Maya Camille Winters is a painter and art professor and a strongman competitor! The 34-year-old, 5’5”, 155 lbs. resident of Lansdowne, Pennsylvania (Philadelphia area) has her BFA in Fine Art as well as her MFA in Painting. She currently trains at Frontline Crossfit in Trainer, PA. The gym is owned by Joey Riccardi and Michelle Spitelli.
Winters comments that the, “place exudes opportunity seized. The owners are hardworking athletes and business professionals. They treat me like family and provide unwavering support. You can't find this everywhere. Brick and mortar may be the structure but grit and steadfastness erect the culture of this place. Thank you, Frontline family. Yes, you can get strong in a Crossfit gym – programming dictates this, not the name printed on an acrylic banner!”
Check out Frontline Crossfit on Facebook @https://www.facebook.com/FrontlineCrossFit
Q: How did you discover Strongman events?
A: When I started training at Iron Sport Gym about 4 years ago, I was introduced to the events by Highland games legend, Steve Pulcinella. He encouraged me to compete. Along the way I was encouraged and coached by some strongman greats (Jill Mills, 2x World's Strongest Woman).
Q: Did anyone influence you or serve as a mentor?
A: The two aforementioned lifters certainly motivated me.
Q: What motivates you?
A: I like to use emotional stimuli to motivate myself. I just think of the girl I was growing up. All I wanted was to explode with muscles and athleticism. Sometimes I think of her and feel charged that I'm doing exactly what she wanted. Man, that chubby little chick would be psyched.
I've had someone in my life for almost ten years now and I don't think that anyone could ever motivate me like her. When I'm at competitions, there's a 5'2", 105 lbs. honey badger/bobcat/bag of meth bombs cheering for me. Everyone knows her as Jennifer Thomas. Her tireless support has propped my efforts in many contests. Her presence is good for at least 5 more reps.
Q: Is the Strongman community homophobic at all in your experience or overall accepting of people regardless of their orientation? (If that's a stupid question, I apologize. I mean absolutely no disrespect.)
A: No, I don’t think there is much homophobia in the strongman community. If anyone is homophobic, they’re smart enough to hold their tongue in my presence. As a “girl on girl” girl, I haven’t run into issues. Maybe the experience for a homosexual male would be a bit different, but I feel like I’m insulting the intelligence of those who are accepting in saying this. I am speaking on behalf of my own experience, I can’t respond to the general homosexual experience in strongman – this sounds comical to me for some reason.
Gender equality is pretty damn asymmetrical. May I bang on about that?
Q: When did you transform from that "chubby little chick" to the lean strongman athlete of today? What initiated that process and was it a slow or fast transformation?
A: Prior to the 2012 North American Strongman National Champs, I weighed around 191. A few months before, I decided I wanted to compete at MW (165 and under class), so that initiated my first weight cut. In 2012, during the rules meeting at Nats, we were informed that the top 4 athletes would qualify for the Arnold Classic, but you had to weigh 150 or less - another weight cut started!
Prior to that, during my rugby career, I always worked on improving my fitness.
Q: What activities do you do outside of Strongman?
A: I'm an art professor and painter. Shamefully, I have not managed my time well and will use this summer to refocus on exhibiting my paintings.
I also spend a lot of time with my cats.
Q: How many cats? :-D And what are their names?
A: Four Cats:
• Peeky Shrew
• Tiffany Veronique (indoor/outdoor)
Q: What was your path like to becoming an art professor?
A: When I finished my undergraduate degree in 2000, I taught through the Philadelphia Mural Arts program. Leading up to my first higher education position, I occupied a litany of long-term sub assignments and K-12 positions. Since 2005, I’ve taught in the higher ed setting.
I am an adjunct professor which simply means I teach a full course load with no job security. I say this in jest, but it can be a pretty miserable experience if not choreographed well. I enjoy the flexibility of my schedule (I have time to train and paint).
Q: How do you train now?
A: Right now I'm actually prepping for the Crossfit Team Regionals. I'm getting stronger and fitter. I'm actually quite amused by this because I'm doing gymnastics of all things. Muscle-ups even!
In July, I'm going to compete in my first strongman comps since the Arnold. I'm gnashing my teeth just thinking about it. I miss my main squeeze (strongman)!
Q: What kind of advice would you give to beginners who are looking to get bigger and stronger?
A: If you want to get bigger and stronger, do the following very obvious things:
• Eat productive foods
• Sleep (I mean, hibernate when you can... full Rumpelstiltskin mode)
• Train heavy, often
• Follow one consistent program for an extended amount of time
Q: Do you use supplements or do you favor solid food?
A: Yes, I take BCAAs, fish oil, turmeric, and protein. I’m proud to say that I am a “natural” lifter.
Q: What are your feelings about competing against enhanced athletes? Do you give it any thought?
A: Performance enhancing drugs are hard to speak of generally. The way athletes “enhance” their performance varies in so many ways.
Regarding the use of PEDs, I don’t use them. I compete naturally and always have. I won’t lie, I do get pissy at times when I think of the recovery and strength advantages that I cannot access because I don’t use.
Honestly, I am not bothered by PED use in other athletes. If you are fine with potential physiological risks, I suppose you have the right to do what you please.
Q: Do you do anything specific for injury prevention or rehab?
A: Hot and cold contrast showers are a must for me!
Q: What are the contests you are most proud of?
A: I'm most proud of my National title I earned in 2012 – North American Strongman's middleweight champ. In 2013 and 2014, I placed 2nd at the Arnold Strongman Fitness World champs. Competing on the main stage was an immense experience that I have yet to match in my athletic career.
Q: What are the three most important movements for people trying to build strength?
A: Squats, deadlifts, and pressing (specific to your needs) are a must. Jerking is huge if you're in strongman but my jerk always dwindles in the absence of benching. Ah, yes, you said only three.
Q: How can people contact you (email, social media, etc.)?
A: E-mail: [email protected]
Juggernaut Training Systems:
360STRONG: http://360.jtsstrength.com mayawinters
Thank you, Maya!