From Sick to Strongwoman

Mastermind Weekend 1/16

Hey there!

I'm Tina

I’m the owner of Carrots ‘N’ Cake as well as a Certified Nutrition Coach and Functional Diagnostic Nutrition Practitioner (FDN-P). I use macros and functional nutrition to help women find balance within their diets while achieving their body composition goals.

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Hi all! A big thank you to Tina for allowing me to share my story on CNC. I’ve been reading CNC for yeaaars and am glad to have the opportunity to take over for a bit!

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A little background: My name is Gabby and I blog over at Gabby’s Gluten-Free. I live in Virginia, am an adjunct professor, a freelance writer/blogger, have dabbled in professional recipe development & food photography, have a crazy dog, and am married to a chef. OH…and I also compete in the sport of Strongman. Now, a few of you maybe wondering what the heck is Strongman?! Can women participate? Is it like the stuff on ESPN?! In summary, Strongman is a strength sport where athletes compete in a myriad of events to test brute strength, speed, power, and endurance. Women can TOTALLY participate. And yeah, it’s kind of like the thing on ESPN…just on a smaller scale in my case. (P.S. I’ve got a whole post dedicated to Strongman FAQs!). I always say that Strongman is like adult recess – just the toys are a bit heavier 😉 Some well-known events are stone loading (pick up some heavy round concrete rocks and put them on a platform), axle pressing (put a large diameter bar overhead), farmers walks (pick up and walk/run some weights), and yoke (walk/run with a large squat-rack looking apparatus on your back).  It’s varied, it’s fun, and it’s been a game changer for me.

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[photo via Mitch Smith]

Two years ago, if you had told me that I would have been a competitive strength athlete in a sport filled with stones, kegs, and other awkward objects, I would have called you crazy. Two years ago, I had never really lifted weights before and now I find myself being an advocate for women to lift heavy and get strong. If you would have told me I would squat 200# for reps, be able to lift a 200# stone, or be well on my way to deadlifting 300#, I certainly wouldn’t have believed you. Truthfully, I really can’t imagine NOT competing in this amazing sport and spending my time with barbells, axles, and sleds.

So how did I find myself in this sport? That’s a bit complicated. My “fitness” story isn’t much different from most stories out there. I was an overweight and out of shape person most of my life and got into exercising as a way to lose weight. I tried to be a runner for a while in college, while substituting on a diet that was entirely too low in calories and nutrients and having complications from undiagnosed severe gluten intolerance. Needless to say, that didn’t go so well and I ended up fracturing my foot. My sports medicine doctor discovered that due to my gluten intolerance going undiagnosed for so long, I was having a hard time absorbing calcium and other nutrients, which left me with the bones of an unhealthy 60 year old (that’s no exaggeration either). I was directed to start lifting weights immediately to build up my bone density. So I did. I did a standard “bodybuilding” style routine at my traditional gym and really enjoyed it. It felt great to feel strong and my body was responding in a way that I had never seen before. I was excited and couldn’t get enough.

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[photo via Joshua Winn]

Fast forward a few months later and I tried CrossFit on a whim with a blogger buddy and totally loved it. It was hard, it was heavy, and I was eager to learn all I could. I loved my gym, Crossfit Full Circle, the community, the workouts, and finally felt like I looked forward to exercising. Tina and I definitely share a love for Crossfit! I learned all about lifting and found myself wanting to add weight to the bar. As a person who had never really felt “strong” before, it was an amazing thing to feel myself getting stronger. I was more than happy to work hard in pursuit of bigger numbers and I was quite lucky that I found a gym with intelligent programming, highly qualified coaches, supportive members, and an emphasis on strength. Without their guidance and support, I seriously doubt I would have found Strongman and I definitely wouldn’t be competing or making a plan to qualify for Nationals next year.

I did traditional CrossFit for about 6 months before switching to our gym’s “strength” program and focusing on lifting heavy, getting stronger, and learning to be at peace with my body. After doing that program for a few months and making some significant gains, my coach suggested I try entering a local Strong(wo)man contest. Entering my first contest was terrifying. I’ve never been athletic and was hesitant about putting it all out there, but I gulped down some wine, closed my eyes, and hit the “Register” button. To this day, I still have no idea WHY I actually registered – it was something that was so out of character for me at the time. I’m going to blame my fellow gym members’ peer pressure and some words of wisdom from my coach 🙂

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[photo via Mitch Smith]

I started training for the contest right after that and quickly fell in love. I was so sore, bruised, scraped up, and tired those first few weeks – even though I had been working out very consistently for a while. The day of my first contest was a mixture of nerves and smiles. The Strong(wo)man community is SO supportive and great – I spent most of my downtime talking to other athletes and just enjoying myself. It was so much fun that I couldn’t wait to compete again. And the rest is history. I’ve competed four times since September (three of which have been since January) and am currently entering my off-season.

My training has evolved since my first contest. I generally train 4x a week at my Crossfit gym – my coach programs my workouts with an emphasis on implement practice (stones, axles, logs, yoke, etc.), squatting, pressing, and conditioning work. When I first started training for Strong(wo)man, I was the only person at my gym who did so. My coach made my programming around the implements we had and modifications to mimic implements that we didn’t have at the time. We had go to another gym to practice on actual implements for my first contest. Over time, the gym acquired quite a few more implements and now has a whole lot of Strong(wo)man toys. I also acquired quite a few team members, including my coach, which has been amazing – lifting heavy things is always more fun with friends!

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In my short time in Strongman I’ve learned that in this sport and any other strength endeavor, things do not come easy – you have to work for your rewards and those rewards get smaller and the work gets harder as time goes on. But what I really love about this sport and about lifting weights is all the work that is done before you ever step on the competition floor. To me, competition day is all about showcasing the hard work you’ve done – the hours spent sweating in the gym, the tens of thousands of pounds lifted, the bruises, the scars, the tears cried in your car because you had a bad day and missed PRs, the celebrated lifts and high fives, the 5am wake ups, and the million roles of athletic tape.  Each day is an opportunity to better yourself and thrive, not just survive. That is what I love about Strongman – it’s highly functional and so much fun that you forget it’s difficult. Even if you don’t plan on competing in Strongman, incorporating some movements like tire flips, farmers walks, and carries can definitely help add a little fun and a whole lot of variety to your routine. Best of all – Strongman makes you feel strong. I think that’s really why most of us do this – to find out what the best and strongest version of our self is, to know what it’s like to be able meet any challenge because you can, and to surprise yourself. It’s a pretty profound feeling to do something that you couldn’t do a week, a month, or a year ago. I don’t plan on stopping the chase for that feeling any time soon and I encourage everyone to try and find something that makes you feel that way.

If you’re interested in learning more about my experience in Strongman, my training, or peanut butter cup ice cream (I consider myself an expert you know), you can click on over to my blog Gabby’s Gluten-Free, find me on Twitter and Instagram @gabbysgfree, and on Facebook.

P.S. If you’re interested in trying Strongman check out startingstrongman.com for a list of strongman-friendly gyms around the world!

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29 Comments

  1. Awesome story!! I’ve always wanted to try my hand at it! Thank you for the website! Crossing my fingers theres a local one!

  2. I follow you on Instagram – you’re awesome!!
    Love your story and thank you for sharing. It’s so important and empowering to take back your own health then excel at something you love. Congrats!

  3. I loved reading this Gabby. You are so inspiring and I am so happy to have “found” you about a year ago to inspire my own pursuit to lift heavy and eat big. I love reading your blog (and stalking your Insta). Thank you for sharing your story, being so “real” and motivating me (and so many others).

  4. You are amazing! So inspiring, and love to hear how you were able to not only get healthy, but find that you love it and exceed at it! Keep up the great work -encouraging woman to get STRONG!!

  5. LOVE THIS! So glad to read this story. I love it when women are strong and don’t shy away from getting stronger!

  6. This is so incredibly awesome!!! Definitely makes me want to compete in a strongman competition someday, being strong is one of the best feelings ever if you ask me. Keep up the awesome work Gabby, you’re an inspiration 🙂

  7. this is awesome — i’ve never heard of Strongman either, and your story of how you overcame obstacles to become this “strong woman” is really inspiring.

  8. I’m so glad I was added to the bar of the belle group…here in milwaukee there are not many women interested in such endeavors as you are undertaking and as I aspire too. I really want to look into these competitions they seem much more fun than lifting competitions.
    Your use of turning a negative situation into a positive, and going further shows a resiliency that all successful people share! I never would have thought that as a drug addict 4 years ago that my life would be changed so dramatically and I would have acquired such a love of lifting and physical adventure.

    Keep rocking it. I don’t know what city you stay in but if you ever come to milwaukee hit me up! -Page

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