Last fall, WV state champion Valerie “Rhino” Walker brought home the title of World Champion and cemented her legacy as one of the greatest strength athletes in WV history. Two years ago Katie O’Connor teamed up with Meredith Weaver to form WV’s first strongwoman club, Mountain State Women of Strength, which has been wildly successful in spreading the joys of strength sports amongst women in the region. Ten years ago an unlikely heroine named Nicole Mouser performed what were, to my knowledge, the first ever attempts by a woman at strongman events in WV under official conditions.
Fast forward to March 25th, 2017 to the Maidens of Might Strongwoman Challenge at Viking Performance Training in Morgantown, WV. Nearly 2 dozen women gathered from 6 different states to face 5 brutal challenges and seek their division championships at WV’s largest ever all-female strength event. Ages ranged from 15 to 52, and for nearly half of these women, this was their first competition! Fortunately, these ladies were in good hands. Working as a score keeper and general organizer was Nicole Mouser; doing everything from pushing a broom to score keeping to riding on top of a Ford to add weight to it was Katie O’Connor; Valerie Walker was also in attendance, changing plates, resetting giant tires, and keeping the equipment properly set and cleaned. Strongwomen supporting strongwomen appeared to be the theme of the day, and this was quite evident amongst the competitors themselves as well.
The 1st two events were both max events with state records on the line: the Max Log Lift and the Max Keg Over Bar. These events were contested simultaneously, with one group beginning on the log and one group on the keg. Our lightweight (LW) novice, masters, and open class ladies all started on the keg load. Disclaimer: I will cover the entire keg event before moving on to the log event. In the LW novice class 2 ladies managed to lift well over their own bodyweight as Leisha Schiess and Emmalie Spina were both successful at 150. In the next round, Emmalie secured the win with an incredible 175 pound keg lift over the 4ft high yoke bar. Nicole Hess earned the top spot at LW masters by conquering an impressive 150, with Casie Fox and Ariel Buric also nailing 150 to share 1st place in LW open.
The daunting 175 keg didn’t receive air time again until the middleweight (MW) novice ladies stepped up to the plate, and Tara Gilson hurled the giant thing over the bar to win her class over 4 other impressive warriors. Our heavyweight (HW) open class was thin on the number of competitors with only 2, but they had a fantastic battle against each other throughout the day. Leah Fremouw (who normally competes LW!!!) stepped up MW to take on heavier event weights. After finding out that MW open entries were scarce, Leah then agreed to compete against Ashley Flanagan (who had planned to go HW) so long as the she could still do the MW event weights. Both parties agreed and thus our “HW” open class was born! Ashley took the win in the Keg at 175, but Leah was far from done as you will read later.
Our HW novice class featured 4 tremendously strong women, all successful at 125 pounds except Tiffany Drake, who opted to wait until 150 to even enter the fray. At 150 Patricia Hawthorne and Jeanie Lorenz August bowed out. Sarah Vaselka and Tiffany both made short work of 150, and 175. The 185 pound barrel was just a bit much for Vaselka, but Drake was just getting started. Tiffany, in her first contest mind you, proceeded to launch the 185 keg over the bar like it was filled with helium instead of metal, sand, and water. At 205 pounds, the young lady from Farmington, WV still wasn’t finished and heaved that keg over the bar. When her next attempt was announced at 225 pounds, the crowd grew electric with anticipation. 225 would be a monstrous lift for a seasoned competitor, and yet here was Tiffany standing confidently before the task as rookie. Cheers erupted as she pulled the massive load to her lap and wrapped her arms around it. From there she fired the huge metal cylinder skyward and it crashed into the yoke bar. For what seemed like an eternity Tiffany wrestled the keg against the bar, just inches short of pushing it over. Suddenly with an explosive burst of power, she heaved the barrel up and over, just in time to receive credit for the amazing lift.
The Max Log Lift is a strongman classic, and these ladies did the event proud by posting some terrific lifts. 2 new state records were set, including Nicole Hess and Alina Pabin tying at LW masters with 78 for a shared record. Dazzlin Slaughter made 3 successful lifts in the LW novice division en route to finishing with 88 pounds which tied with Leisha, but Leisha did so with less attempts thus winning the tie. 15yr old phenom Gracie Stire hit 78 here, and Emmalie took the win at 112 pounds!
“Micki Lifestyle” mastermind Micki Pauley hit 88 at LW open, but was edged out by Casie Fox who did the same with fewer attempts. Ariel Buric improved greatly over her performance last year and nailed 100 (102 to be exact), but it was Illinois’ own Kim Stone who took the new LW open record with 112 pounds back home to Island Lake with her. Amanda Moats kicked off the MW novice with a solid 78 pound lift, and 3 ladies hit 88 – new mom Ashley Anderson, Tara Gilson, and Heather Blosser. Natalie Benincosa took the victory here with 102, which positioned her well on the score board after 2 events. In such a competitive division however, it was far too early to make any predictions with 3 events left. In HW novice Patricia Hawthorne registered successful lifts at 78 and 88, and Jeanie Lorenz August had success all the way up to 112 pounds which she seemed pleasantly surprised with, but to those of us watching how easily she nailed her previous lift it was certainly no surprise! Sarah Veselka and Tiffany Drake both powered through presses at 142 on the massive tree trunk (yes this was a real log not a metal pipe). Vaselka missed on the next round at 152, and Drake opted to skip up to 162 because she already had the tie-breaker win whether she made it or not. 162 was not to be on this day, but smart money says she will smoke this weight sooner than later.
Our 3rd event was a special medley style event that our MSWS group actually voted on nearly a year ago! Katie O’Connor, myself, and the head honcho at Viking Performance Training Mr. Jerry Handley all devised sadistic medley style events and put them up for vote online. In the end it was Jerry’s vile creation that won the vote, and thus the Tire Flip to Axle Deadlift event was born! The ladies had to flip an enormous tire over 4 times, then immediately grab a heavy axle bar and deadlift for reps. One of our goals with this competition was to make sure that the events were challenging enough to limit the number of reps the competitors could perform on events like this. Many all-female competitions tend to err on the side of being “lighter” on event weights, with women regularly hitting 20+ reps on certain events. We wanted to offer something different, so we pushed the weights on the events to the upper end of what could still be considered an appropriate Level I difficulty (there are different contest “levels”). I am happy to report that this strategy turned out well, as 5 of our 21 women were unable to complete any reps on the axle dead portion after they finished the tire flip portion, and only 5 actually managed double digit reps. I’m not going to preach about “light” being bad, because it’s not necessarily, I’m just saying that we wanted to go another route and it ended up panning out well for the event overall.
Dazzlin motored through the tire flip portion of the challenge but ran out of gas after 3 reps on the deadlift. Gracie Stire managed 4 reps despite her grip protesting the extremely thick axle bar. Straps were legal on this event, but using them would potentially cut into your time, so some competitor opted not to employ them. Emmalie and Leisha tied for 1st in this division with both ladies putting up a stunning 12 reps on the deadlift after blazing through the tire flip portion. Masters LW Alina also produced an admirable performance with 9 reps, but it was Michigan’s Nicole Hess that treated us to one of the most impressive performances of the entire day as she fired off 16 terrific reps on the axle deadlift. Nicole will definitely be feeling that one for a few days!
At open LW, Casie was visibly disappointed when she was unable to hoist her axle at 228 pounds, as this weight had gone well for her in practice. Micki, the lightest competitor in the entire contest, completed the tire portion but also had no luck with the stubborn Apollon’s Axle. Leave it up to Kim Stone to clock in with 4 huge reps on the deadlift; however this was only enough for second place because the “Tiny Barbarian” Ariel Buric demolished 9 reps and walked away 4 crucial points to bump her up the standings. Amanda and Tara at MW novice were both foiled by the ponderous axle. Natalie Benincosa got the axle moving and fought through 3 reps, and Ashley Anderson surpassed this mark impressively with 5 big deadlifts. It was Heather in the end that grabbed her first event win and 5 points for the overall by nailing 6 lifts.
The HW novice ladies were also challenged well by this event, as Patricia couldn’t quite figure out the devilish axle bar, and Jeanie was exhausted after 6 reps. Sarah and Tiffany once again had a tight race; in fact both ladies tied on 10 reps for a share of first place. To this point, we had utilized a roughly 300 pound tire for the LW novice and masters women, and an estimated 400lb tire for everyone else. When the time came for our HW Open ladies, we rolled out a mammoth tire weighing every bit of 500 pounds. At 5’3 and about a quarter of the weight of the tire , Leah Fremouw was so dwarfed by this immense tire that the image of her readying to flip it was akin to a scene from Jack and Beanstalk. When the start command was given however, it was Leah who became a giant as she dug in, smashed her body up against the wall of rubber, and drove intensely forward. Sure enough the tire started to levitate, and inch by inch she lifted it higher and higher. First to the knees, then to waist, higher and higher until she could finally push on the top and send the gigantic black mass crashing to the pavement. Leah desperately wanted a shot at the axle deadlift, now loaded to 268 pounds, so she dove in again to continue the fight against the humungous tire. Another savage effort and another flip in the books. Time was running out at this point as Leah was wrestling with her 3rd flip, and fate would have it that she would complete the course on this day. Ashley Flanagan followed next, knowing the tire was a strong event for her, and shocked everyone by flipping the colossal tire all 4 times, but was entirely to spent afterwards to register any reps on the axle deadlift.
Our 4th event provided what was likely the best answer to such common “water-cooler” questions like “what did you this weekend?” as our ladies could now truthfully reply “picked up a Honda Civic”. The car deadlift is a strong(wo)man classic and we added a little twist to our version to make it even tougher… because picking up a Honda isn’t tough enough by itself apparently. Upon completion of each rep, our steadfast volunteers would toss weights into the trunk of the car, and once the weights were all loaded, they would hop onto the trunk themselves! This meant that every rep was harder than the last, and helped ensure once again that no one would achieve a cartoonishly high number of lifts. For our LW Novice and Masters competitors the handles were raised a little to shorten the range of motion on the lift in an effort to make sure everyone had a legit shot at getting at least a few however. See? We aren’t completely heartless!
Gracie followed Dazzlin’s 9 reps with a score of 7, and Emmalie tied for 2nd place with 9 reps to match Slaughter. Leisha was our first lifter to hit double digits, and one of only four to do so in the entire field. Alina and Nicole continued to show their spectacular back and leg strength as they completed 11 and 13 reps respectively. The handles were dropped a little lower for our LW open warriors, and Micki could not convince her legs and back to cooperate any further at this point in the competition. Casie proved that it could in fact be done as she grinded through capillary bursting reps, only to be edged out by Ariel who squeezed in 7 before time and consciousness elapsed. Kim Stone lifts Honda Civics in her sleep apparently though, and claimed an even dozen reps before she finally hit the wall.
In the novice MW group 3 women fell victim the weight of the car and walked away empty handed, so Heather and Natalie capitalized with 4 and 7 reps respectively to earn big points and ensure top placings in the overall. At HW novice only Jeanie managed more than 2 reps, and she posted 6 for the event win. Ashley Flanagan battled hard through 5 lifts and decided that her eyes may fly out of her head if she attempted a sixth, so she bowed out there. Leah Fremouw followed and smoked 6 reps, doing only what she needed to secure the win. In true Hollywood fashion for this division and several others, the final event would now decide the victor.
Our final event was another unique event that to our knowledge had never been contested anywhere else in the world. It was a 2 part vehicle pull, beginning with a 35ft harness pull and then immediately transitioning to a 35ft arm over arm pull of a different vehicle! This event literally taxed the entire body and was a visual spectacle to watch. In the LW novice the times were all within 6 seconds of each other with Dazzlin and Gracie finishing in just over 30 sec and the latter securing her first event win! Nicole finished in just under 37 seconds to sneak by Alina by less than 3 seconds to win the LW masters. Micki and Kim finished right around the 40sec mark, with Casie clocking in under 38seconds and Ariel speeding through the challenge at under 34.
Entering the MW novice class we switched the vehicles to make things even tougher – we went from a harness pull with a Ford Explorer and an arm over arm with a Honda Civic to pulling a Dodge Ram 1500 loaded with strongman implements on the harness and moving the Explorer to the arm over arm portion. Heather and Natalie were leading on the score board separated by only half a point going into this final event, with Ashley only 1.5 points behind Tara for third. Ashley needed a solid performance to have a shot at the bronze, and she clocked in with 47.82. But would it be enough? When Tara’s turn came she looked good from the start, but lost momentum once the truck began the uphill portion of the course. With the roughly 6,000 pound load slowing to halt behind her, Tara had to get it started moving again on the hill in order to have any chance of reaching the arm over arm portion and finishing the event. Unfortunately for Tara the time expired before she could gain any more ground, and now she would need the other 3 ladies to suffer the same fate in order to secure the bronze medal. Enter Amanda Moats who had her best performance of the day clocking in at under 44 seconds to finish the course and consequently seal the deal on third place overall for Ashley.
The battle for first overall between Heather and Natalie was intense all day, and Heather seemed to get stronger as the day progressed. She was in danger of drawing attention from the highway patrol during her run as she peeled up the pavement en route to finishing in 38.3 seconds. This set the bar incredibly high for Natalie, who despite a respectable finish was short of the needed mark and secured the overall win for Heather. What an exciting division! The HW novice class was also largely a photo-finish across the board, with all 4 women within 6 seconds of each other. Tiffany put a stamp on her overall victory here with a first place run, and when the smoke settled Jeanie and Sarah were neck and neck. Who would walk away with the silver medal? For our HW open ladies we called for volunteers to hop into both vehicles to add additional difficulty, and we packed them so full that we even had a passenger riding on the roof of the Explorer (cough cough Katie cough cough). This proved to be just a bit much for Leah who had fought so valiantly all day. Kudos to her for stepping up a class to seek out a greater challenge; what a warrior! Ashley Flanagan showed her unlimited potential once again by completing the entire course, and locking up the overall in the process.
After the scores were tallied, we discovered just how close the battle for 2nd place was in the HW novice class, as we had a tie in the points! Sarah and Jeanie were dead even, so in true Viking fashion we unveiled the Mas Wrestling board and announced the need for a tie breaker event. This is basically a seated tug of war, with each person trying to pull a stick out of the other person’s grasp. The ladies locked in their grip and pulled with all their might for an amazing 2 out of 3 contest, and Sarah Vaselka went 2-0 to take the lead and earn sole possession of 2nd place overall.
Here are the final standings:
4th Dazzlin Slaughter
3rd Gracie Stire
2nd Leisha Schiess
1st Emmalie Spina
2nd Alina Pabin
1st Nicole Hess
4th Micki Pauley
3rd Casie Fox
2nd Kim Stone
1st Ariel Buric
5th Amanda Moats
4th Tara Gilson
3rd Ashley Anderson
2nd Natalie Benincosa
1st Heather Blosser
4th Patricia Hawthorne
3rd Jeanie Lorenz August
2nd Sarah Vaselka
1st Tiffany Drake
2nd Leah Fremouw
1st Ashley Flanagan
Big thanks to our sponsors!
Next stop is this Saturday for our Record Breakers Version 1.0 in the morning and the MSWS Ladies Open House in the afternoon right back Viking!
Then we head to Strength for Autism on 4/22 in Washington, PA!
In May we head back to Fairmont, WV for the most fun meet of the year, the Appalachian Team Championships! This is actual teams of 4-6 people not just pairs or couples yall – so fun!
In June we celebrate our strong youth with the WV High School Powerlifting and Strongman Championships on the 17th!
And of course there’s the big one, the Big Kahuna, America’s Strongest Viking back here in Morgantown on July 8th! Inaugural World records will be set here on the Mouser Block press, and National records will be up for grabs on the deadlift!
In August USA Powerlifting returns via the Viking Summer Raid on the 19th, and the very next day we host WV’s first Highlander competition as part of an entire weekend of insanity!
The last meet I will mention is the 11th edition of The Strongest (wo)Man in the Forest in Elkins, WV on Sept 30th. I am already getting a lot of requests for info about this one, as last year’s version was incredibly well received. If there is one meet you do not want to miss, I’d say it’s this one – stay tuned!
See you all Saturday and happy training!