Jaco only began strongman training in 2019 but is already a world’s Strongest Man finalist and South Africa’s Strongest Man winner. He formerly played rugby and has represented South Africa in Tug of War – he won the world championships with the South African national team in 2009 at just 16-years-of-age.
He is the kind of athlete that likes to come into contests under the radar and has greatly exceeded expectations at both the Official Strongman Games and World’s Strongest Man contests. His long-term goal is to win WSM and go one better than South Africa’s most successful strongman – Gerrit Badenhorst.
Jaco believes the key to success is keeping your mindset straight, focusing on each session and giving it all your all. He is married to Mikayla Schoonwinkle and is the proud father to a baby son.
In just four years Schoonwinkle has made huge forward strides in the sport. Making his first impact on the competitive scene in 2020, he finished an impressive 4th at Africa’s Strongest Man and would return the following year to place 2nd behind his countryman Thobelani Mabaso by just half a point. Attributing the loss to a leg injury, Jaco would return the following year stronger and hungrier.
Showing remarkable prowess in carrying and moving events, such as Farmer’s Walk, Yoke Carry, Conan’s Wheel and Loading Races, Jaco triumphed at the 2022 South Africa’s Strongest Man and won the 2022 Arnold Classic Africa. Late in the season he travelled to Florida for the Official Strongman Games as a relative unknown but was able to win the Farmer’s Walk and Sandbag to Shoulder to place second overall.
Qualifying for the 2023 World’s Strongest Man, most fans were still unaware of his ability despite his OSG success. There was no lack of surprise when he defeated Brian Shaw to win Heat 4 after event victories in the Loading Race and Conan’s Wheel. Unfortunately, his appearance in the final was short-lived after he tripped in the opening event – Sheild Carry – and injured his knee. Forced to withdraw he underwent ACL surgery and is currently returning to fitness.
In November 2022 Jaco surprised many by finishing 2nd at the Official Strongman Games in Daytona Beach, Florida. In fact, going into the final event he was leading, but owing to a disappointing 7th place in the Atlas Stones he was eventually defeated by Spenser Remick. Jaco took top honours in both the Farmer’s Walk and the Sandbag to Shoulder and his runner-up performance would eventually lead to his selection for World’s Strongest Man the following year.
Jaco is active on Instagram at jaco_schoonwinklestrongman. His performance at World’s Strongest Man will be aired on UK television’s Channel 5 over the Christmas period, including his victory in the heats. Both Mitchell Hooper and Big Loz Official (Laurence and Liz Shahlaei) have produced YouTube biographies and interviews with him and there are also some clips of his competition performances.