Gabriele Burgholzer: Journey to the Arnold 2020


1968. A young hopeful with next to nothing to his name planted his feet on American soil. He had dreamed of the moment; he knew that the United States was the land of opportunity, and that he would undoubtedly seize such opportunity. Failure was not option for this charismatic youngster, and even very limited command of the English language wouldn’t hold him back. This soldier from Austria was determined to make sure that everyone in the world would know his name, Arnold Schwarzenegger.

2019. Strongman sport had exploded in the US and around the world, and the women’s ranks in particular had experienced tremendous growth in just the last handful of years. The level of competition, especially in the women’s middleweight category, had skyrocketed. To reach the podium at the North American Championships would require unwavering dedication for even the most gifted athletes. Gabriele Burgholzer stood there at “Nationals”, amongst the strongest women from every corner of the country, prepared to seize her opportunity.

Gabriele was born in Austria, but found herself in America serving in the US Armed Forces. Like Arnold generations prior, Gabriele decided to pursue a life of iron, muscle, and strength. Her affinity for heavy weights and extreme challenges led her to join the US Army Warrior Fitness Team, where she would be in good company; two time middleweight World’s Strongest Man Anthony “Flama Blanca” Fuhrman was on the team as well. Soon, the two would begin training together, and Gabbi was set to make a run at the Strongman Corporation national title. Beyond the national championship, there was another goal in mind, but we will get to that soon enough…

It appeared that five challenges would stand between Gabriele and her dreams, but suddenly a 6th challenge presented itself just prior to game day. The entire event would be postponed at the last minute due to a hurricane, and it was rebooked for a month later and 1400 miles from the original location. While this would be enough to shake the resolve of some, Gabbi pressed onward, still determined to make her mark. When competition day finally arrived, Gabriele attacked each event with ferocious effort, and the results reflected her hard work – two event wins out of five, tying for first in the Log Press with Abigail Deal, and taking sole possession of first place in the Deficit Axle Deadlift. This performance landed her on the podium with the bronze medal, and now an even bigger goal was on the horizon; Gabbi had qualified for “The Arnold” in 2020.

Arnold Schwarzenegger built one of the most incredible physiques in history, and used his muscle to springboard a career in acting. He became the biggest attraction in Hollywood, as few (if any) cinematic heroes had ever displayed such an awe-inspiring body. When combined with Arnold’s charisma and work ethic, his bulging biceps were part of a multi-million dollar formula for blockbuster movies. In addition to his numerous bodybuilding titles, Arnold was even appointed as the Chairman of the President's Council on Physical Fitness and Sports by President George H. W. Bush. His lifetime of dedication to physical culture led Arnold to create the Arnold Sports Festival in 1989. This event, held each year in Columbus, OH, USA, grew into the biggest sports event in the world, not just for Iron Game sports like strongman and bodybuilding, but for sports of any category. Arguably the two biggest attractions at “The Arnold” (as it is known) are bodybuilding and strongman sport.

So here was Gabbi, Austrian born, like Arnold, transplanted to the US, like Arnold, in the army, like Arnold, chasing a dream based on muscle and willpower, just like Arnold, and now she had qualified for the Amateur World Championships at the very event that Arnold himself had founded. During his bodybuilding career, they called Arnold the “Austrian Oak”, and now, some four decades after Schwarzenegger hung up his posing trunks, the “Austrian Oaktress” was following in his footsteps. Gabriele’s primary concern is pure physical strength for her chosen sport, but make no mistake, she carries a physique that would impress even the former Mr. Olympia himself.

Opportunity once again stood before her, and Gabriele would need to push even further than before to take advantage. This competition wouldn’t just feature the best women from the US, the roster would include the best athletes from around the world. From Canada, to the UK, to Russia, athletes in her class from across the globe came to The Arnold in pursuit of the title. Making the top four is the primary goal, as only the top four move on to the final two events on the 3rd day of competition. With 22 other women vying for those 4 spots, Gabbi would have to dig deep to make the cut.

Once again Gabriele’s pressing and deadlifting prowess would serve her well, as she claimed top three in the first two events, the Log Press and the Deadlift Medley. She made top ten in the Farmers Walk and Yoke Walk on day 2, and that locked up her place in the coveted top four – she was on to the finals on day 3! The Giant Dumbbell Press was the first event on day 3, and Gabbi tied for 2nd place by pressing 110 pounds (50kg) over her head seven times using only one arm. The final challenge was a seated Arm Over Arm Pull where she had to pull a gigantic sled with a rope, but the sled was loaded to about half a ton. Gabbi braced her feet, gripped the rope, and pulled for everything she was worth and ended up 3rd place in the event, and 4th place overall at the world championships.

Gabriele Burgholzer has sought excellence, and worked tirelessly to achieve her goals. She has represented Austria, the United States, the US Army Warrior Fitness Team, and her family as well as anyone could. With a podium finish at Nationals, a coveted top four placing at The Arnold, and her Strongman Corporation Pro Card, her accolades are adding up quickly. Whatever goal is next for Gabbi, we can be sure she will approach it with the same discipline, the same burning desire for success, and the same dedication that has gotten her this far.

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