My US Strongman: Raeanne Pemberton at Central Illinois Strongman Classic

August 25, 2015

I competed at the Central Illinois Strongman Classic at SPEC (Specific Sports Enhancement Center)in Decatur, Illinois this past Saturday. This was SPEC's third annual strongman competition and the third time I've participated. SPEC used to be my home gym, so I am a bit biased, but this is one of the most fun competitions in which I have ever competed. The setup, crowd, and flow of the event is flawless.


Athletes are treated first class and have ample warmup space and clear, concise information regarding each event. Judging is fair and accurate. The weather was perfection for the July 22nd event.


The five strongman events included yoke walk, tire deadlift (around 15 inches), truck pull, log press for reps, and a stone medley. I was one of 17 female athletes, and there was a wide range of skill from novice all the way up to experienced competitor. This event was sanctioned by both United States Strongman and Illinois Strongman Association. The top competitors received an invite to compete at a national level.  


The Events



As a heavyweight female, yoke walk was 450# for me. This was 50 feet for time. The yoke implements at SPEC have a thin cross bar which is more like a squat bar than a traditional yoke cross bar. I found myself regretting my "wide" grip holding the uprights. But I made it work.


I walked steadily and slowly for my self-proclaimed worst event. My competitor April thanked me when I was done, if that's any indication of how well I did. :-)


I walked the yoke, dropped about a foot short, picked it back up and dropped it ON THE LINE. I was upset and took out some of my rage screaming but finally moved it to the finish. I wasn't in love with the pitch of the parking lot for this event, but at least all athletes had the same disadvantage.


Quite honestly, the element of surprise is one of the challenges that I love about strongman.


Photograph copyright Mindy Stewart Morgan


Tire Deadlift


Let me start off by saying that tire deadlift is the most glorious of all the forms of deadlift. Lifting from a cushion of air feels amazing and it makes the weight seem to almost float. Going into tire deadlift, my competitor and I agreed not to talk weights. I had no idea what she was going in with, and vice versa.


My attempts were planned, with the help of my amazing friend and coach, Becca. I wanted 385-405-420. I had hit the first two numbers in training and my third was a hopeful PR. This event was auction style and the lifters had to say the number they wanted on the bar. Most females were finished by the time 360 rolled around, and my competitor, April, opened around 355.


Once I knew her opener I doubted my 385, but I stayed the course. April claimed 385 as her second attempt, and I pulled it as a first. Then, we played "strategy" as we each waited to hear the other's next attempt. 415 came up and April called for it. I was in a sudden panic. I should have gone for 415! But what's another five pounds?


Should I go for 415 or just up to 420? I literally stood there in a panic unsure of what to do. I decided I'd see what happened with April's lift. She was SO CLOSE but she missed. Crap. Do I do 415 or "go big" and shoot for 420?? The people around me encouraged me. 420 it is.


April was kind enough to offer me some ammonia, so she prepped me really well. "Wait for the rush," she said. I approach the bar, wrap my straps, inhale slowly and carefully. Wait for it... PULL!! It's GOOD!!! :-D


This was a definite highlight of my day. Not only my lift, but watching my fellow athletes. I cried several times during the competition, out of pure joy for the happiness and success of everyone surrounding me. It truly was a magical day.


A video posted by Raeanne (Sisson) Pemberton (@_annie_rae_) on Aug 22, 2015 at 9:32am P


Truck Pull


The truck pull  was short and fast. Females pulled for 50 feet, and pulled an approximately 5000 lb truck. Every female kicked butt on this event! Scores were mere seconds apart. Willie Wessels stood close by guiding everyone and offering advice. Competitors cheered on competitors, and hugged after each attempt.


Once my turn was up, I dug in with my heels, stayed low, and pulled with my arms while I drove with my hips and legs. I finished less than a second faster than April. How crazy is that?


Truck pull really is like rolling the dice. You just don't know how fast you will be in comparison to your fellow athletes. I loved this event! So fun.

Photo copyright Mindy Stewart Morgan




Log is not my favorite. But with more training I have become much better at it. Guidance from my girl Becca, and from Kalle Beck has been priceless. I have spent two training days per week focusing on log. But the log at this event was much different than the standard log I have. It was definitely a challenge.


My weight for log was 125# and it was clean and press for reps. I can honestly say this was the one event I was most disappointed in. Yes, I did enough to get a first, but I wanted way more than three reps.


I am not sure if it's because I knew I had enough reps, or because of the challenges with the log itself, or maybe I was just tired. But I definitely did not perform as I had practiced in training. In training I hit 5 reps at comp weight. I hit 3 solid reps and failed two attempts at lock out on comp day. Guess I will just need to keep at it with the log!


A video posted by Raeanne (Sisson) Pemberton (@_annie_rae_) on Aug 22, 2015 at 2:43pm PDT




The final event of the day was stones. My event was a medley of loading stones weighing 115, 145, 170, 200, 230lbs. I was extremely happy with how this event went. Compared to nationals I wasted much less time. I was able to get each stone and I was SO super close to the final stone. I know I will continue to get stronger and stronger, and I will get that 230lb stone. Mark my words.


Willie told me that my technique was on point for stone. That meant so much!


So flipping close to the 230# stone. This was the last in the series. Next time. =) #stone #strongwoman #strongman #startingStrongman #ladiesWhoLift #uss #unitedStatesStrongman #belleOfTheBar


A video posted by Raeanne (Sisson) Pemberton (@_annie_rae_) on Aug 22, 2015 at 3:56pm PDT


Now that I am looking back, I feel that I did the best I could given the day and the circumstances. We always look back and want to do better, but I am extremely happy with how the day went. I was able to see so many familiar faces and to really relish in what strongman is all about -- community.


There aren't very many athletic events where you will see opponents hugging and cheering each other on. Yes, we want to win. But we also want to help and support those around us. We are a special breed. We are strongmen and strongwomen trying to better ourselves. We push limits. We embrace the suck. We bruise, bleed, and scream. Sometimes we laugh, sometimes we cry.


It's a magical community and I am so proud to be a part of it. I will leave you with a photo taken by one of the spectators. She did a fabulous job capturing the camaraderie of the participants. This is what strongman is all about. The people.


Photo copyright Mindy Stewart Morgan


This is April and me. I have no idea what we are saying, but we are in an embrace. One of us just likely finished an event. We were probably telling each other 'congratulations' or giving and receiving advice. But no matter what our words were, the picture says it all.


I am nothing special. Just a girl with a hobby. But each day that we come together to lift heavy shit, I feel powerful, enabled, strong, and I feel like I can take on the world.


It's easy to take on the world with a group of strong folks surrounding you. <3


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