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My US Strongman Nationals: Nicole Walters

Back in I think November, Shane Rickman held a Women’s Intro to Strongman Class in Detroit. I’ve been lifting for about 3 years and had done a few powerlifting meets and tried out Crossfit, but I was looking for a new challenge. After the intro seminar I was very excited to compete and found a couple of great local training groups. Brandi Lyn ran a Strongwoman group and was training for Nationals, and after looking at the events I decided I wanted to try and qualify. At Motor City’s Strongest Man/Woman, my first sanctioned contest, I got third place and qualified for Nationals.

My coach Dan Allison had coached me through three powerlifting meets, so I entrusted him to write my strength and conditioning programming. I was confident that with 10 weeks to prepare, I’d be able to build enough strength to make each of the events challenging but manageable. When I first signed up, my goal was to not zero anything at the comp, but as the date approached I hoped that my training would come through and I’d place at least in the middle of the pack. I became very single-minded and a little stressed out in my focus on training and dieting to make sure I would make weight, but in the last few days of my deload I started to feel very calm and zen-like, ready to go out, learn, and have fun.

I was nervous about the yoke—I’m always nervous for the first event, and it was clear that a lot of the women were having difficulty with the very wide yoke. After watching the 1st heat I changed my goal from "finish fast" to "finish the distance." When I had my first drop I saw the finish line in view. My timer Steve Barkley was yelling at me to keep going but I took my time, got a few good breaths, picked and steadied the yoke before trying to lengthen my stride, but eventually destabilized and dropped it again, 6 feet short of the finish. Because I was so nervous I didn’t really notice how everyone else had done, and I was happily surprised to see that I had earned 2nd place in the middle weights with the distance that I had gone.

Log was the one event I felt like I did not perform as well as I could have given the preparation I put into it. My log press can be a little inconsistent and I knew that I would not be able to place high going into it, but I had gone from not being able to press 130 at all, to getting a few reps when I practiced three weeks out from the competition. At the competition I only managed 1 rep, which was incredibly disappointing. This is something where I have the strength, but my inexperience shows in my technique. Kate and Liz, two fellow Michigan ladies I admire for their pressing skills, tied for 1st with 10 reps.

I have a strong deadlift and although I am aware that a car DL is not the same movement, I was hoping that I’d get at least some carryover. I knew that the score to beat for 1st place was high—I hadn’t watched Buffy but based on the clangs I heard of the car coming down I figured it was in the 20's. In my mind zero was not an option; I HAD to get one, and if I got one then I better get more. I had only ever lifted a car one other time before (a Mazda 3 for 3 reps) and that pick was much higher. I pulled my heart out and managed 4 brutal reps.

Because so many of the women had struggled with the car, I was now in 3rd place and had forgotten about my poor performance on the log. My ability to forget the previous event and move mentally on to the next has much improved over the course of the 5-6 powerlifting and strongman competitions I’ve done, and it was nice not to be totally stuck in my own head all day. I enjoyed the opportunity to meet and learn more about some of the other women who had traveled down to Indy to compete.

The frame used at this competition was so much easier than the one I practiced on. I did one warmup run with ~250 and I knew that the times would be very close. On the frame I practiced on, I have to be careful not to stride out too long or I’ll hit the crossbar, but here I just picked, squeezed my lats, and ran. I could barely perceive that I was neck and neck with the others in my heat and ended up taking 1st in this event with a time of 8.4s!

Imagine my surprise to look at the score sheet before the final event to find that I was in first place overall!

I watched the rest of the field do the stones and knew I would need to PR big time and load all 5 stones, and do it fast! I’ve only had a few opportunities to practice stones, and never in a series to a platform. It didn’t even register until afterwards that as we were announced it was with the comment “this is for the championship,” but I struck that out of my mind and just focused on one stone at a time. 125 was up in one motion. I lapped and loaded 150 quickly. I picked 175 up fast but it slipped out of my hands and I heard my fellow competitor load her 175 (I thought) to the platform as I re-picked mine. I thought that if I could pick the much larger 200# stone I would be able to load it, but I struggled with it pushed up against the platform for a few seconds but could not get it. I was finished, having loaded only 3/5 stones.

Despite that disappointing finish, I was still riding high from the total experience of the day. My husband has been with me every step of the way, making sure I have the food I need and not ever complaining when I am off training for hours at a time. The entire competition day ran smoothly and despite every woman giving their all out on the floor, everyone still had time for a smile or a high five, or yells of encouragement that couldn’t be heard over the music. I smile to myself thinking back upon my training culminating into competition day, knowing that this is only the beginning.


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