One of Naugy’s finest showcases strength for students

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Naugatuck police Officer Derek Poundstone, America’s strongest man, pulls a school bus in front of Duggan Elementary School in Waterbury Tuesday. The bus was filled with donated food collected by students and staff from the school. RA ARCHIVE

WATERBURY — Naugatuck Police Officer Derek Poundstone travels all over the world to compete in strongman competitions, but it’s hard to beat the reception he got at Duggan School Tuesday morning.

Poundstone visited the school to pull a bus up Bank Street for the students.

Hundreds of young students lined the roadside in front of the school, cheering his name and the encouragement of “Pull that bus! Pull that bus! Pull that bus!” over and over again.

It was quite a challenge for Poundstone. He’s wowed crowds the world over and won the title of America’s Strongest Man. He’s even pulled a train. But the 30-year-old, 320-pound muscle-man said pulling a 30,000-pound bus up the incline of Bank Street running past the school might be his toughest pulling challenge yet.

“It’s a brutal incline,” Poundstone said shortly after 9 a.m., “but the whole point is to do something no one else can do.”

Poundstone’s performance Tuesday was to reward the school for a pre-Thanksgiving food drive that brought in 1,195 cans for the Greater Waterbury Interfaith Ministries. His wife, Kristin, is friends with Duggan physical education teacher Cassandrea Dingwall.

“They’ve known about this for two months and they’re really excited about it,” Dingwall said minutes before the pull.

Police closed a stretch of Bank Street by the school for the pull. Neighbors came out to look. Parents snapped pictures and joked about their children clearing out their pantries for the food drive.

“He took all the cans … ‘Daddy, cans! Daddy, cans!'” Roglio Gonzalez joked of his son, 6-year-old Adriel Gonzalez, a first-grader. “We don’t have any corn.”

Poundstone began the day at Duggan shortly after 8 a.m., talking to two classes who’d raised the most cans about the importance of healthy eating and fitness. Then he bent a frying pan like a burrito.

“I thought that it was fake but I can’t believe it was real,” said astonished fourth-grader Briana Fuentes.

The proceeds from the nearly two-month drive were loaded onto the bus before Poundstone began his pull.

Poundstone affixed a chain to the bus and to himself, using a brace that loops around his waist and up over his shoulders.

A thick 110-pound rope was stretched up the street, with one end under a Jeep tire. Poundstone made a couple test pulls, muscles stretching, face reddening. He fell forward once. And made a few seemingly abortive attempts, worrying some in the crowd that the incline might prove too much.

“I’m nervous,” Principal Patricia Frageau said. “I hope he does it.”

A couple minutes later, however, Dingwall fired the crowd up with a short speech through a loudspeaker. The children roared louder, “pull that bus!” Poundstone strained, and pulled on the heavy rope. The bus inched forward. Poundstone’s legs pumped in short, but quicker and quicker strides.

In a couple seconds, Poundstone managed to move the bus a few dozen feet. The children exploded, cheering Poundstone’s name. The show was over. But Poundstone, with good nature, posed for pictures with parents and students. Poundstone, who lives in Waterbury’s Town Plot neighborhood, said he’s always impressed by the reaction he gets at local events, including school visits.

“To get this kind of reception two blocks from your home is amazing,” Poundstone said.