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California’s Strongest Woman 2017 – By Raeanne Pemberton

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I had the pleasure of traveling cross country from Illinois to California for the second time to compete as an open heavyweight strongwoman at California’s Strongest Woman in Santa Cruz, California. I attended for the first time in 2016, and I knew I had to return.

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The promoters Kalle Beck and Clay Edgin put on one of the smoothest shows in which I’ve ever competed. The events are challenging and unique, and the judging is consistent. Athletes attend from all over the country, and the sponsors are top notch. They all work hard to make sure that each athlete feels important and empowered and they really understand the dynamics of the female side of strength sports. When you attend this show, you don’t feel like a woman who does strongman. You really get the sense that the sport of strongWOman is able to stand on its own, and that one day there will be more and more shows such as this one. Mad props to Kalle and Clay, and to all of the sponsors who help make the show a success.

 

The events this year were axle clean and press, farmers, keg and chain carry/medley, deadlift medley, and stones. As a heavyweight athlete, I felt that the event weights were challenging enough, yet also accessible to anyone in the sport. There were novice and masters classes in addition to the open classes.

 

Although I didn’t meet my goal of achieving top three in my class, I did come extremely close with an overall hard fought fourth place finish. There were some serious badass women in the heavyweight class. I feel as though I am “young” in this sport, and I do intend on returning next year as a middle weight to nab a podium spot!

 

Axle went pretty well for me, and I tied for 2nd place. The axle was such that the weights had no “spin” so it was unexpected for the implement to be so stiff and jarring. However, after one rep, it was easy enough to adjust and move on. I hit 4 reps and wasted time on a close fifth. I hit 6 of these in training, so I was disappointed with 4 – but happy enough that it was a tie for 2nd.

 

My most challenging events were the moving events. Farmers was next, followed by keg carry and chain drag. The farmer’s handles were wicked! I have bruises to prove it! 🙂 This is not just any farmers run, but a run with a TURN in the middle! Evil! Although I nailed the 180# per hand farmers in training, it was a whole different ballgame on competition day. I didn’t keep my core braced and pulled forward just after the turn, dropping the implements. When I picked back up, it happened again almost immediately and I was done. This was disheartening! But I had plenty of women around me to help me move on and focus on the next events.

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The keg and chain medley involved running with a 150# keg and dragging a 350# chain, 50 feet each. Several athletes had fallen or tripped with the keg, so I was cautious and it cost me. Like many things in strongman, there is a fine balance between taking risks and reaping the rewards. My cautiousness cost me time, and I didn’t finish towards the top on this event.

 

I knew my top placing was far fetched at this point, and I was feeling a little bit of overall frustration with myself. I had outperformed myself in training so far on the first three events. “Be faster,” I told myself. But I just wasn’t fast enough. I truly feel this is related in part to confidence, but also in experience in the sport and on the competition floor. I knew that I had to do well on the final events of deadlift and stones if I had any chance at all.

 

 

I approached the event, lifted the 275 and 365 pretty quickly. I stepped up to the next pull, took a few seconds and a breath, and pulled 405#. It was probably the most beautiful 405# that I have ever pulled! Only recently did I hit a max of 410#, so to pull this in a series was thrilling! Not even a hitch! I was elated and ran to the rogue pig for a confident 440# car-deadlift style pull. I was overtaken with joy after this event and I really felt like I was back in the game! Had I been seconds faster, I would have earned second or better. I took third on this event.

 

As usual, it all came down to the final event – stones. This was another event I had practiced nearly every single week for the last 10+ weeks in my own gym. I had even hit a new stone PR of 255# weeks before the competition. The competition stones were around 145-175-200-215-264#. I was confident but I knew I had to be fast. The athletes who went before me didn’t get the first four stones – I knew I could and I wanted to get the 264 off the ground. Any athlete who was in progress on the last stone got a time extension to try to load it! I finished the first four stones in 26 seconds. This is a competition PR! The 264 was a mean bastard with hardly any grip or tacky. I didn’t get it. I finished third in this event which left me with an overall finish of fourth place.

 

I was incredibly close to my goal for California’s Strongest Woman, but I just didn’t pull it out. However, I am proud of my strong finish. I competed among some amazing athletes, and fared well as the smallest heavyweight weighing in at 189 lbs. Coming off of a 12 week slow cut, I was still able to gain strength. This was the calmest I have ever been in a competition setting. I learned so much training and competing at CSW this year and I can’t wait for 2018.

 

The women who compete at California’s Strongest Women come together each year and truly lift each other up. The amount of camaraderie and admiration that we have for each other shines through. There is no cattiness or pettiness that sometimes comes along with female athletics. I truly believe this is fostered “from the top, down.” The promoters, judges, volunteers, and participants are all there for the same purpose. We come together to have fun, to challenge ourselves, and to celebrate being “more.” But most of us understand the sacrifices it takes to get to any level of strongman competition, and because of that we are willing to cheer on our opponents just as hard as we expect and hope for them to cheer us on.

 

On Saturday, I competed head to head with some of the most sincere, beautiful, and driven women I have ever met. I am incredibly honored to call them my friends. I could not be more sincere when I congratulate every athlete for a job well done. There were 55 of us this year. Whether you met your goals, hit a podium finish, zeroed an event, or finished last, you deserve to feel accomplished. You are challenging yourself in a way that many will never understand. You push limits. You put yourself first in times when it would be easier to put yourself last. You stand for strength and empowerment. You show the world what it means to be a strongWOman. Thank you for being you, and for letting me share a piece of magic. Stay hungry! Let’s do it again in 2018.

 

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/_annie_rae_/

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/raeanne.pemberton

Belle of the Bar: www.BelleoftheBar.org

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