The Evolution of a Strongwoman

Posted by Raeanne Pemberton on

My husband coined it as "The Evolution of Rae" and though at the time I wasn't so sure about that phrase, looking back over my life's transformation, I notice a definite evolution. I look back and see all the various groups of which I once proclaimed my own membership. Each group serving its own purpose at the time. Only now do I see where I truly fit. (No pun intended...) 

In 2008 I lost my mother and it was that year that I decided to somehow begin to lose weight. I had topped out around 260 lbs and that just wasn't acceptable to me anymore, for whatever reason. I had some health issues, but that wasn't even my "why" and nowadays when someone asks me, I can't articulate any one reason. But I wanted a change.

My highest to my absolute lowest. Left: around 260# and Right: around 140#

Calorie Counter

I started using Slim Fast and similar products to count my calories and by 2010 I had lost over 100 lbs. I joined and found similar people to me. People who cared about one thing over all others, to lose pounds. I ate fat free, sugar free, imitation food, convenience foods, diet drinks, etc. I lost fat, and I am certain I also lost muscle. But with each new number on the scale, my circle and then community congratulated me. I was successful.

At a mere 140 lbs on my 5'5'' frame, I was.... not healthy. My great accomplishment had reset my blood pressure and insulin levels, but had also cost me a loss of my periods and thinning hair. I developed Ramsay Hunt Syndrome and nearly lost use of half of my face. I was NOT healthy. My neurologist told me if I didn't start eating fat again, I could do permanent brain damage.

Me (on the right) at my smallest and perhaps unhealthiest (140lbs)
It's not that counting calories is bad, per se. But at the rate I was going, I was down to 1400 calories per day and I had stopped losing weight. I didn't know how to find fulfillment or success if I wasn't losing weight. I needed something else.

Runners & Running

I became a runner as part of my ploy to burn all the calories, so I could eat more food on my journey to 140 lbs. I started to shy away from what I could "look like" and I was attracted to pushing my body to its limits through running. I found a small group of amazing friends to run with, and for almost two years I trained to be a runner. We shared the best stories, and had some epic runs for miles in the rain, with headaches and many other aches and pains. We pushed each other. We grew together. These are some of my best fitness memories.

The running community is amazing. In my then hometown of Decatur, IL, we had such a great group of people of all shapes, ages, and sizes. They were encouraging. They were dependable, and you could always find a group running on the weekends.

I was never a "good" runner but my fastest pace was around a 9 minute mile for distance. I competed and ran several 5K, 10K, 15K, and half marathons. I even did a full marathon.

June 2011, Sunburst Half Marathon, Southbend IN

Although the running community was amazing, I never felt like I was enough. I wasn't good enough, fast enough, thin enough, etc. Through my marathon training, I had beaten down my body so badly and I had developed injury after injury. I even began to gain weight. Looking back I'm sure I had damaged my metabolism immensely.

Fitness Folks

Naturally, as an active individual, I was contacted and recruited by a very successful health & fitness direct marketing company called Beachbody. I became a part of their community and LOVED many of the at-home workouts. We held regular meetings, trainings, and even trips to LA and Chicago.

I met many wonderful inspiring people and I thought maybe my story could inspire others as well. I developed my own team and we helped a lot of people. I still talk to many of them today.

However, in the back of my mind I knew this was not "it" for me. I knew that these products were NOT the sole way to becoming a healthy individual. I knew I was sometimes offering temporary and shiny new things to those I was trying to help. I wanted so badly to tell them it really is as simple as eating right and moving more. This wasn't quite "it" for me. This wasn't quite my niche.

Beachbody Summit 2013 and some of the BEST friends I made through BB


Once I hit my all-time low and my health stalled, I knew I should try to "maintain" my weight. So, I started investing in all the gadgets. I tried the BodyBugg, Jawbone, Garmin Watch, Heart Rate Monitor, and many cell phone apps and pedometers. I was a member of MyFitnessPal, and other health websites and apps.

Me, and a Goose! :-) BodyBugg in full view on my left arm

I cried the day I took off my BodyBugg. I cried because I knew this was not something that was helping me, but that I was leading myself through further disorder. Yes, these tools serve a purpose and have their place, but no one should live and die by their steps, or their numbers. I depended so much upon my data that it consumed me and I obsessed. It was not helping me be more me... but rather, less of me.


After running a marathon, completing P90X, and Insanity, and realizing that it was time to move on, the next natural progression was to see what Crossfit was like. My friend Gwyn and I went to a free class and we were instantly hooked. It was intense, it was heavy, it was hard.

I ended up doing Crossfit from 2012 to 2014 and loved it. I loved that it taught me how strong I am. It taught me about what my body can do and that it's okay to "be more." I loved how it was scaled for beginners, and that there were always new skills to learn and try. I loved that we repeated workouts and we could see and track our progress. I loved the feeling of writing my new PRs on the board.

I competed in many CF competitions and even went to several regional events. I did the CF open for three years in a row. As much as I loved it, I just never felt like a true member of the Crossfit community. Sure, I had developed some friendships (many that I maintain to this day), but I never felt a complete sense of belonging.

I will forever owe my start in strength sports to Crossfit. This is where I first learned that it was okay to be a strong female. I learned the value of a pull-up, and of carrying a friend 800 meters. I learned of many heroes and honored them through excruciating workouts.

At that time, I had been pushing limits while training to powerlift and this did not mix with the Crossfit training I was attempting. But I also learned that too much is not a good thing and I developed rhabdomyolysis. My time with Crossfit was coming to an end.


I began powerlifting as a supplement to Crossfit. I knew the basic lifts but I wanted to lift more and become stronger. I learned so much at SPEC, the powerlifting gym I had been training at in Decatur IL, and I started to really feel at home there. I was using and developing my assets of strength.

It was no longer a focus to be "fast" or "thin" but to continue to push myself to be "more." Every new PR was a new celebration. It no longer mattered what number was on the scale, but those numbers on the bar mattered so much.

November 2013 at my very first PL meet, at SPEC, with a new Deadlift PR of 340#

However, once I learned that I had rhabdo, my doctor immediately admitted me to the hospital where I stayed for three days hooked up to an IV and banana bag. I had some thinking to do, and I was forced into a period of complete rest.

At the time I was in progress of starting a new life in a new city (my original hometown) so in retrospect, this was a perfect time to refocus. My husband encouraged me to stick to just powerlifting and so I began the process of finding a gym to train in my future home.

Leaving for a new city meant I had to find a new gym, and resources. It was scary knowing I wouldn't have the same coaches and fellow athletes to train with. I turned to the internet and found several groups and sites that I could reach out to.

I eventually found the non-traditional warehouse gym I train at now, called "The House" in Peoria IL.


Powerlifting led to many competitions and many new numbers on the bar. I trained pretty faithfully for over almost two years and I still continue today to push and pull, run cycles of training programs, and track my numbers. But along the way, amongst crossfit and powerlifting, slipped in an amazing sport and community called Strongman.

I did my first strongman show in April 2013 and I had never touched any of the implements. As a crossfitter, I felt like I was "strong enough" to show up and compete. I did okay. But from that day on, I knew there was something special in strongman.

480# Prowler Push at my first Strongman Comp

Since 2013, I have competed in numerous strongman shows at varying levels of difficulty. I have placed anywhere from 1st through last place, but each show has taught me something different about myself. I have met many people from all walks of life, and they have taught me and helped me to become a better athlete.

Truck Pull - Monsters of the Medley August 2014 Decatur IL (See my girl Melissa at my side pushing me?)

I have sought out and trained at several strongman gyms and gotten to know many of the coaches and experts through websites and social media. I even qualified and competed in a national-level competition and received second place in my HW female division. I finally found what I will call "home." I was finally enough.


It feels like I am "home" in powerlifting and even more so in strongman. I am no longer neurotic about my weight. I am healthy. I am strong. I am empowered. I have an amazing ever growing network of friends in the strongman and powerlifting community who lift me up and celebrate my triumphs alongside me and push me when I face failure.

It may seem as if all those years before were a waste, but I feel like they have led me to here. They served a definite purpose in my life. They made me mentally strong, and proved my fortitude. But they weren't right for me. They weren't my niche.

I needed to feel like I truly belong, and I needed to belong as myself. No gimmicks. Nothing unrealistic. Just purely me.

Conan's Wheel - Monsters on Main - Morton IL August 2014

Webster's Dictionary defines evolution as: "a process of continuous change from a lower, simpler, or worse to a higher, more complex, or better state."

We evolve. We get better over time. We learn, we grow.

Who knows if this is the complete metamorphosis of me, but I know I will be here for a while. I'm comfortably uncomfortable. I am regularly pushed to my limits and I feel like I have a beautiful web of strong support surrounding me for when I stumble.

Strong Women

Strength sports for women have evolved to become almost popular in today's culture. Articles are regularly being released showing the physical prowess of strong women. An anorexic body is slowly becoming less ideal. It is phenomenal to be a woman during this transformation of ideology. 

Perhaps this is the most important evolution of all. 

Training with a group of STRONG women. <3 (Buffy G., Sam G., Me, Jessica K.)

No matter your sport of choice, I hope that you have found "your tribe" as my fellow strongwoman and friend Jessie calls it. I hope you are empowered to be more. I hope someone pushes you on a regular basis and builds you up rather than cuts you down. I wish for you to be comfortable in your own skin and to own your transformation.  As for me, I'm getting there. <3

Some of the Strongest Women I know (China B., Becca A., Me)
Training with my STRONG friend Jenn <3

Want to join a community of strong women? Join us at "Belle of the Bar" on facebook. Click HERE.


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