not even in the same room, but as they suddenly appear on our afternoon Zoom call, there’s little arguing with their hard-earned moniker. Tom, in Luke’s own words, is “a f*****g monster of a boy”. 10 years his brother’s junior at 28, the 6ft 8, 174kg, ‘Albatross'' profile exploded in 2021 as the first Scot to win the World’s Strongest Man competition, and was further enhanced last year by becoming only the 10th person to lift the trophy twice. Winning it back-to-back? “Almost unheard of.”

Luke is a five-time winner of Scotland’s Strongest Man and claimed the European title in the same year Tom first conquered the world. It’s difficult to immediately recall many more Scottish sporting families who can boast such sustained success – the Murray brothers? Eilish and Liz McColgan? But for all Tom’s star has certainly risen – he played in goal for Soccer Aid at Tottenham’s London Stadium back in June - he and Luke’s achievements have flown comparitively under the radar over time.

The World’s Strongest Man, held in Sacramento, California in May, is where the best in class gather for a series of gruelling challenges that include dragging an 18.5 tonne bus around. Although something of a Christmas tradition, the event is not televised in the UK until over the festive period, perhaps to force us all into contemplating those holiday food and bevvy choices in the face of such athleticism. Regardless, such a delay is quite unthinkable for many other elite sporting events. It does, however, ensure an odd, yet pleasant, delayed reaction for Tom. “It was very surreal,” he said. “Watching it with my family, I could feel every emotion again, it’s like you’re back out there. Everyone was coming back on social media. It was a very special feeling.”

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Given strongman’s relatively niche status and lack of mainstream media attention, it would be easy to mistakenly perceive the sport, at first glance, as a last bastion of pure machoism, but the Stoltman’s story is one of family, loss, community, and triumph over adversity. “Never in my life did I think I would win World’s Strongest Man,” Tom said. “I’m so privileged to win it twice in a row. I’ve sacrificed a lot, but it’s worth it.”

Tom was diagnosed with autism aged just five and has strived to be as open as possible about his condition. Why? “It’s my superpower,” he said. “In strongman, autism is a cheat code. It’s really important for me to plan things. If I have a competition, I’ll plan the next three months so I know exactly what I’m doing every day, exactly what I’m eating. For all I’ve got a business to run, social media to do, I’m not very good at doing everything at once. I have tunnel vision and that’s winning the next competition. That’s the massive advantage I’ve got. People without autism, they may be doing other bits and come to the gym afterwards not fully focused. For me, the autism helps me be 100 per cent glued in. Every time I’m in the gym, I’m thinking ‘I’m a superhero’, because I know I can do anything I put my mind to. That’s really helped me over the years.”

HeraldScotland: Tom Stoltman is a two-time World's Strongest ManTom Stoltman is a two-time World's Strongest Man (Image: Primal Strength)

Using his successes as shining examples, increasing visibility - and breaking stigma - for people with autism in sport has become a personal crusade for Tom. “That’s why I’m so open about it,” he said. “There’s not much there. Even in the education system, anywhere you go, there’s not much. There’s a lot of professional athletes that may have autism and don’t want to say and keep it to themselves, because they think they’re different. I address autism as a superpower because you should never just say it’s a label or ‘they’ve got a disability’, because we do have this superpower – look at what I’ve done. Any professional athlete that has autism, I really think you should tell everyone, and the weight will lift off your shoulders.”

Family, too, is among Tom, and Luke’s, biggest drivers. In 2016, their mother Sheila passed away aged just 56; a tragedy which, through the grief, motivated the brothers to honour her memory however they could. Tom’s first World’s Strongest Man trophy resides at the home of his father, Ben – “I don’t want to look at it every night and start getting lazy.” The Stoltman clan is completed by sisters Nikki and Jodie, plus youngest brother Harry (another “monster of a boy”), who is taking first steps in following his older siblings into the strongman arena, all while managing the branded merchandise at their store on Invergordon high street. Tom and Luke, sharing a healthy rivalry, always train together - even if it can “be f*****g hell” at times, the eldest jokes.

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“Something we really credit to our success is mum’s battle and strength to survive,” Luke said. “That really helped us push on and I know it’s a really big motivation for Tom, too. Whenever we win shows, we have sunflower tattoos; tattoos with mum on our arm and we always touch them and look to the sky to see her.

“The family aspect is huge. Without me, there wouldn’t be a Tom and without Tom there wouldn’t be me. We wouldn’t be where we are, we wouldn’t have the ‘home of the Stoltman brothers’ on all the entrances to Invergordon. We wouldn’t have that community support, and it’s very special for us.”

“I wouldn’t have got through life without my family,” Tom agreed. “I owe them loads.  Winning World’s Strongest Man is like giving back to them. Mum, before she passed away, sacrificed a lot to look after me, and my dad worked away a lot when I was young to help fund us. They would pay for me to go to competitions, pay for everything so I could live this life. Whatever Luke and I do, it’s for our family.”

After Tom’s second world title win, both brothers took six months away from competition, turning their attention to building brand Stoltman and, they stress, giving a bit back. They own and operate a gym in Invergordon, the Stoltman Strength Centre, this week announcing a partnership with Glasgow-based business Primal Strength to upgrade the facility with state-of-the-art equipment and plans to expand the venue by adding an outdoor area.

“We’ve always wanted to give back,” Luke said. “Invergordon is a small town, and it’s not renowned for a success story like Tom winning World’s Strongest Man twice. We opened the Stoltman Strength Centre in 2017 and it was a bit of a ‘spit and sawdust’ gym. We had some weights, dumbbells, power racks, and people just got stuck in.

“But with the support from the community in the Highlands, specifically Invergordon, we really wanted to step up the gym and make it a really big place. Our bread and butter is gym training; if our gym isn’t up to speed then that says a lot about Tom and I. Primal, and CEO Steven Rinaldi, have welcomed us with open arms.”

Their downtime also gave birth to the Stoltman Strength Academy, an online coaching venture it becomes clear has significant personal resonance. Ponder for a moment the thousands of teams, at all ages, to choose from for kids getting into football. Golf? Scores of private and municipal courses. But how exactly do you go about becoming a strongman? Get a gym membership, you might say. OK, but you needn’t know your Romanian deadlift from your Bulgarian split squat to surmise that, for those who want to be the next Stoltman, your average Pure Gym probably doesn’t have a spare quarter mile for you to practise carrying a hollowed-out car around the place.  

“It’s quite niche,” Luke said. “You can’t just go out and buy a lot of strongman equipment; it costs a lot of money. We can have a one-stop shop for everything strength-related. That’s why we’re doing the gym, the strength academy and now looking into doing the equipment.

“It gives a young boy or girl who is maybe bigger than normal, a place to train and utilise their gifts. Not everyone fits the criteria of being super shredded. You see all these models – who look fantastic, don’t get me wrong – but some people are never going to have a rippling six pack, muscles bulging out. Some people are, genetically, not that way inclined.

“We want to give these people a way of boosting their morale and self-worth. Tom, as a 10-year-old autistic boy, didn’t really see any way out. When he was 16, we introduced going to the gym and now he’s a two-time World’s Strongest Man. That’s what our hope is, to showcase what strength can do for people.”

It has certainly changed these brothers’ lives, and now they want to do the same for others.