WHEN — at age 22 — Kyabram’s Aaron Monks discovered he would need to have open heart surgery to fix a faulty valve, he didn’t know what the future held.
He certainly didn’t imagine he’d one day be heaving 140kg lifting stones onto barrels at competitions around the world.
A fitness fiend from the age of 16, Aaron had dreams of becoming a construction diver, welding gaspipes underwater.
He had just secured his diving licence when three near-death experiences pushed him to get a medical check-up, where he discovered one of the valves in his heart was half-missing.
‘‘He was lucky. A lot of people can die because they don’t even realise they have a heart problem,’’ Aaron’s mother Yvonne Williams said.
The day before the surgery, Aaron’s doctor gave him a reassuring piece of news.
‘‘After this surgery, your heart will be stronger than it’s ever been before,’’ he said.
And he was right.
Several years on, Aaron was taking part in stone lifting competitions in Scotland, New Zealand and beyond.
‘‘He didn’t tell me, he just got into it,’’ Yvonne said.
‘‘He went to the gym and saw weight lifters who’d pull buses up the road. He had a go at that and then someone asked if he was going to compete in highland games — and he gave it a go from there.’’
This year Aaron, now 42, competed in the World’s Strongest Man competition in Iceland, coming a stunning eighth in his section.
He then toured Scotland, competing in the Inverness Highland Games for the second time.
Aaron was the ninth person — and the first Australian — to lift the 114kg Inverness Stonemason’s Stone over a five-foot bar without he or the stone touching the bar.
And it wasn’t a once-in-a-lifetime achievement. Because a friend of his didn’t manage to take a photo of him the first time, he lifted it again.
The unstoppable strongman, now based in Sydney with his wife and daughter, has also cleaned up competitions across Australia and New Zealand.
While Yvonne admits watching her son lift such heavy stones makes her feel a bit queasy, her voice is tinged with pride as she describes his achievements.
‘‘Oh, I don’t love it. They’re such heavy things and the square stones are particularly difficult for him to carry as they cut your wind off,’’ she said.
‘‘But he just loves doing it. He doesn’t care if he wins or not.
‘‘It’s pretty impressive to go from having heart surgery to dominating these kinds of competitions.’’