The Arnold Classic World Championships – Joanna’s Story.
Kitbox athlete Joanna Montgomery recently competed at the Arnold Classic World Championships in Ohio. It’s the holy grail of Strongman (and Strongwoman!) competitions worldwide, named after Mr Schwarznagger himself! Today, Joanna shares her first experience of Strongwoman on the world stage:
When I competed in my first Strongwoman competition, I had no idea what I was getting myself into. I was training hard and gaining strength but with no direction or goals – I was just looking for something to work towards.
I wasn’t expecting to place second.
I wasn’t expecting to qualify to compete in England’s Strongest Woman.
I definitely wasn’t expecting to be at the Arnold Classic World Championships just 11 months later.
When I entered the England Qualifier, less than 12 weeks before the event, I felt like a traitor. Who was I to even think about competing in a contest at that level? Was I just going to embarrass myself? With some assurance from my coach, I travelled to London, where a combination of good luck, fortunate circumstances and some hell-bent determination saw me place second, securing my place at the Arnold.
When the details of the events were announced, it didn't mean much to me because all the weights were in pounds. Dumbell press, farmers’ walks, yoke, deadlift… yeah, cool. Then I dug out a calculator, converted them into kilos, and promptly wanted to vomit! The one that jumped out was the deadlift: nearly 160kg. As a 5”1 athlete sitting at around 55/56kg, that was a big ask of my body.
I compete in u63kg - the lightest female category. The general consensus between my coach and nutritionist was that I should gain some bodyweight, to make me more competitive in my class. I was dubious. I have a hard time losing weight so I worried about the aftermath. Everyone told me to trust the process and when I saw how much food I’d get to eat, I was definitely on board! When it was time to fly out to Ohio, I was 63kg.
Panic Sets In.
Issues with a connecting flight saw me travel half way round America, arriving a day and a half late. With one day until weigh-in, I was retaining water like a thirsty camel. The airport staff let me weigh myself on the luggage scales (!), which said I was 5kg over my weight category.
The next 24 hours were probably the most stressful of my life. Following some frantic Googling, and irate emails to my nutritionist, I cut my water intake and spent the evening in a hot bath. I slept in a bin-bag. With no scales to hand, when I got up the next morning, I had absolutely no idea how much I weighed.
Well, turns out the airport scales must have been wrong - or my water cut went too well - as I weighed in 3kg under the limit, making me the second lightest athlete in the competition. You live and you learn!
Competition day came, and I don’t think I’ve ever been so nervous. There were 5 English girls competing, and we all bundled together backstage in the warm-up area. The first event was the giant circus dumbbell press. I wasn’t feeling great about this one, as I’d only trained on regular dumbells and wasn't sure what to expect. I didn’t place very well; I hit a personal PB but had reps disallowed for “wobbling”. I’m not sure how you're not meant to wobble when you’ve got 40kg in one hand above your head, but nevermind!
Next up was the yoke: 180kg. I’d never done the weight for the whole distance, and we were only allowed 2 drops before being eliminated. This event went great for me; I was by no means the fastest girl, but I steadily completed both runs without dropping it at all.
Third up was farmers’ walk with 75kg/hand. I most confident about this event after nailing it in training. However, along with most other competitors, I was prepared for the thick handles! It started well, and I completed about two thirds of the distance before the farmers just… fell out of my hands. I cursed in my head at my limp little claw hands. I'd never dropped farmers before, not even in training. I picked them up and made it another 3-4 steps before my grip gave out again. The girl in the lane next to me was having the same problem. We both picked, shuffled and dropped our way over the last metre of the course. I was disappointed, but less than 50% of the athletes managed to complete the run, so I guess I did okay in hindsight..
The Dreaded Deadlift.
The last event was the deadlift. I went into this event with a strange feeling; half facing the reality that I couldn’t do it, half secretly hoping that I could. It was a medley: two reps on 160kg olympic bar, moving into 160kg axel bar for reps. The warm-up area was chaos, with all three categories crowded round one bar. The person repping in the middle had barely enough room to put it down. I jumped in and out where I could, never knowing what was on the bar as it was in pounds. My last lift, I found out, was 320lbs. One of the girls converted it to 120kg. It felt heavy for 120kg!
When my time came, I was so wired with adrenaline it felt like an out of body experience! After setting up, I sat back in my heels and pulled and pulled with everything I had and...it came off the floor!
This is where I’d like to share a lesson about conviction and personal belief. Even though I pulled that bar with all my strength, there still something in me that wasn't expecting to make it. I was so resigned to the thought I probably couldn't do it, I wasn’t mentally prepared to see the lift through. When it came off the floor, the surprise caught me off guard. I stepped back, took a few deep breaths, and reset...
“15 SECONDS GONE!”, the commentator shouted on his megaphone.
“Jeez, chill out!, I’m just a little lady trying to pull a 3x bodyweight deadlift AT ALL, let’s not worry about my reps in 60 seconds!”, I thought.
I tried again and again until my time ran out, but I’d used up all of my strength and adrenaline on that first pull.
The whistle blew: zero reps. My last event was over, and I couldn't wait to eat a cheeseburger! As I watched the rest of the girls finish, I typed “320lbs in kilograms” into Google: 145.15. My last warm-up rep had been a 145kg deadlift - a pretty decent PB! Overall, I placed somewhere around 10th. I wasn't very pleased until my coach pointed out that top ten in the world isn’t too shabby!