Zelienople resident sends strong message as World's Strongest Clown

| Wednesday, July 16, 2014, 9:01 p.m.

He's known in the Midwest and around the world not by his ability to twist balloon animals, although his renditions of such creatures are impressive, but by his sheer strength and message of well-being as the world's strongest clown.

Tom Toman, better known as Buffo, the World's Strongest Clown, has been “out clowning around” since the 1970's. Buffo has been seen walking on glass in his bare feet, breathing fire and even balancing children on a chair from his face.

Entertaining people by juggling clunky items such as bowling balls and lit torches and spreading a positive message as a full-time job is truly an experience unlike any other, according to the Zelienople resident. But Buffo's favorite part of his hazardous gig is not honing the skill to accomplish such perilous tasks, but the reaction of the crowd, consisting of every age group.

“Visiting sick kids in hospitals and doing shows where the parents will come up to me afterward and say ‘Oh my gosh! I saw my kid laughing for the first time in weeks… they're here for a transplant or they've got cancer,' and for a few minutes maybe even the parents have a little bit of a break from real life ... so that's pretty rewarding,” Toman said.

Toman's passion for entertaining people around the world by his antics is only part of his lifestyle.

Toman played professional baseball and was drafted out of high school in 1974 by the Chicago White Sox organization. The career .244 hitter spent six seasons playing for Houston Astros and Chicago White Sox affiliates. The husband of 35 years spends time ballroom dancing with his wife and is passionate about becoming a great dancer.

“I'm an all-or-nothing guy,” he said. “I'm all-in or I'm all-out. When I'm in, I'm a psycho, I have to be the best at whatever I do. Every day in between whatever shows I'm doing, I am practicing my steps. I became obsessed with it.”

Toman's home in Zelienople is a log cabin. Toman, who is of Native American descent, owns a teepee standing at 60-feet-by-33-feet. He and his family celebrate Thanksgiving annually in the tent fitting nearly 50 people dressed as Native Americans and Pilgrims.

Before taking on his role full time as Buffo, Toman was a physical education teacher in Pittsburgh.

Toman's sharp sign language ability was commended on a national level when he did a show at the White House in front of George H.W. Bush in sign language.

Toman chuckled over the reaction from security over his dangerous props that he tried using for his performance.

“You go through secret service clearance and then they asked me, ‘What's that hatchet for, what's that meat cleaver for?' I said ‘juggling,' and they go ‘not today it's not.'”

Since beginning his career as the World's Strongest Clown more than three decades ago, Buffo has seen many generations of people and how the world has changed. One thing that has stayed the same, according to Buffo, is the demand for the joy a clown can give.

“As long as there are mimes around we're not the lowest on the list,” Toman joked. “I think the more upset or depressed people get, the more need there is for joy and happiness.”

Toman created a legacy of his own by inspiring his audience with positive messages and strength endurances. After his career is over, Toman joked that he will not be remembered by his formal name, but by the title he created after wanting to spread happiness to the world.

“My wife calls me Buffo, my mother calls me Buffo, my brothers and sisters call me Buffo, my nieces and nephews call me Uncle Buffo ... I've kind of melded into Buffo, the World's Strongest Clown, and Tommy Toman. It's kind of a combination of the two.”

For more information on Buffo, the World's Strongest Clown, visit www.buffo.com/

Alex Klukaszewski is a freelance writer for Trib Total Media.

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