After years of struggling with his body image and mental health, Taylor O'Moore McLelland finally found acceptance and a sense of purpose in the sport of Strongman

STRENGTH WITHIN: Lennox Head's Taylor O'Moore-McClelland hopes his story can help others. Photo: Elise Derwin.
STRENGTH WITHIN: Lennox Head's Taylor O'Moore-McClelland hopes his story can help others. Photo: Elise Derwin.

Taylor O'Moore-McClelland finds it difficult to remember a time in his life when he wasn't bullied.

He was overweight as a child and kids were cruel.

"There were nine and ten-year-old kids telling me to kill myself when I was eight," says the 30-year-old, who grew up in Alstonville and Byron Bay.

Home life wasn't easy either. Taylor spent time in foster care and at the age of eight was diagnosed with depression.

"I started to think something was wrong with me. I was being ostracised for who I was and what I looked like. I just felt like I did not fit in."

By the time he got to high school he'd started using his size to retaliate, and after one too many fights was asked to leave.

He ended up in Byron Youth House, a crisis accommodation service for young people, but was kicked out after he came home drunk.

At 17 he was depressed, morbidly obese and homeless.

ON THE ROAD TO NOWHERE

Looking for a way out, Taylor left Byron and found work on a major road project.

The hours were long, but the money was good, and he found himself getting heavily into drinking, smoking and drugs.

"I'd go out and spend my whole pay cheque every weekend.

"I thought I was starting to fit in, but I was actually going out and buying friends," he says.

Meanwhile, his depression continued to simmer just below the surface, occasionally erupting into violent emotional outbursts.

A NEW FOCUS

It was in 2012 that Taylor discovered a passion for the gym.

"I was living with a really fit guy in his 40s and he said to me 'don't party so much - come to the gym.'"

"I remember going to training one day with him and that was it. I threw my smokes out, bought some protein, got a gym membership and began training. I fell in love with it."

In 2014 Taylor was just 84kg after losing almost half his bodyweight

In 2014 Taylor was just 84kg after losing almost half his bodyweight

"It was one thing that I knew if I didn't do, I'd go back to partying."

Taylor soon became addicted to training and losing weight, with the goal of getting as lean as he could.

"I thought this is something that I can do that's going to change everything in my life,"

In 2014 he was down to an unhealthy 84kg: "I'd essentially lost half my body weight. I'm nearly 6 foot five, I'm a tall guy, so I was very tiny."

He then found a new obsession: Bodybuilding.

After being bullied for being obese as a child and teenager, Taylor became obsessed bodybuilding and body image

After being bullied for being obese as a child and teenager, Taylor became obsessed bodybuilding and body image

'IT BECAME MY LIFE'

Doherty's Gym in Melbourne is 'the place to go' if you want to be a bodybuilder in Australia, says Taylor, and that's where he went.

He had surgery to remove excess skin, and immersed himself completely in training, extreme diet regimes and competitions, as well as his job at the gym.

"For four years it became my life," he says, "it was 24 hours, seven days a week."

But, gradually, cracks began to appear.

His narrow focus had put extreme pressure on his homelife and his marriage broke down.

"It just got to the point where it was destroying my life, because I was so obsessed with looking a certain way."

"I had an Instagram following of 30,000 people at the time and people were constantly asking me what I was doing..what I was eating. My whole day was on social media.

"I began to step back and learn how toxic that was."

Taylor went from one extreme to the other.

Taylor went from one extreme to the other.

FINDING STRONGMAN

Without bodybuilding, there was a massive void, and as Taylor looked for something to fill it, he found Strongman.

It was a revelation.

"What I loved about it was it didn't matter how you looked. There were people of all different shapes and sizes. And everyone was so much more relaxed."

He'd finally found his people.

For Taylor, Strongman was like a pressure valve, somewhere he could release the negative thoughts and energy he's carried with him since his childhood.

"It's like some insane outlet where you're lifting ridiculous amounts of weight and all that aggression and that rage is released on that bar," he says.

Strongman is an outlet to release negative energy, Taylor says. Photo Hayleyb photography

Strongman is an outlet to release negative energy, Taylor says. Photo Hayleyb photography

"For me, particularly with my past and my trauma, it's a physical way to release the energy that builds up from day to day life, it's a coping mechanism for me.

"I walk into the gym with all this negative energy and walk out with positive energy."

He also learned to express his emotions..

"I stopped caring what people thought of me," he says.

"As a kid I tried to be like I tried to be like everyone else. I never made friends that way. Once I became myself I made the right type of friends - people that were suited to me."

After learning the ropes with one of the top Strongman coaches in Australia, Taylor started his own training business, Iron Therapy ('because it really feels like training has become therapeutic' he says), which he brought with him when he moved home to Lennox Head in 2020. He also works as a coach at F-Fitness in Lismore.

In Strongman mode. Photo: GW Plens Photography

In Strongman mode. Photo: GW Plens Photography

Having learned to talk more openly about mental health, he shares his mental health struggles on his instagram account @Morbidtomonster_official, writing about his own experiences and feelings to help others going through tough times.

"I share my writings on my page in the hope that I can help others, and my suffering hasn't been in vain," he says.

I think with mental illness, particularly men's mental illness, there's a stigma, people don't want to talk about it. But mental illness is only stigmatised if you allow it to be. Everybody suffers at some point.

"I think mental illness, particularly men's mental illness, there's a stigma, people don't want to talk about it. But mental illness is only stigmatised if you allow it to be. Everybody suffers at some point.

"More people are suffering than you know."

As someone who has lived through some extreme lows, he urges others to reach out if they are suffering.

"If you need a hug, ask for one. If someone needs a hug, give one.

"If you feel like you're all alone, Write, draw, do something constructive. Do a free trial at a gym. If there's anyone that wants to have a session with me, come and have a session.

"Call Lifeline. Don't ever sit back in your room thinking no one cares.

"There are always people who care. There are always people out there who will listen."

  • If this story has raised any concerns, call Lifeline 13 11 14 or Beyond Blue on 1300 22 4636
Taylor at the Anytime Fitness Ballina Push Up Challenge earlier this year, an event to raise awareness and funds for Lifeline.

Taylor at the Anytime Fitness Ballina Push Up Challenge earlier this year, an event to raise awareness and funds for Lifeline.

WHAT IS STRONGMAN?

In the 19th century, Strongmen could be found performing feats of strength in the circus.

Modern day Strongman is more of a competitive sport, which sees men and women test their strength by picking up massive stones, flipping cars, pulling trucks and planes, and tossing kegs.

"It's not just static lifting where you're picking weight up - we pick weight up and move with it," Taylor explains.

"We also make it a bit of a spectacle. It's very entertaining to watch."

Taylor pulling an eight-tonne tank

Taylor pulling an eight-tonne tank

Since he started Strongman in 2017, Taylor's feats have included a tractor-pull at the Melbourne Show in front of a crowd of thousands, pushing an 11-tonne semi-trailer up an incline, and pulling a tank that weighed more than eight tonnes at the Arnold Sports Festival in Melbourne (where he also worked as security for Schwarznegger) ."It's the hardest thing I've ever had to move," he says of the tank.

"With a car or truck, the tyre pressure plays a huge part...usually you use inertia, and after the first step you create momentum.

"But with a tank there's no roll. Every single step was just as hard as the last."

AN INTERNATIONAL COMPETITOR

In early 2019, Taylor competed in his first international Strongman event - the Singapore Asia Pacific deadlift championships, where he lifted 365kg and placed third.

He went on to qualify for the Official Strongman Games in Florida, which brings together strength athletes from all over the globe, and is the highest level amateur event in the world. It's also the gateway to the professional World's Strongest Man event.

Travel restrictions prevented him from travelling to this year's event, but his qualification will remain valid for the 2022 event, and training for this is where his focus now lies.

After losing more than 30kg earlier this year due to an illness that required an extended hospital stay, Taylor says he will be slowly building back his training regime and his weight, with a goal weight of about 165kg.

Taylor is in training for the Official Strongman Games in Florida in 2022. Photo: Elise Derwin.

Taylor is in training for the Official Strongman Games in Florida in 2022. Photo: Elise Derwin.

WHAT DOES TRAINING FOR A STRONG MAN EVENT INVOLVE?

Number one is food. And a lot of it.

"People think training's hard. Training's fun," Taylor says.

"I'm eating food from the moment I get up until I go to sleep."

"The average person eats about 2000 calories a day. I go up to 8000 a day."

He says it's all' clean food' and he'll eat about four kilos of it a day, washed down with 6-10 litres of water.

Training consists of four sessions of three hours each during the week and and a five to six hour session on Saturday.

Non training days involve stretching and active recovery, and massage, remedial physio and chiro.

And sleep is crucial.

"I need 8-10 hours of sleep every night.

"I have to sleep with a CPAP machine (continuous positive airway pressure) machine because there's so much muscle in my neck it compresses the oesophagus and affects the way I breath."