Twelve years ago I competed in my first strongman competition, Strongest in the West 2004. At the time I learned how much I enjoyed pushing personal boundaries, finding who I was through strength and serving as an example to my own children and students that the world is theirs for the taking through hard work, discipline, and commitment.

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Twelve years ago was also the start of building a network of support, resources, and friendship with strongman being the glue to build new friendships. Every competitor has a first competition and some quickly discover maybe strongman isn’t for them or find that life gets in the way and competing isn’t high on the priority list. What made Strongest in the West special was twelve years ago training implements were DIY, there weren’t many strongwomen competitors, much less female competitors who decided they loved the sport with a strong support system to encourage and accept the sacrifices and push us them to compete and find love and personal strength in doing what we love. Twelve years is a long time to be competing and as a mom and wife, it is also a long time to ask others to support and encourage our hobby that impacts family, finances, and life in general on a daily basis.

Strongest in the West was also the first competition for Lacy Hughes and JoAnn Hagadorn who have been outstanding training partners and friends through the unconventional journey of women in strongman, long before social media and more social acceptance of women in strength sports. It was fitting that we all decided to compete at Strongman Corporation’s Masters Nationals at The Olympia for the title of America’s Strongest Master.

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The Strategy

My preparation for this competition was limited due to my usual, abrupt change in competition plans and having to qualify approximately five weeks before this competition. My only plan going into this competition was to not mess up, perform each event with strategy and purpose, and leave no doors open  to error, which I did two times this year on pressing events in competition.

2016 was a remarkable year for me in terms of losing over 50 pounds, circling back to strongman and taking third at USS Open Nationals. My final goal for this year was to win Master’s Nationals without error or injury.

Axle Clean & Press for Reps

For this event, the competition weight was 160 pounds. My Mac Gruber Math counted 173-ish depending on collar weight. When I got to the bar I did question the weight, was told it was 160, so I told my brain it was and got it done.

In the video, you can see my right shoulder freaking out a bit on lockout which is one of the several issues impacting my OHP this year. Overall, my technique is pretty ugly right now and this area is critical to improve this winter. My press was slow and deliberate, ensuring no errors on this event to cause me to play the catch-up game. With ten seconds on the clock, I made the decision to stop, feeling comfortable enough with the reps I got in. In the end, I got six reps, nothing spectacular but enough for the win by three reps.

Farmer’s Deadlift Medley

This event was carry 180-pound farmers 30 feet, deadlift them four times, carry the implements another thirty feet and deadlift them for four more reps. In short, this was an awesome event.

At the whistle I was slow at the start, watching Lacy smoke me to the first deadlift stop. I am notoriously slow the first twenty feet of any moving event, and then I pick up the speed and rock the final portion of the event. On an event with stop and go, that slow start speed hurts considerably. Halfway through the first stretch, I caught myself blowing bubbles with my gum in what must have been a desperate attempt to summon all the meanness and energy to catch up to Lacy.

I stepped up my pace and again, Lacy beat me to the second DL stop. Somehow I was able to kick it into overdrive and bang out my reps pretty quickly. After the event, I was told Lacy beat me then someone else told me we tied. I didn’t think twice about it because I am always happy to lose to Lacy any day of the week.  In the end, a video review was conducted which confirmed I did, in fact, win this event. Hundredths of a second are what decided first, second, and third place.

Keg Carry for Max Distance, 200 Pounds 

Since I won the previous event, I was in the final heat on this event with Lacy which awarded me the honors of watching Jennifer Ferguson rock her keg carry at 243 feet in the heat before us. In training, I managed to procrastinate on this event and often skirted around it in training. On my final turn, I realized Lacy had dropped her keg and I did some quick mental math. I was further along than her, was feeling the burn in my hamstrings and didn’t want to shoot my wad on this event. I made an easy decision to drop the keg, take second place on this event and give up one point. I was in a comfortable lead at this point and in hindsight, I stand by this decision.

Frame Hold for Time, 380 Pounds 

My personal mental mark to beat on this was one minute. Jennifer and I went head to head in this event. My judge, Patrick Rodgers, was very accommodating to my princess requests and I am so thankful. My routine for holds for time is to request time shout outs every ten seconds until thirty seconds and then every five seconds past the thirty-second mark. There is so much mental processing and internal dialogue that happens in any hold for a timed event and for me, that routine helps the monkey mind. Jennifer held on for an outstanding 45 seconds and I continued hanging on so there was no time jeopardy with scoring.  In the video you can hear Matt call out that I was good, meaning put it down. I thought about hanging on longer because I really wanted to hit the one-minute mark but after his second prompt I decided to put it down at 50.03 seconds for the event win.

Stone of Steel Over Bar

I was last on this event, so I knew that Lacy was the mark to beat with eight reps.  I also knew that after watching all of the other ladies I would still win the overall competition if I didn’t zero on the event. I was under orders to step up and win the event. I was once again back to the mindset of slow and deliberate, ensuring no errors. I stopped at ten reps with time on the clock to secure an event win and the overall HWW win and title of America’s Strongest Master.

Kids First

Over the years I’ve had to sit out America’s Strongest Woman and Masters Nationals when they were at The Olympia. My daughter’s birthday is on the same weekend and this was the first year in many that I was able to compete and make it home in time for her birthday. Not being there on her birthday morning is never an option and I was so grateful things worked out as they did.

The week of the competition we also got word that Magnus would be kicking full time on his varsity football team. That was a huge opportunity for him and something he’s worked tremendously hard for. When I got the news, I requested to stay home and miss The Olympia to be there at his game cheering (and probably grumbling) like the crazy mom I am.  Magnus asked that I go, compete and do my best. Fortunately, we got out of the competition early and high-tailed it out of town to lessen the driving on Saturday so Birthday Sunday wasn’t a disappointment with two tired and crabby parents. We were able to catch the game on web stream and see all the action. It was definitely an excellent Wattles Day!

On a personal level, I struggled with the decision to cross over and compete in Masters. I am still competitive in the open class which is where I’d like to remain as long as possible. 2016 was a rebuilding year and I still have plenty of work left to do as part of that process before I make decisions for next year.  I truly adored all of the fellow master competitors. They were an outstanding group of women to spend the day with, get to know, and compete with. I am a much better person and athlete for getting to know them and I'm so grateful to have shared the same stage with them all. Who knows, maybe I will decide to compete as a master again next year. We shall see.

Fellow Idahoan JoAnn Hagadorn won the LW women and my partner in crime, Lacy Hughes, placed third place in the HWW.  On a personal level, this competition was a celebration of three crazy strongwomen who have competed in this sport for over twelve years, long before social media and accessibility to training implements, while balancing families, careers, businesses, being excellent moms, and excelling as strength athletes. It’s never an easy task and something I am proud of us all for. Twelve years is a long time to devote to training and competing, especially when the kids were babies. I am more proud of them and so thankful that they have been part of such a rewarding and joyous journey with me.


Lacy Hughes, Me, JoAnn Hagadorn and Dione Wessels with the epic photo bomb.