By Maritza Rodriguez
First time mom here, originally from Puerto Rico and loving fitness since I decided to make a change and find balance to be a better person years ago after winning a long time battle with severe depression. And how I started loving strongman? It all started when I met an amazing strong lady known as “Fury” (American Gladiator’s Jamie Reed-Kovac); I saw her competing at the Maryland’s Strongest Man in 2011. She was the only woman competing there. My husband and I wanted to know more about this sport, so we looked into it, learned more about professional strongmen and even saw them compete at the Arnold Sports Festival.
Fast forward to 2012, after competing in my first bodybuilding competition (figure), I had an accident where I suffered a bad concussion and lost my balance and gait. After recovering with physical therapy, I decided to take another road, with my husband. We both started at the Edge 2.0 with longtime strongman competitor and coach, Barry von Perkins. Our first competition together was to be at the 2012 Delaware Strongest man. In very little time, we both fell in love with the sport and were embraced as part of the strongman family.
Just a couple of weeks into our training, I found out we were going to have a baby. After 10 years of marriage, we were so ready for this new chapter in our lives. I had to put strongman competitions on hold and focus on having a strong and healthy pregnancy. My husband did compete for his first time in Delaware and performed well, plus kept on training for more competitions to gain experience. I was always there to support him, while growing our little strongman inside my belly. My first trimester was very challenging and I couldn’t train much but after feeling better, I decided to continue strength training. That included some modified strongman events like farmer’s walk, log press (from a rack), deadlift, barbell clean and press and one arm dumbbell press. As my belly grew bigger, I made more modifications.
I was induced on April 30, 2013 and had our son the next day. He was perfectly healthy and had a good appetite. One month later, I was cleared to train again but when I started, I was having a hard time doing one pushup! I felt weak but I was determine to recover my strength and I made time to start bodyweight exercises at home, the rest of the time I was nursing our little strongman and trying to rest as much as I could. Even though I wasn’t lifting heavy yet, I decided to register with my husband for my first strongman competition in November 2013 (at 6 months postpartum). I didn’t want a gym membership so I started with our home gym (plus my husband was always getting new equipment).
Three months postpartum, I came back to strongman training at the Colosseum in Columbia, MD where we met wonderful and supportive athletes. Each Strongman Saturday we woke up early to prepare everything for baby Erik and left him in great hands (my brother or one of my best friends). On our way to the gym, I had to pump milk in the car while my husband was driving. I remember arriving at the Colosseum with my gym bag and a little fridge with 2 bottles of breast milk. My first day back; I was very worried thinking about how my post-pregnancy body would respond to this kind of training; especially the atlas stones (because of my “milk making machines”).
Is this intense training going to decrease my milk production? What about the “lactic acid ruining the milk” rumors?
I went every week to a breastfeeding support group at the hospital and was constantly asking the lactation specialist questions, while doing my own research. What I found is that I have to make sure I am eating a lot to regain my strength, for strongman training and to keep making my baby’s main food source. I was experimenting and I got close to eating 3000 calories. As for the “lactic acid” rumor; with very intense training (100% intensity), it can increase somewhat and may be present for 90 minutes post-training but it is harmless and the only thing it could change is the taste of the milk but my son didn’t seem to care about it; he just wanted to eat.
With all these concerns in the back of my head, I did listen to my body at all times. I started with an empty log, empty yoke, very little added weights on the farmer’s handles and the tiniest atlas stone (90 lbs). It took me a while to do one rep of stone over bar, but I did it. I also remember that before training with stones, I had to go to the gym’s locker room to pump more milk and then, wear 2 sports bras to protect my chest area. We had our time measured to pick our little strongman. As the competition date was getting closer, I felt stronger but was still struggling when practicing for the atlas stone event.
Six months after having my baby and the big day arrived. I can’t believe I started a hardcore training less than a year of having my child; when I had a lot of sleepless nights and several days I had to cut my training sessions shorts to breastfeed my child. I didn’t reach some of my pre-pregnancy PRs before this date but I was really close and proud of what I’d accomplished. I finished something that I started before having that positive pregnancy test and my son was my number one inspiration to keep going.
Before the first event, I had to nurse my son before and yes, I had to pump milk before the atlas stones. I did log press (max effort) 92 pounds, deadlift (max effort) 255 pounds and finish the yoke walk with almost 370 pounds. I couldn’t make the frame hold (400 lbs.) or the atlas stone over bar with 160 pounds because my body wasn’t ready for it but, I was still happy because I gave it all I got.
The second contest I signed up for was North Carolina Strongest Man and Woman but the weekend of the event not only we got hit with a snow storm and the roads weren’t safe but our son was recovering from his first cold and we got hit by that same bug. I saw the event on live webcast while being in bed sick with a fever wishing I was there. As much as I love this sport, my family and my health are first.
As soon as I recovered, I started training for my next one – Nova’s Strongest Woman. I didn’t have a lot of time to train, plus I found out that I have a herniated disc in my lower back. My chiropractor told me that it wasn’t severe; I got the OK to resume training and compete. The big day, all I was thinking about was finishing with a healthy back because my son doesn’t need mama to get hurt and because of this, I didn’t give 100% in some of the events (deadlifts and atlas stones). My husband was there to take care of my little one; he was 10 months at that time and wasn’t breastfeeding a lot but he did needed to nurse after the farmer’s/tire flip medley event. I did pretty well and as a bonus I got 4th place in the novice light weight division and met a lot of lovely and strong ladies.
My recent (and 3rd) competition was Ladies Lift Here in Lancaster, PA and this time with the USSC. I gave my all this time knowing that my back is healthy but the nerves are always there. I got second in 3 events – circus DB clean n press, axle deadlift and sled drag – tied on the atlas stones event and won the yoke walk. I was in shocked when the organizer told me I won. It was another great organized event and I loved it. Again, I’ve met wonderful ladies and made new strong and beautiful friends.
My husband and I have more competitions coming up and we decided to take turns competing so one of us can be full time with our little strongman but we are going to do the Maryland Strongest Man and Woman together again (we already have a babysitter).
I am in love with this strength sport and it has been an incredible journey with tons of support for this mama. Not only I am still learning about being a great mom but I am also learning about my post-pregnancy body, my strengths, my flaws; I am gaining more self-confidence and to love myself no matter what.
To be continued…
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
MARITZA RODRIGUEZ is a lightweight strongwoman competitor, originally from Puerto Rico. She has a beautiful son named Erik and trains at the Edge 2.0 with her husband Rey.