She may be knocking on 40s door, but Anna Harjapää is just warming up.
Harjapää, who turns 40-years-old in May, is coming off an impressive performance at the Arnold Sports Festival where she won the amateur heavyweight division in Amateur Strongwoman Championships.
In her fourth trip to The Arnold, Harjapää overcame a nagging injury and sickness as she was determined to make the finals.
“I was not sure that I was the strongest, but I knew that I was my strongest,” Harjapää said. “ And that was what I told myself, 'You´re gonna make it to top four.' And that was my belief all weekend.”
On the first day, Harjapää won the first event, the log press, and her confidence started to build. After she won the farmer's walk, she knew the finals were going to be a reality.
“I had some dark thoughts (during the farmer's walk) due to my foot injury,” Harjapää said.
Harjapää ended up winning the third event as well and tied for third in the fourth, which had her in first place going into the final day.
“It really got to me that I had a real chance of winning it all,” Harjapää said. “I knew as long as I won one of the two events, I could totally screw the other one up and that was what happened. I failed on the first event and got 0 points, together with two of the other girls. And then I won the last one, securing the win.”
Harjapää lives with her husband and three sons, in a house on the countryside right outside a small town called Grästorp that is about a 90-minute drive northeast from Gothenburg in Sweden. Harjapää has been with her husband, Magnus, for 19 years and their sons are 17, 15, and 14-years old.
She does most of her training in Hälsoborgen where she does weight training and as far as Strongwomen event training, that takes place in her garage.
“My garage has been more of a gym than garage the last few years,” Harjapää said. “I have the most essential thing in my garage, and I invite people to come and try the sport out. So on the weekends, there can be quite a few people training here. It´s always easier to get out in the garage when you know you´ll have company. Sometimes it's people who have never tried Strongman and sometimes it's guys that compete.”
Nothing is easy for Harjapää, including her hours away from the gym. At work, she assembles agriculture equipment like straw choppers and chaff spreaders and also drives a forklift.
Aside from a few years of soccer, Harjapää didn't compete in other sports growing up. She met Magnus, who was bodybuilding at the time when she was 21-years-old and that is when her weight training became more serious.
“I had to start training for real to even stand a chance to see him at all,” Harjapää laughed.
Almost always the only female in the gym, Harjapää learned early on to adjust and to temper expectations.
“When the guys started to compete in who could bench press the most, I always felt so weak since they could bench press so much more than me,” she said. “My husband always told me that I am strong, but I didn't listen to that. I wasn't as strong as the guys so I didn't think I was strong.”
In the summer of 2014, Mangus persuaded her to sign up for a contest to find out who is the strongest in their town. Harjapää was the only female and competed with three men using the same implements and same weights. She came in last, but not last in all the events.
“Well it was fun, but nothing that lit the spark,” Harjapää said.
In 2015, at the same contest, another female signed up and Harjapää came away with a first-place prize.
“All of a sudden I felt strong,” Harjapää said. “I decided it was time to compare my strength with other strong women and started searching for competitions online. I found one, and it was Sweden's Strongest Woman/Queen of the Vikings. I signed up and two months later I was in my first real strongwoman contest.”
Since that competition was called Queen of the Vikings, the competition was open for Europeans. It was there where she met a Strongwoman legend. Britain's Donna Moore. Moore won the Queen of the Vikings and Harjapää came in third. She followed that with a second place finish behind Anna Rosén for Sweden's Strongest Woman.
“Donna told me that she thought that I should go to England and compete with her again, only one month later, and that apparently was Europe's strongest woman, where I placed third after Olga Liachuck (who won Arnold Pro this year) and Donna, who won,” Harjapää said.
The victory at The Arnold put an end to a few frustrating months. In May, she caught double-sided mycoplasma pneumonia and was sick for weeks, and even hospitalized. Then in October, at Sweden's Strongest Woman, she twisted her ankle and has had lots of pains from it.
“They did an X-ray when it happened and there was nothing broken, but there are suspicions of other damage to the ankle and foot since the range of motion is so bad and there is a lot of pain," Harjapää said. "I'm waiting for an appointment with the orthopedist, so they can check it out and do an MRI. But despite the pneumonia and a long time of no training, I managed to come back stronger than ever before.”
As far as the rest of the calendar year, she is focused on getting her foot healed and ready.
“I know that it could be as bad as getting a cast on for two months if it´s really bad, and I'm prepared for that,” Harjapää said.
She has plenty of time to heal for the Stone of Strength at the Fefor Hotel in Norway at the end of August. After that, she will likely aim for Sweden's Strongest Woman again in October, and hopefully the Worlds Strongest Woman after that. Then again, as we sit in early March, anything is possible.
“Maybe I´ll choose to not do these comps, to be able to be my best next year at the Pro stage,” Harjapää said. “I do love the sport and sportsmanship and friendship Strongwoman has given me.”
For more on Harjapää follow her on Twitter and Instagram at @tigertofflan.
-By Brett Auten