Couples Strongman Challenge - The Ironmill Philosophy Just Got Real

Thanks to Bros vs Pros Champion Rebecca Klopp who shares her story from her most recent competition in Connecticut.

Fail. Adapt. Succeed. Repeat.

That’s the Ironmill philosophy. It was the message I had in big letters on my t-shirt at Saturday’s Strongman competition in South Windsor, CT. When I packed that shirt to wear at the competition, I had no idea how much that philosophy was going to manifest in my performance that Saturday.

I was having a great run of successes the last few months. I was working hard and seeing the payoff in contest after contest. In September I had gotten my pro-status as a powerlifter in RPS at the Iron Maiden Championships in Newark, NJ. In October I flew to Phoenix, AZ for the RX Muscle Bros vs Pros 12 squat and deadlift challenge for reps with bodyweight. At 125lbs, with 125lbs on the barbell I squeezed out 75 squats and 156 deadlifts to win the event by 71 reps. On December 1st, I entered my first strongman competition, aggressively bypassing the novice class and competing in the open with hopes to qualify for nationals. It paid off. I finished 2nd and got my national qualification at my first competition. I was on a roll.

Fail. Adapt. Succeed. Repeat. Ironmill’s philosophy. During the process to success, you will fail. It is certain. To quote ironmillstrong.com “we understand that soon after you taste the absolute freedom of victory….the putrid stench of failure is never too far behind.” It was on my heels and I didn’t even know it.

Deadlifting 225lbs for reps at the Couples Strongman Challenge. The Ironmill philosophy in bold letters on my chest: Fail. Adapt. Succeed. Repeat.
Saturday Dec 15th, was the Couples Strongman Challenge meaning I had a partner and we competed as a team. Teams consist of 1 guy and 1 girl. The weight limits for the classes are the combined weight of the team. 370lbs and under is Lightweight, so a 230lb guy and a 140lb girl is a lightweight team. 371lbs and up are heavyweights. The novice class will have no weight limit, a guy and girl of any size can be in the novice class.

Since I entered the Christian’s Christmas Classic on Dec 1st (my first strongman comp) I was no longer a novice or first time competitor. My awesome partner JT, a fellow Ironmill athlete, weighs about 300lbs. There was no cutting weight to make the lightweight class, so heavyweights it was. I knew it would be a challenge for me to compete in heavyweights as I would compete in the lightweight division if I were competing alone. The weights are heavier and the other female competitors would likely outsize me considerably. But I like a challenge so I willingly went for it.

The first event was the press medley. With a two minute time limit, each partner had to take turns pressing a circus dumbbell, an axle, a log, and finally a block. The heavyweight female circus dumbbell was 65lbs. The heaviest DB I had pressed, a regular DB was 50lbs, the circus DB had a thicker handle 2 inches in diameter. I knew I didn’t have a great chance at getting the dumbbell to lockout, but I hoped with some adrenaline it would go. JT went first and easily pressed his 140lb circus dumbbell. Then it was my turn with 65lbs. After 3 missed attempts, I set the weight down and waited about 10 seconds to catch my breath. Then I gave it my best and 4th attempt. It was close but I couldn’t lock out my arm. I chewed up most of our 2 minutes with missed attempts in the dumbbell press. As a team we got 1 out of 8 implements to lockout. That put us in a tie for last place after the first event.

The second event was deadlifts for reps. Oh sweet deadlifts. With a 2 minute time limit, one partner could go at a time and then tag in the other partner when they needed a break. I had to rep 225lbs and JT had 455lbs on the bar. This was my best event, my most confident event. This one I wanted us to win. Deadlifts are not JT’s strength so I knew I would be doing the majority of the reps. No problem, it was my turn to step up.

I went first. I repped 225lbs for 16 until I started to slow down. I tagged JT in so I could catch my breath and he could keep the fast pace going. JT banged out 8 solid then tagged me back in. I did 9 more and tagged in JT. After 3 JT tagged me back in, I pulled 5, back to JT for 3 more. Then back to me for the final 5 seconds. I locked out 3 times very quickly but the last one was a split second after the buzzer so only 2 counted. We netted 46 reps as a team. We were in the lead until Team Zimmerman banged out 48 reps to take the event.

It felt good to contribute in the deadlift event especially after I zero’d the press medley. Up next was farmers walks to suit case carries. Ladies carry 170lbs in each hand for 50ft with one drop allowed. Then their partner picks up one handle (like a suitcase) and sprints 50 ft and comes back for the other 170lbs and sprints to the end. I had done 170lbs in each hand in practice several times. I even did it with such ease that Lou made me hold it an additional ten seconds after going 50ft with it before setting it down. I thought I would nail this one. I thought wrong.

It was off from the beginning. I chalked my hands and was barely standing between the two handles when the MC said ready, set go. I quickly grabbed the handles and stood up. My grip was not right, my thumb was not locked and these handles were smoother, and thicker than the ones I had trained on. I took 5 steps and set them down intentionally. That was my one drop. I wanted to get my grip right and thought then I could fly to the end. I re-adjusted and stood up to go again. I made it 11 steps until the implement slid out of my left hand. I couldn’t keep my grip, it slid into my fingers and it was all over. That was it. JT didn’t even get to do his part. I stood there in disbelief. What the heck just happened???!!! We took last place in this event.

Moving on to the 4th event yoke to sled. The yoke was loaded with 700lbs for the guys to carry 50ft and then JT gets on a sled and I drag him back 50ft to the finish. This was one event where me weighing so much less than my partner was going to hurt us. Still, I was confident in this event because I had trained dragging Lou who weighs about 30lbs more than JT. But there was a monkey wrench thrown in, a change to what was advertised. For the heavyweights they were adding two 45lb plates to the sled. So I would be dragging JT plus 90lbs more. I did not practice this much weight, ever. Sled + JT + 90lbs = 455lbs. It was the last thing I needed to hear after my confidence was so shaken from failing at the farmers carries. I honestly worried I wouldn’t be able to pull the sled at all. If that happened this day was going to go from bad to worse.

JT was strong on the yoke so I was confident we’d start off great. True to form, he flew. At the end he was nearly sprinting across the line. It was impressive. He jumped on the sled and it was my turn. I leaned way back and was so relieved to feel the sled moving. I could do this! For about 4 steps it was great then my calf cramped. Ugh!

The best way to pull a sled is leaning back with your weight on your toes. If your calves are cramping you can’t push through your toes, it’s excruciating. So I had to switch it up and dig in with my heels. I did it mid-stride and fell on my butt, not once but twice. I got back up and kept dragging. I leaned back and dug in with everything I had. It was the longest 45 seconds of my life. Fellow Ironmill teammate Kim was standing at the end and encouraged me for the last leg “ten more steps!” two more steps!” “you’re done!” it was the best news in the world. When your leaning back and looking up, you can’t gauge how much further until the finish line. I couldn’t even see straight when I was done, I collapsed on Kim until I got myself oriented. That was one of the toughest things I’ve ever finished. I could have quit when my calves cramped, I could have quit when I fell, twice. But after the disaster that was the farmers carries, I was dragging this sled across the finish line if I fell 20 more times and had calf cramps so bad I had to do on my knees.

Our time was 53 seconds, good enough for 7th place out of 8 teams. Disappointing but better than not finishing.

The last event was the atlas stone. The advertised event was a medley of 5 stones but a last minute change had us doing one stone over a bar for as many reps as possible in 90 seconds with 155lbs for me and 275lbs for JT. I had done stones for the first time a week before. I practiced with a 175lb stone and managed to get it over the bar 4 times. But I wasn’t quick, I wasn’t polished, and it took everything I had. I hoped 155 would feel lighter and I could bang some out.

The event began and JT went first, easily putting 275lb stone over the bar. Now if was my turn. My first attempt was slow, I got stuck with the stone on my chest and couldn’t push it over the bar. This is bad because the weight of a heavy stone on your chest will make you black out if you leave it there long enough. That’s what started to happen, the room was going black. I had to drop the stone.

I took a few breaths and went for my second attempt. This one had to go. I learned from the last one to be quick, just get it up and over. I did and it went. Phew! It was JT’s turn again and he banged out another one in seconds. Back to me and I barely had a chance to catch my breath. I went for it again, it was slow, I was tired. I got it up to the bar but the time ran out. 3 reps total for our team.

And that was it. A performance good enough for 8th place out of 8 heavyweight teams. The worst part is I was the weak link. JT carried us in every event but the deadlifts. I knew being a lightweight competing in the heavyweight division was going to be tough, but I didn’t know I would struggle this much.

When I find myself down or struggling, I figure someone else has been where I am and can probably offer some insight. I debated sharing the details of Saturday’s competition in this journal since it was certainly my worst performance in recent memory. It was embarrassing to be honest. But I found this note from H. Stanley Judd. He was on to something. I had a bad day, I’ve owned up to it, now I’m ready for the next challenge. And I couldn’t agree more that if I’m not failing I’m not growing. It’s part of the process. The next step is up to me.

I’ll finish with the words from Ironmill’s page. It really hits home after Saturday. Perhaps it will inspire you too. I know it inspires me and makes me proud to be part of an organization that has such a solid view on the process of success.

“Fail. Adapt. Succeed. Repeat. We WILL fail at some point. That is for certain. And we can let that failure define us in two ways:

We can stay buried beneath our fear and remain paralyzed by inaction. Cling to our sense of safety under the false cloaked warm and satiated feeling by the mere attempt at greatness


We can evolve. We can twist our malfunction and failures into a savage vehicle of determination. And Rise.”

Well said. That helps put Saturday performance into perspective. For me, it only means one thing. It’s time to rise.

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