First off, let me start out by thanking everyone who has been a part of my journey. Second off, let me apologize for how long it’s taken to post this write up. There have been many highs and lows on this journey and after I won the Arnold Middle Weight Strongest Woman Championship, I experienced one of those lows. On the way home- literally right as we got into North Carolina, my boyfriend and I got into a car motor vehicle accident. I’ll talk about that another day in my blog , but mainly I want you , whoever is reading this , to see my journey from my perspective,- feel my struggles , share my excitement and learn how I became the Arnold Champion with only two other strongman competitions under my belt. Moreover, I would like to note I won all three competitions within a year’s time.
After I got my invite to the Arnold, I realized I needed to step up my game; in all aspects for that matter. I set out to find a good coach and Scott Paltos, from New Jersey, was recommended to me. I started training with him in November of 2015. He switched up the way I had always trained and changed my diet with much resistance from myself I might I add (I did cheat and add cookies – a lot☺). During this time, I was also working full time, 40-60 hours per week. Mostly the training and diet were tolerable but I’m human and some days I grew tired. I loved my work and taking care of the gym but it was exhausting to have to work out at 7 pm when I had been at the gym working since 5:45 am. However, I made it work because I signed up for this. I signed up for the Arnold to showcase my best efforts and that meant I was along for the ride, the ups and the downs. Ultimately, it came down to how I handled the positive or negative stimuli. Some days during my workouts I would go look in the mirror and tell myself “you asked for this, you wanted to be the best, and it’s ME on that stage competing, not my coach or anyone else-, it’s on me to decide what I want to do because I CONTROL ME.”
I enjoyed the new style of programming Scott offered. He focused more on correcting my imbalances and addressed my messed up shoulders. Some workouts would take 15 minutes and some days I would be in the gym for 4 hours just lifting. Changing weight, setting up the next task, (man, does strongman require some equipment) and waiting the required rest, that can take a while. But it’s worth it. A few training days stick out in my head. The day I log cleaned 205lb for 3 reps and jerked 205 for 2 reps, the day I deadlifted 415, and the day the frame kicked my ass. It’s crazy how the toughest training days mentally, will stick with you for so long. I had to work up to competition weight on the frame Tony (and myself, kind of; p) made for me. I had literally not done any farmers walk or frame carries at all. I had been focusing on the yoke for a while so when I went to pick up that damn frame with only 100 lbs. on it, I literally almost cried. I didn’t because I had my little sister (Eleni) and a whole gym full of people watching. Never the less, it was rough and I knew it didn’t matter how bad it hurt, I needed to suck it up and pick that frame up and move it. So I kept working up to weight and I got up to about 430/450lbs ( I honestly still have no clue the exact weight) and asked Eleni to video it for me. I picked it up barely and took a few steps and it crashed to the ground. Picked it up again, took a few steps and again it hits the floor. Same thing happens the whole 100 feet. I knew if I didn’t complete that task I would be a mental case before the Arnold. The point behind this training story isn’t to show I can pick up a heavy frame, it’s that I did not let the frame defeat me . I could have given up but for what… it’s me out there competing. Just me. I did not give up. I fought through it and iced my forearms after.
Training days aren’t always rainbows and butterflies. Some days everything feels heavy, some days everything feels light. There are so many factors that go into achieving success and training does not take place solely in the gym. There are countless annoying food prep hours spent cooking food that will probably taste awful when it’s reheated. This did not matter because I wanted to win so I knew what I needed to eat. Champions don’t become champions by just doing what they like. We do what it takes.
No matter how hard I trained, doubt still was in my mind. The trip to Ohio was interesting. I was an anxious wreck. I kept wondering if I could have trained harder, ate healthier or trained something different or extra… every doubt was running through my mind. Honestly, I felt so small next to some of the girls and people would ask me if I was a light weight. I literally gained 12 -15 lbs. in between nationals and the Arnold and I still felt small. MORE DOUBT. I think the safest thing to say is after the weigh in and before the start of the log event, I was a ticking time bomb (I’ll put the good stuff in a blog one day ;)). That’s when Tony Cowden came to save the day! I called him and told him I needed him to be my handler, coach, friend, comedian, and reasoning for the weekend. He and Melissa Hoff stepped up on last minute’s notice and changed their entire weekend’s plan to make sure I had everything I needed and wanted for that matter. Them being there along with Jana and Eric meant everything to me.
Drum roll—– Day 1 at the Arnold started with a Log clean and press for as many reps as possible in a minute. I almost missed my heat, and only got 4 or 5 reps. During my practice, I was getting 4 to 5 in 30 seconds so I think it’s safe to say my mind and nerves won that battle. I was pretty upset with how I did but couldn’t do anything about it at that point so I got over it and got prepped for my next event. I was pretty excited for the deadlift because this was the event where I am the most confident. I performed as I expected but could have done better and will do better in the future. I need to practice with wraps more so they don’t fall off come game time but the deadlift event was by far my favorite. The frame was next and I was nervous to say the least. I had not been successful in completing this entire event during practice but I just pushed that thought from my mind and did what I needed to do. The Arnold…. Yes Arnold Schwarzenegger cut in front of my lane and I think they had planned on only one girl going as an “expo” for Arnold. Regardless, all I knew was he was in my lane and I was competing in that heat no matter how famous he was and what their plans happened to be. I poked the security team and told them they were in my lane and I needed to go so they helped clear my lane while they laughed and wished me good luck. Somehow, I picked it up and literally ran with it! I was super happy and surprised with my performance on the frame. The medley I was excited for but nervous at the same time because I had only practiced medleys once and the time I did it at nationals, I belly flopped! I guess my animalistic behavior took over because my training went out the door. I saw objects that needed to get moved quickly and I knew I didn’t have time to waste. I still don’t know why I ended grabbing the keg the way I did but it worked out.
When I found out I won the first day I actually looked at my coach and said “are you just messing with me?”. Something he would completely do but he doubled checked and triple checked and then I double checked and realized I really was in first overall. I was so shocked and happy. When I realized that winning day 1 meant I made it to Day 2, I was like a deer in headlights. My only goal going into the Arnold with was to get to Day 2. It was icing on the cake that I was actually going into Day 2 in the number one slot.
Lights, camera, action…. Day 2 was on the main stage with thousands watching. I felt like a million bucks walking to the back representing Team USA in my red jacket and being next to the Pro’s. I got to see Brian Shaw set a record and got a picture with him, Eddie Hall, Big Z and so many more phenomenal strongmen. The first event was the stone of steel and I had never touched one before but I wasn’t really nervous about that. I make up the weirdest most awkward, uncomfortable implements to pick up -so the stone of steel couldn’t be anything worse than I have created already (lol). I warmed up, had my lollipop, and was ready to be called. I got on stage and I looked out and saw so many people. I got a little nervous so I looked quickly back down at my feet. The whistle blew and I just started picking up the stone and throwing it over. Such a cardio workout might I mention. I knew I got second place in that event and needed to win the next event in order to prove to myself I could do this, I am a strongwoman athlete, this is where I belong. We couldn’t warm up and I was so happy. I did not need one extra ounce of skepticism of whether or not I’m going to even be able to pick that frame up. They called my name up and I walked up to the frame and looked down the whole time. I didn’t want to get carried away or get distracted with the crowd so I went out there for business only. When the whistle blew, I picked up the frame and thought damn this is heavier than on Friday but whatever, no reason to bitch now. I closed my eyes and kept telling myself this is my moment, I earned this, this is me and don’t you dare drop this frame- I’m worth it!
So often I doubted myself but that day was not one of those days. I heard my teammate’s frame drop and I didn’t care one bit. Then I heard all of my friends and family screaming and that may have been one of the coolest moments in my life. I just gripped harder and told myself I am and will always be my biggest competitor. When I placed it down I was in shock because I think I had just realized I may have actually won the Arnold. I looked back to see where my coach Tony was and he jumped on stage and looked so happy and I knew … I won. I couldn’t stop smiling. I was on cloud nine. Right as we were going to get called up for the awards, they announced that first and second place were super closer and my heart stopped. I heard the first 2 ladies get called and then Kaitlyn and I were left. They called the names so slow in my mind. They announced 2nd and then 1st and I damn near cried. I was so shocked and just humbled to be where I was.
I did not get to the top alone- I had one hell of a team supporting me the whole way. I feel so many thank you’s are in order. There are so many people who helped me along the way and I can’t express my appreciation for all your support enough. I had a great training group at CFW. No one was doing my programming exactly but I still had training partners. Jana thank you for pushing me and keeping me mentally focused at the Arnold and just through day to day training. Tony – thank you for dealing with my mood swings and helping me with form and just being there throughout my entire fitness journey. Eric – thank you for driving, helping prepare meals and getting hot baths ready and putting up with my “tude” and so much more, I know I wasn’t pleasant or easy to deal with :). Melissa – for being there and pushing me and keeping me calm and making me laugh! Scott- thanks for my programming and coaching, wish I could have seen you more at the Arnold but I know you were there in spirit. Andrew- huge thank you to you for being my training partner and pushing me to work harder without being stupid and spotting me and helping me set all that crazy stuff up and so much more. I’m sure I wasn’t happy 24/7 so thanks for everything. Lynn, James, Jaime, Michael, and the NC crew – y’all will never know how comforting it was to see each of you. I’m so happy all of you could make it and Lynn thank you for all of your advice and words of wisdom. Nicole, Paul, Josh, Jeff (socks), and Miranda and Albert – thank you so much for motivating me and encouraging me and making me laugh! Some days were brutal and y’all helped ease the suck. Kristie and Emily – thanks for always being people I can go to for a laugh, seriously, y’all are my girls! Huge thanks to Laura Leigh and all the ladies for planning a fundraiser for me! Thanks to everyone in my life for encouraging me and pushing me to be a better me.
The MWW and all of ladies backstage were seriously wonderful! Even though we were competing face to face literally every one encouraged the other girl and got excited for how the others performed. We were back there sharing candy and humbled to be where we were. We didn’t just compete, we kicked ass, we made friends, and we had one hell of a day! I learned many lessons from this past training cycle about myself, who is there for me, and who wants me to be my best. The Arnold opened my eyes to a whole new future and also has made me crave more! I want to become a Professional Strongwoman and I want people to want to learn from me because they trust me. I want young girls to look up to me and not be ashamed of the number on the scale but to be proud of every ounce. I want to inspire people to work harder, push through hard times, and don’t let doubt overcome you.