My US Strongman Nationals: Raeanne Pemberton

USS Nationals - Learning to be a Champion

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.


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.


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, and 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.


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 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.