by Amanda Kulik
I am thrilled Ladies Lift Here was able to catch up with her after her NAS Nationals win in the Women’s Lightweight Division.
Name: Kristyn Vytlacil Whisman
Location: Snohomish County, WA
Occupation: Dean of Corrections Education
Sport: Strongman Competitor
2007, 2008, 2011, 2014 National Champion, Women’s LW Division
2010 3rd Place, NAS Nationals, Women’s MW Division
2013 2nd Place, NAS Nationals, Women’s LW Division
Home Gym: my home
Tell me a bit about your athletic background and how you got started in strongman.
I started swimming when I was 9 years old, I swam through college. In high school, I also ran cross country and track. I was not a good runner, at all, but I enjoyed participating in sports year round. I would also say I was a rather mediocre swimmer, though I did fare relatively well at each conference meet in college.
I first saw WSM on television my freshman year of college (2001). They also aired WSW that year, I saw Jill Mills win, and I just knew then that i had to compete in strongwoman someday… In fact, it was a running joke on my swim team, that I wanted to be WSW someday. I have a few gag gifts from back then, including a makeshift trophy with WSW on it, and a fake, signed picture of Jill Mills (hahaha). When I graduated from college, I found myself a trainer who had done some powerlifting and bodybuilding. In February, 2006, I went to watch Scott Porter’s comp, Arizona’s Strongest Man and Woman, where I saw Kara Mann compete again the LW men, she was a beast!!! Speaking with her, and a few of the other competitors, I knew I had to find a contest I could train for ASAP.
I competed for the first time at the Defined Fitness Strongman Challenge in New Mexico in May, 2006. What draws me most to strongman is the physical expression of one’s emotional strength. My mother passed away my freshman year of college, and I found myself especially drawn to the gym then. I would spend extra hours, beyond what was required by my swim team, in the gym… I think at first it was a way to keep myself busy, to avoid going through the grieving process and accepting that my mom had passed away. It was a great coping mechanism for me then, and still is now.
What are your best and worst lifts?
I would say my best strongman event is yoke, but specifically heavy yoke. I’ve carried 650lbs for less than 20 feet, and I’ve also picked 700… I’d love to go to a comp where the LW yoke was 550 or so.
Historically, I have struggled with medleys, or anything that is really an event that requires a lot of conditioning. I’ve been working on that a lot since I had Emmett, and I’ve definitely improved! But I will always see these types of events as my achilles heel.
What is the biggest obstacle you’ve had to overcome in your lifting?
Tearing my ACL in July of 2009 was certainly the biggest challenge I’ve had. I had surgery to repair it on August 14, 2009. I tore it trying to hit a max axle C&P. I was continental cleaning, and my first pull was super ugly. I should have put it down then, but I didn’t, I tried to bump it up from my waist. As I did, I stepped back with my left leg, and snap, there went my ACL. I told my surgeon I had a contest to do in December (I’d already purchased plane tickets to compete at the Rhodes’s contest in December). The surgeon said we’d have to see if that was possible, but it wasn’t likely… Well, like many others, when someone tells me I can’t do something, I’m even more motivated to get it done… so I did. I managed to take 2nd place in an open class.
Do you have any training partners?
I do currently have 2 training partners (I call them my workout wives, lol). Andrea Anderson and Christina Cowin are my training partners. This is not the norm, though.
Until 2010, I generally trained by myself during the week. I met John in April 2010 (in the gym, of course). We definitely worked out together as much as possible, but we rarely did the same lifts on the same days. On Saturdays, we trained with the Higa Monster crew (Grant Higa, Zack McCarley, Tyler Scott, Steve Spellman, Laurion Burchall, Pete Marcoff, Scott Hughes). It’s nice to have training partners with whom I can do the same lifts/weights/etc. Andrea and Christina came into my life in 2013, after Emmett was born. Luckily, not only are they great training partners, they are also great baby wranglers, and help me balance training with caring for Emmett.
Can you discuss the difficulties of working fulltime, being a mother and finding time to train?
Balancing being a mom and wife, having a career, and training for strongwoman is definitely interesting. I wouldn’t say it’s a challenge, because I enjoy it, but it takes work, that’s for sure. Every week is totally different, in terms of how the balance plays out. Some weeks all I can manage is being mom/wife/dean. Other weeks, work is relatively mellow, and I can put a lot of energy into strongwoman.
Having good friends and training partners is what helps me most. I couldn’t ever manage the balance without that. When Emmett was younger, we would just play pass the baby between sets. If he fell asleep on someone (usually Christina), we might try to finish up with a particular event before switching baby-snugglers, and then allow the others to train. Now that Emmett’s older, it’s definitely more of a challenge to train. He’s super active, all over the place, and wants to mess with everything, so now we train early in the morning during the week, when Emmett is sleeping. On Saturdays, we basically just trade off who is following Emmett around the yard. The bummer is that you don’t have an opportunity to watch/observe your training partners when you’re the one wrangling Emmett, but it is just necessary for now. I’m sure we will miss the baby wrangling when Emmett is off doing his own thing while we train.
Maintaining the balance is all about listening to your body and managing your stress effectively. For me, this means that some weeks I just won’t train at all (even if it wasn’t supposed to be a de-load week). Other times, my stress may require me to train ridiculously hard, just to work it off. I have to be kind to myself, and realize that I AM NOT superwoman (yes, you read that right). I really can’t do it all. Some weeks, I choose to do it all to about 75%. Other weeks, I choose to do some of it to 100% and the rest of 0%. But I always keep my focus on the long-term goal. So long as I’m progressing toward that, I’m a pretty happy camper.
Do you have an offseason?
I wouldn’t say that I have an off-season really, but I do have periods of time when I don’t do anything active whatsoever. This is most often after a big contest. Like right now, after this year’s nats, I took two weeks completely off. And when I say completely off, I mean I didn’t lift anything, do cardio, and I ate like pure sh*t. The off time can range anywhere from one week to a month, depending on the contest and how I feel, both physically and mentally. I definitely think training one’s arse off year round, with very little off-time is not beneficial for performance come contest time. Our bodies and minds need a break from the routine, and if I’ve learned anything over the years, it’s to listen to your body.
How long do you prep for an event? What does your training cycle look like?
Honestly, my training cycles aren’t very organized at all… Obviously, my strongman Saturdays are centered around the events that will be in the comp for which I’m training, but my weekday lifting is mostly based on how I’m feeling that day. I do not write out a 12-week programs, specifying lifts/sets/reps. I usually outline my workout plan the day before and it’s always subject to change.
Currently, I lift M/W/Sat. I do cardio T/Th/F. I don’t necessarily think my way of doing things is best for others, but it works for me right now. When I would try to have a 4 or 6 week cycle, and things wouldn’t go as planned, it’d create much more stress/tension in my life. I don’t handle it well when things don’t go according to plan, so I’ve found I’m much more successful with less of plan and more intuition-based training.
Over the years, I’ve had training coaches here and there, but it’s never been worked very well for me, because, once again, if I wasn’t able to do something that was written for me, I’d get really down on myself and that certainly didn’t help me make progress. I’m inherently optimistic, so I prefer to approach things knowing that I will do them, and do them well. When it doesn’t go like that, it causes me much too much stress/heartache.
Do you use any supplements?
Nutrition: As far as supplementation goes, I’m rather minimalist. I supplement my eating with protein shakes, take a multi-vitamin/vitamin D/probiotic/Emergen-C daily and that’s about it.
During competitions, what do you have to have with you?
At contests I bring glucose tabs, bcaas, nature valley bars, PB&Js, bananas, gatorade, water (and until I started nutrition with Stefanie Tropea, I would eat snickers at every comp, I don’t do that anymore though :-/)
Last year you competed with a 6 month old and took second. Can you elaborate on competing with your son there/how you made it work for you?
Competing at nats 2013 was certainly and interesting experience! Emmett was 6 months old, so he could easily be front-carried all day long (without much difficulty, but with lots of back strain). I think what was most challenging about the competition was my inability to focus fully on the contest. Just like most moms, it’s really hard to turn your mom brain off when your little one is running around (or even when he’s being front-carried by daddy). Emmett still wasn’t sleeping through the night yet, so sleep-deprivation was an issue. Nats, of course, is a big contest, so I wanted to focus on competing, but it just wasn’t possible.
So I did the absolute best that I could, and took pleasure in watching all the women around me doing the same. That is actually always my favorite part of a contest. I enjoy, so much, screaming at all the competitors while they lay it all out there. If I don’t lose my voice after a comp, I know I haven’t done enough cheering. But, anyway, I have to tell you, going to the awards banquet, I absolutely thought I’d gotten 3rd place. So, I was standing there, with my sleeping son strapped to my chest, when they began to announce the awards. When they called Phoebe’s name for 3rd place, I just about died. I thought maybe I’d actually ended up 4th, so I started to feel devastated. I looked over to John and said, “Wait, what, where’d I end up?!”
When my name was called for 2nd place, I couldn’t believe it, I had to try very hard to keep my business together and not bawl my eyes out. I’ve never been happier to be in 2nd place. And let’s face it, Stefanie Tropea seriously kicked arse, and absolutely deserved her win. I was stoked to be 2nd place to Stef, it was her day, her weekend, her time, I was just pleased I got to be there to see it!
What was your most exciting competition? Why?
2014 Nats was absolutely the best competition at which I’ve competed… Why? Because just about every single woman there had a positive/upbeat mode of competing.
I go into competitions with the mindset that I’m going to kick each implement’s butt, and I’m going to enjoy seeing others do the same. I want everyone to do their best, and if my best allows me to win that day, then great. I accept that I cannot control what other women are capable of doing, so if their best is better than mine that day, congratulations are in order to them. There are other competitors whose approach to competing is different than mine, they may get stuck in what I would call a more negative mindset: stressing about who can do what, how others will place, how difficult the events are.
I think those who focus on things over which they have no control put themselves at a disadvantage in any competition, but that’s just because my outlook is different. At Nationals this year, there was a distinct absence of the mindset I consider a disadvantage. So many of the girls approached everything with a kickass attitude, knowing they were going to do their best and move that weight and get it done, as that was the ONLY option. It was great! I think it created this amazingly supportive atmosphere that I so appreciate. The camaraderie of the weekend was unparalleled, I loved it! I think all the positivity only fed my performance, and ultimately helped me win.
AYou’ve been competing at nationals and winning for a long time, how has the landscape of strongman changed since you started?
The first year I competed at nationals was 2006. Back then, there were only two weight classes: LW and HW, the cutoff was 140. I was weighing 155ish then. When I started strongman training, I absolutely believed that bigger was better/stronger, so I purposely put on a bunch of weight so I could be stronger (when I graduated from college in 2005, I was 135ish). That year, I zeroed on all but one event… I was absolutely devastated! I had such high expectations of myself, I couldn’t even believe I did so poorly.
I took last/6th place. Eventually, though, I came to realize this… I still showed up that day, I was 6th in the nation, it wasn’t my fault there were only 6 of us that year. I wasn’t last, just 6th, and really, for my first year, that wasn’t too bad.
In November of 2006, I had the pleasure to meet and train with Jesse Marunde. Jesse basically told me I was fat and that I was not meant to be a HW, I was built to be a LW. Over the next few months, Jesse and Callie Marunde (now Best) helped me with diet and training, and in 2007, I won my first national championship as a LW. I also won as a LW in 2008. In 2009, they introduced the MW class, and I fully intended to avoid any sort of weight cutting, and compete in the new class, but couldn’t because of my ACL tear. In 2010, I did compete at Nationals, as a MW, and took 3rd. In 2011, I came back as a LW (I was convinced by this point that I’m meant to be a LW and not in any other weight class) and won. In 2012, I was pregnant, and you know the rest…
Best advice to a beginner/Most valuable thing you’ve learned from competing?
Most important lesson I’ve learned in strongman: I will never be a “pro” at strongman… I will never have a 100% perfect competition. There will always be more to learn and ways to improve (I think this is probably why I love the sport so much!). Even though I’ve been competing since 2006, there’s still so much to learn in terms of each implement/event.
Anyone you’d like to mention?
There are so many people to thank, my list will be pretty darn long, in fact, maybe I should just go copy and paste my Facebook status where I thanked folks, LOL…
My husband, John, who supports me in absolutely everything I do, even when it means he needs to make adjustments to his usual routine.
Brittany Strong, the woman who babysits my son. The woman who makes it possible for me to have a career, be a strongwoman, and be a mom! I can’t thank her enough and I’m so glad she’s a part of my family.
Stefanie Tropea, my nutrition coach, who has been inspiring me since 2009, when she helped me get out of my post ACL-tear funk.
Christina Cowin, my sherpa, training partner, friend, just everything… Really without her help at Nats, and every training session before, I wouldn’t be at nats period.
Andrea Andersen, my workout wife for life, I can’t thank her enough for the love and support she’s given me and my family since the day we started training together.
Rachel Pyron, Tracy Stankavage, Jessica Rush, JoAnn Hagadorn, Gina Melnik, Amy Payne: these women are the ones who kept me smiling at nats this year. They regularly inspire me with their accomplishments, weightlifting related and otherwise. (And did I mention that Gina Melnik’s daughter, Zoey, is just a week or so younger than Emmett?! So HUGE kudos to her on her top 3 finish at Nats this year. I loved sharing this experience with other new moms like myself!
Dione Wessels, Sarah Jamieson, Careen Rodgers, Patrick Rodgers, Aaron West, Bryan Hildebrand, Kalle Beck, John “Sarge” Allen, Leticia Swanson, Amenah Razeghi… everyone who made NAS nationals possible this year!
(Seriously though, this thank you list could go on and on forever…)
Thank you so much to KV for her time, and for all of the great insight into her life! We look forward to bringing your more interviews from other great women in the strength community!
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
AMANDA KULIK is an avid lover of all things strength sports and the founder of Ladies Lift Here. She is mother to one beautiful baby boy (and one fur baby). You can catch her in her silver Honda Fit cruising the East Coast looking for strongman adventures.