Strongwoman Shoulders The Weight Of A Male-Dominated Sport Brittany Diamond, 22, wants to challenge what you might think you know about strong women. "My sport has nothing to do with aesthetics," she says.
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Strongwoman Shoulders The Weight Of A Male-Dominated Sport

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Strongwoman Shoulders The Weight Of A Male-Dominated Sport

Strongwoman Shoulders The Weight Of A Male-Dominated Sport

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ARUN RATH, HOST:

In the sport of strongman - yeah, strongman is a sport - athletes drag trucks, carry heavy objects and lift huge dumbbells over their heads. The men get the bulk of the attention, but the women's side of the sport is growing rapidly. Karen Given from the NPR sports program Only A Game recently met one athlete who's out to challenge everything you might think you know about strongwomen.

KAREN GIVEN, BYLINE: It's just two days before the 2015 Arnold Strongman Classic, an international competition for strongmen and women in Columbus, Ohio. And Brittany Diamond is worried. Strongman challenges vary from year to year and event to event. Diamond's a relative newcomer to the sport, and 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.

BRITTANY DIAMOND: And 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, you know, ever tried that, I am a little bit nervous.

GIVEN: Strongmen are known for their size. The sport's most famous star, Halfthor Bjornsson, is 6-foot-9, 400 pounds, and plays a character named The Mountain on HBO's "Game Of Thrones." Brittany Diamond is 5-foot-7, 165 pounds, and doesn't look like someone who lifts cars for fun.

DIAMOND: 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 (laughter).

GIVEN: Diamond 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.

DIAMOND: I'm not a bodybuilder. That is the complete opposite. You know, my sport has nothing to do with aesthetics, which is why I love it, which is another reason why I also think it's empowering.

(SOUNDBITE OF STRONGMAN COMPETITION)

UNIDENTIFIED ANNOUNCER: We're going to narrow this field down from 100-plus athletes - down to the top 20.

GIVEN: The Arnold Sports Festival is named after Arnold Schwarzenegger. The event hosts 18,000 athletes in 50 sports, from powerlifting to hula-hooping. First up for the middleweight strongwomen - that dreaded 100-pound dumbbell.

(SOUNDBITE OF STRONGMAN COMPETITION)

UNIDENTIFIED ANNOUNCER: All right, judges ready? Athletes - ready, set, go.

GIVEN: Diamond was hoping to clear the weight just once, but she lifts it overhead five times.

DIAMOND: I just try to, like, close my eyes and picture it going well for me. And it did.

GIVEN: 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.

(SOUNDBITE OF STRONGMAN COMPETITION)

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #1: Come on, Brittany.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #2: Come on, Brittany. Come on, girl.

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

(SOUNDBITE OF SUPPORTIVE SCREAMING)

DIAMOND: I'm going to go cry. I'm just so happy. I can't even talk. I feel like I'm going to die. But I'm so (expletive) happy.

GIVEN: Diamond was hoping to place in the top four and qualify for the finals. But she's thrilled with seventh place.

DIAMOND: I'm sorry. Oh, my God, I just swore. I'm sorry. I'm sorry. I'm sorry.

GIVEN: A few days later, Diamond's still apologizing for that swear. But she's proud to be a strongwoman who cries.

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

GIVEN: Diamond hopes to win the Arnold someday, but her bigger goal is to help to grow her sport. Strongmen can rise up the ranks and compete as professionals, but there's not yet a professional class for women. For NPR News, I'm Karen Given in Boston.

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