Vaji's hard work pays off
When she's not corralling criminals in Texas, Danielle Vaji is one of the strongest middleweights on the planet.
The 30-year-old Dallas Police Officer stuck another feather in her cap at the 2019 Arnold Sports Festival when she went pillar to post winning the amateur middleweight division.
Vaji has been an officer in Dallas for four years.
“I have a good group of people I work with,” she said. “There is plenty camaraderie. I love that I get to help people and have an impact on things from day-to-day.”
Vaji first started getting attention on the diamond. She parlayed a successful softball career in high school to a full-ride scholarship at the University of Illinois where she was a standout shortstop. It was in Champaign when she – and others – noticed she had a penchant for strength.
“Over the summer, I would stay at school for workouts and the strength and conditioning coach called me a natural,” she said. “It was the first time I really did any serious weight lifting.”
After college, Vaji got into Crossfit but soon realized that she excelled in the strength lifts, the gymnastics facet of it didn't gel. Around this same time, a co-worker suggested that they attend a seminar put on by Kaitlyn Burgess. Burgess built a successful career in Strongwoman, placing second in the inaugural women's Arnold in 2017 and her and Vaji hit it off.
“Kaitlyn took me under her wing and started training me,” Vaji said. “She is the one that got me started with all this Strongwoman craziness.”
Vaji's first meet was Dallas' Strongest Woman in 2017 where she placed first and earned an invite to Nationals.
“I smoked it in my first competition,” Vaji said. “I probably had way too much fun. I met a lot of friends, it was a great atmosphere, and the weights were not too heavy.”
At Nationals, she placed third at got her first invite to The Arnold, where she placed fifth.
“At the Nationals and the Arnold, it was pretty cutthroat,” Vaji said. “The weights were a lot heavier. It was an eye-opener how strong people are.”
In 2018, she met and teamed up with Terry Rady, who took on coaching duties. Rady himself is an established strength athlete and his impact was noticeable.
“We worked on a lot of different techniques and my numbers climbed tremendously,” Vaji said.
That year, Vaji scaled back the competitions and saw the benefits.
“It was nice having more strength focus and building dense muscle and work on technique,” she said. “It helped tremendously and there was little less stress on the body.”
After another fifth-place showing in 2018 at The Arnold, Vaji was dialed in heading into Columbus earlier this month. She was well prepped and peak strength. She had a small goal of a top-four finish, but her and Rady knew she could very well be atop the podium when it was all said and done.
“We knew it was within reach,” Vaji said. “It was there.”
The competition in this year's middleweight division was razor thin.
“It was ridiculous,” Vaji said. “The times were split by milliseconds. It was insane how close the events were.”
Despite the closeness of the competition, one thing was certain; Vaji was atop the field. From the first event on, Vaji grabbed first place by the throat and never let go, staying in first the entire weekend.
“I still can't believe it,” she said. “I remember Sunny (Bradley) winning it last year and thinking, 'that's what I want.' Winning The Arnold is a reflection on the work, dedication, and the time put in. I really did work hard for it. This sport is a direct result of the work you put into it.”