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Computer geeks compete in feats of strength in Wirld's Mightiest Programmer competition
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Giovanni Pasteris flippin' the tire.
Giovanni Pasteris flippin' the tire.
Credit:Jennifer Hughes

Hard to imagine many people taking pride in being called a wimp. Competing to be the top wimp sounds even more counterintuitive.

Giovanni Pasteris is not many people. Standing a couple inches shy of six feet and tipping the scales in the neighborhood of 225 pounds, neither is he your everyday, run-of-the-mill, sand-kicked-in-his-face wimp. The veteran Human Head Studios video-game programmer and Ford's Gym regular is, in fact, the WiMP. The acronym stands for Wirld's Mightiest Programmer. Picture the World's Strongest Man competition, but replace renowned champions like Zydrunas Savrickas and Magnus ver Magnusson with brawny computer and software engineers who are smart enough to write code yet can also kick your ass.

Pasteris will strive to defend his title at the second annual WiMP competition, scheduled for noon Saturday, May 21, at Fireman's Park in Middleton.

Events include a log lift, starting at 145 pounds and increasing by 10-pound increments, with competitors lifting the log up off the ground into a locked-out overhead position; the server drag-and-carry, in which athletes drag the 160-pound cement-filled server 75 feet on a 190-pound sled, then pick up the server and carry it back to the start; a monitor toss, involving three attempts to throw a 30-pound monitor the greatest distance (winning span last year: 25 feet, one inch); the "Bit Flip," in which athletes strive to flip a 600-pound tire up to eight times against the clock; and Atlas Monitors, in which competitors lift a sequence of cement-filled computer monitors escalating from about 95 pounds to 225 or more up onto platforms set at three, four and five feet high.

Points are awarded for each event in the pentathlon. First prize overall is a Vegas Pro 10 software package, with additional awards for second and third place, a team competition, winners of each individual event and a best-dressed category.

The field is inherently self-limiting, due to entry requirements including at least a bachelor's degree in computer science or a related discipline, or a minimum three years of professional experience in the computer industry. WiMP's 2010 debut drew eight entries. This year, event organizer Charlie Olson expects perhaps a dozen.

"It's hard enough to find programmers who even want to participate in a strong-man competition," observes Olson, a contractor for the medical imaging firm echoMetrix.

Olson and Pasteris were both on hand for the event's conception. Pasteris remembers the idea being broached well into a Human Head Studios Christmas party a couple winters back. "We were talking about flipping the tire at Ford's Gym," Olson recalls, "and it wound up escalating from there." (Ford's Gym sponsors its own strong-man competition: This year's 12th annual Capital City Challenge is scheduled for 10 a.m. Saturday, June 4, at Olbrich Park.)

"I really like the tire flip," Olson continues, "because you have to be able to lift a reasonable amount, but it's more about technique - you don't have to be the strongest guy to win that event." This makes the event a good fit for WiMP, he adds, because "programmers are stereotypically the weakest people you know, but some of these guys are big." Including Olson, who, at six-foot-three and a few pounds north of 200, was 2010 runner-up to Pasteris and now admits to some pride in being "the Wirld's second-mightiest programmer."

Those results may be reversed this year. Pasteris sounds all but ready to concede the 2011 WiMP title to Olson. "Being a Mighty Programmer is a balance between the two disciplines of programming and strength training," Pasteris explains. This year, he adds, most of his heavy lifting has been intellectual. Approaching the release of Human Head's newest game, Prey 2, the work crunch has cost him gym time. But he plans to start training for WiMP 2012 soon. "Next year," says Pasteris, throwing down the gauntlet, "Charlie won't have a chance!"

His favorite event last year, notes Pasteris, was the server drag-and-carry, which he dominated with a time of 23.47 seconds - a margin of almost three seconds. For spectators, the point of events like these is to savor the spectacle, he observes. "Be prepared to yell," advises Pasteris. "We like to hear the crowd get into it."

For athletes, WiMP affords both competition and the prospect that computer professionals playing against stereotype might catch a network's fancy and find a broad audience. Videos from WiMP 2010 proliferated on YouTube, Pasteris recalls, and the local Fox affiliate's coverage got picked up by Fox News. Within a day or two, friends from Texas and Florida were contacting Pasteris to report they'd seen him on TV.

"My mom called me up," he adds, "and said, 'Oh my God, I just saw you on TV! Why didn't you tell me this was on?'"

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