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Strongwoman Shoulders The Weight Of A Male-Dominated Sport

Twenty-two-year-old Strongman competitor Brittany Diamond can carry more than twice her body weight and lifts cars for fun.
Courtesy of Brittany Diamond
Twenty-two-year-old Strongman competitor Brittany Diamond can carry more than twice her body weight and lifts cars for fun.

It's just two days before the 2015 Arnold Strongman Classic, an international competition for strongmen and strongwomen in Columbus, Ohio, and Brittany Diamond is worried.

As a relative newcomer to the sport, the 22-year-old from Boston has never even seen the 100-pound dumbbell she'll soon be asked to lift and press with just one arm.

"Instead of it being filled with a solid weight, it's almost like sand, where it's a little tippy and uneven. So just because I haven't ever tried that, I am a little bit nervous," she says.

In the sport of strongman, athletes drag trucks, carry heavy objects and lift huge dumbbells over their heads. And strongmen are known for their size. The sport's most famous star, Halfthor Bjornsson, is 6 feet 9 inches tall, 400 pounds, and plays a character named "The Mountain" on HBO's Game of Thrones. Diamond is 5 feet 7 inches, 165 pounds, and doesn't look like someone who lifts cars for fun.

"Especially, I'll get a lot of comments like, 'How do you do that? You're wearing all pink and you're so tiny,' and stuff like that. So it's really cool just to say you can do it," she says.

The men get the bulk of the attention, but the women's side of the sport is growing rapidly. And Diamond is trying to challenge common stereotypes of what makes a woman strong.

She likes to intimidate her competition by wearing pink. She describes herself as "very girly." But for all the pride Diamond takes in her appearance, she says her favorite thing about being a strongwoman is that looks don't matter.

"I'm not a bodybuilder. That is the completely opposite. You know, my sport has nothing to do with aesthetics, which is why I love it, which is another reason why I think it's empowering," she says.

It's competition time. Named after Arnold Schwarzenegger, the Arnold Sports Festival hosts 18,000 athletes in 50 sports, from powerlifting to hula-hooping.

First up for the middleweight strongwomen is that dreaded 100-pound dumbbell. Diamond was hoping to clear the weight just once, but she lifts it overhead five times.

"I just try to, like, close my eyes and picture it going well for me ... and it did," she says.

During the second event, Diamond slips and drops her 450-pound weight for a two-second penalty. She's happier with the results of the third challenge, even though her hands start to bleed and she loses a shoe. The fourth and final event of the day is a 375-pound deadlift. She's attempted this weight in training, but she's never before succeeded.

With her friends from back home cheering her on, Diamond clears the weight four times. It's more than she could have hoped for.

"I'm gonna go cry, I'm just so happy, I can't even talk," she says. "I feel like I'm going to die."

Diamond was hoping to place in the top four and qualify for the finals. But she's thrilled with seventh place — and proud to be a strongwoman who cries.

"It's incredibly emotional for men and women," she says. "You know, when you put that much time and effort and dedication into something, and you really give it your all, certainly you're going to get emotional. If you didn't then I don't think you're giving the sport your all."

Diamond hopes to win the Arnold someday. But her bigger goal is to help grow her sport.

Strongmen can rise up the ranks and compete as professionals, but there's not yet a professional class for women.

Copyright 2015 WBUR

Karen Given