USS Nationals - Learning to be a Champion

Posted by Raeanne Pemberton on

I would be lying if I told you I am satisfied with my 2nd place finish for heavyweight females at United States Strongman Nationals. But I would also be lying if I told you it wasn't worth it. Throughout the process of qualifying, training, and becoming a competitor at Nationals, I have learned so much and I have so much to be proud of. I have made friends who I will have as friends for life. I have grown as an athlete and become a part of an ever growing community of strong people. Second place may sting a little, but these other outcomes are why I am walking away from USS Nationals with a smile.

Qualifying

When I competed at Be Strong in Bloomington, Illinois in April, I learned there was a chance I'd qualify to go to the first United States Strongman Nationals. This made me super nervous. The stakes of that competition became even higher. Dare I push to "qualify" and claim the title of "Nationally Qualified Strongman Athlete?"

I performed well enough, and I qualified. But considering I didn't have much (read, any) other HW female competition at that meet, I didn't feel so deserving. I felt as if this prestigious qualification fell into my lap, so to speak. Furthermore, the idea of going to Nationals was extremely scary and I was not sure if I could even perform each event.

Max Deadlift at "Be The Strongest Fool" 2015



Looking back, I did perform well. I was competitive, and had I actually been competing against other heavyweight females, I would have held my own. I looked forward to Nationals, checked out the events, and decided that this opportunity was too good to pass up. Little 'ole me, a competitor at United States Strongman NATIONALS?! Yeah. I liked the idea. Even if I didn't have much competition to get there, it was no fault of my own. I definitely put in the work to qualify and I'd put in even more work to compete at a national level.

Training

It was time to train. I trained hard. I trained mostly alone, without a coach. I trained through bicep tendinitis. I took time off to heal. I started seeing a chiropractor. I asked for advice from the experts, and sought input from coaches. By the end of my training I was hitting PRs on stone loading, log press, and even yoke. I felt more ready than I ever imagined. I was ready to compete.

When I signed up for Nationals, I signed up with the intention of getting my feet wet at a national event. I had the intention of learning and soaking up the experience. I told myself and others that I would do my best, and if that put me on the board then, great! If not, that would be fine as long as I could walk away knowing I did my best.

When the list of competitors was posted, I was one of only three heavyweight females. This was NOT what I was hoping for. There were 30+ MW and LW females, and only THREE in the heavyweight division. It became a different ballgame all together. I wouldn't be going to "blend" and "learn." But now I had to decide if I wanted 1st, 2nd, or 3rd place. This was hard for me as I had not yet developed a champion's mentality. I had trouble claiming first place as my own, and stuck with the mindset that I would just do my best and let everything fall where it would.

550# Yoke Walk, USS Nats 2015

Competition Day

Competition day arrived, and I hit my weigh-in weight easily. I didn't have to do any major cutting so I felt happy for that. Rules meeting, done. I got an ok night's sleep, ate for performance, and showed up to the event venue ready to compete.

Yoke

The first event of the day was a 550# yoke. We were to walk the yoke 60 feet as fast as we could, under one minute, with one drop allowed.

I had never walked with more than 475# on my back so I knew this would be challenging if not impossible. Yoke can be tricky, and if I am not careful, it can temporarily injure my back. My goals for competition were to walk away from the event without pain AND to hopefully not zero.

I met both goals. I was given the "go" command and I braced and stood up, steadying my feet. I made sure to look ahead and keep my eyes forward. I took five steps and lost balance for my first drop. Reset myself, and started again. I could see Jessie (my amazing competition) out of the corner of my eye. She hadn't yet passed me! Six steps more, and I lost it backwards. I ended up moving the yoke just over a foot. But every single step was a personal record for me. I earned 2nd place in this event.

I have moved 550 lbs on my back. I did that. I was proud of how I did. I achieved both of my goals!

Log press from "Be the Strongest Fool 2014" at Be Strong in Bloomington, IL


Log

Log press 150# as many reps as possible in a minute.

Log clean and press has been my nemesis for a very long time. The first time I ever tried a log was at my first strongman competition in 2013 and I had never touched one before that day. Log is SO much different than barbell or axle. My max at the time I signed up for the competition was 125#. I hit 140# in my training for a single. I knew this would be a tough event. My goal was one rep.

I rushed to the event start, because I had some trouble putting on my elbow sleeves. Time was called, and I cleaned the first rep. It was heavy. I took my breath, held my breath into my back, press and... FAIL! Cleaned it again to my shoulders. Easy. Once it was at shoulder level, it felt much heavier. I kept my elbows high, tried to press, and failed again. I cleaned it a third time and failed again. Each time, about halfway to the press. I zeroed this event. But so did my competitors. I was still in 2nd place.

I walked away frustrated in not achieving my goal of one press, but happy with the fact that I cleaned it three times. I will get 150# on a log. I have more work to do, but I will get there.

Car Deadlift

Car deadlift (450ish lbs) as many reps as possible in a minute.

Deadlifts have been my thing since I started in strength sports. I practiced car deads on my Toyota Prius, and they were not bad at all. But watching the LW and MW women heats had me worried when I saw many women fail completely.

It was time for my heat. I had help wrapping my wrist wraps, got a good earful of encouragement from Jessica Kite, and start time was called. First attempt, no movement. Second attempt, good! I started doing reps!! Each rep required me to be super tight and to pull even if I didn't think the car would move. I ended up getting six reps on car deadlift, and my competition both zeroed. This event put me into first place.

First place. I was in first place. I couldn't believe it. This was possible.

Car Deadlift at USS Nationals 2015


Frame Carry

Frame carry (similar to farmer's carry, only one large implement) was 370#, move the implement 60 feet as fast as possible.

This event was one I was sure about. 370# is not too heavy and I expected speed to be my issue. I was wrong. Speed was not my issue, but my issue was gripping the implement. When I warmed up, the handles on the implement I used were textured and felt good in my hands. The implement I ended up getting was painted and smooth.

I dropped the implement. Twice. I did not expect to drop the frame. This threw me off and rocked my confidence. I got third in this event. I was now tied for first place and it would all come down to stones.


Stone Loading

For stones, I had five stones to load as fast as possible in under one minute. The stones were increasing in weight and size. Stone sizes: 150#, 175#, 200#, 225#, 240#.

My girl Jessie and I were tied for first place. I told her there was nobody I'd rather share first place with than her, but it was time for one of us to claim the prize. I was tackied up and ready to go. We got to go at the same time, and it was a close competition.

When "start" was called, I lapped and loaded the first stone. I lapped and loaded the second stone. I lapped and damn near loaded the third stone. I couldn't push it to the platform and I felt like I was wasting time, so I dropped the 200# stone and lapped it again with less than 10 seconds remaining. I loaded it pretty easily this time, without struggle. But JUST AS I got it loaded, time was called.

I was 0.8 seconds too late. Jessie loaded the first two stones faster than I did. She was now in first place. I was in second. The third heavyweight female, Nicole, earned third.

To say it was a letdown that my third stone was just after time would be an understatement. I knew I could have done better. In this sport you have to be strong and fast. I just didn't do this event fast enough.

Love these strong women! USS Nats competitors: Pamela Paul, SHW, Raeanne Pemberton, HW, and Jessica Erickson HW

Wrap-Up

There are so many "what ifs" and "would have, could have, should have" thoughts. I feel like I've been on a roller coaster of emotions. But knowing I was strong enough for first place means a LOT.

Knowing I was strong enough for a first place finish at Nationals level competition (even with so few competitors) means I deserved to be there. It means my training was good enough. It means I have potential as a strength athlete. It means I have what it takes to be a champion. It also means that I will go back and claim first place as my own.

Many of my mistakes were mistakes due to a lack of experience. Some were due to a lack of confidence. Either way, mistakes happen and they happen to the best of athletes. What separates the good from the great is how we handle those mistakes. I will choose to use them to fuel me. My mistakes will drive me to be better, faster, and stronger.

The support from friends and family has definitely kept me going. It means so much when people show up to cheer me on. My husband was by my side every step of the way at Nationals and that meant more than I can even express. In the videos he took of me, I hear him cheering me on and pushing me. It brings tears to my eyes. Thank you to those near and far who have been there in person, and virtually. Your encouragement is amazing.

It's hard to express a competitive attitude when I feel like I am competing among friends. The support I felt from my fellow competitors was astounding. Through each event, I had someone there for me, shouting cues to me, cheering me on. We pushed each other. We helped each other. The female athletes that I was among this weekend were top notch. I stood in awe watching them in each event.

But then I remind myself that *I* was among them.  The only difference between us is I hadn't yet recognized myself as a champion. But now I see it. It's time to get back to training. I have goals to achieve, friends to make, and competitions to win.

Read more about USS Nationals and other events HERE

USS Nationals Event Results HERE

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