When I recently interviewed Australian Strongwoman Sue Metcalf, she mentioned to me that I should definitely
speak to Kristyn Vytlacil Whisman, who had recently won the title of America’s Strongest Woman (for the third time) in the strongwoman lightweight division. Whilst that was extremely impressive, it was the throw-away remark by Sue that I should ask her about the marathon she ran two weeks later!! So I quickly got on to Kristyn, and here is the interview I had to have.
The Strongwoman Journey
PB: You recently won the lightweight division at America’s Strongest Woman competition (for the third time!!), what were the major steps in your journey to get there from starting the sport of strongwoman, or even from lifting weights in the first place?
KVW: Wow, what a big question… When I was in high school I ran cross country, I swam and I ran track. No, I was not a good runner, but I was a pretty decent swimmer.
When I turned 15, I started going to the gym to lift weights. I will admit, I started with the usual circuit on the Nautilus machines, as so many people do. When I didn’t have early morning swim practice, I would wake up to go to the gym before school. I don’t think I realized how much I loved being at the gym until I took a weight lifting class in school. Even then, I was still so driven to be a good swimmer (I started swimming when I was 9), that I didn’t really notice how much I loved hitting the weights.
Once I got to college, I was still focused on swimming, and then one weekend, while I was hanging out in a hotel room with some other swimmers at a meet, I happened upon World’s Strongest Man, and I was just in awe.
It was a few months later that they aired World’s Strongest Woman, and I saw Jill Mills win the title. From that point forward, I knew that someday I had to do strongman, I didn’t know how I’d do it, or where to even start, but I knew I’d find a way.
I was never a really amazing swimmer, but decent enough to compete at the Div 3 level in college. Now, looking back, I can see I wasn’t really built to be a swimmer…
It was literally a running joke on my swim team the four years I was there that I wanted to be world’s strongest woman someday, nobody really took it seriously. I knew I’d find a way into the sport, I just didn’t have the time to figure out how until I graduated from college in 2005.
I spent about a year in Arizona, from 2005-2006, and while I was there, I met a trainer who had some experience with powerlifting and body building, Brad Perkins, and he helped me to get started.
In January, 2006, I started seriously weightlifting for the first time ever. In February, I was able to watch a strongman competition promoted by Scott Porter.
It was in May, 2006, that I competed in my very first strongman show, the Defined Fitness Strongman Challenge in New Mexico. Marilyn Mickey was there competing, and she just impressed the heck out of me. She was so strong and so athletic, and so helpful to a newb like me, I knew I had finally found the sport for me.
PB: Is it true that a couple of weeks after winning this event you ran a marathon, as well?, you didn’t win that as well did you?
KVW: Well, it wasn’t actually a marathon, but I did run a half-marathon (13.1 miles) three weeks after Americas Strongest Woman.
Immediately after America’s Strongest Woman, I came home, and got sick, as so often happens after a stressful and hardcore event, so I took about a week off, and then trained for two weeks before running my first ever half-marathon.
It was pretty fantastic, but no, I definitely did not win. There were 629 women in my division, and I came in 307. Not bad, I’d say, for not really being a serious runner.
I suppose there will be a few more half-marathons in my future, but I will never ever train for running in such a way to negatively impact my strongman abilities. Strongman is my passion, running is just for kicks these days 🙂
Women’s Strength Comps in the USA
PB: How popular is womens strength competitions in the USA? Are the numbers growing rapidly? Or very slowly?
KVW: There seem to be occasional peaks in the numbers of women interested in strength training generally, but I don’t really notice a whole lot of growth in strongwoman. We have definitely had bigger numbers at Nationals in the last couple years, but what I notice is that many women might do a competition for fun on occasion, but there aren’t many of us who look at this sport as more than just a hobby.
It drives me totally nuts when people say, oh, so strongman is your hobby, and it’s like no, this is not just a hobby, it is a priority in my life. I treat it like it’s my second job. It’d be nice if I could actually earn money at my second job, ha ha ha.
Challenges and Joys
PB: What is the biggest challenge you have faced being involved in the sport of strongman(woman)?
KVW: The biggest challenge I’ve ever faced is definitely when I tore my ACL in July 2009. I started rehabbing immediately, but I wasn’t able to have surgery until August.
Two days before my surgery, I deadlifted 225, because I had worked so hard to rehab to be well prepared for surgery. I wasn’t about to let a torn ACL keep me from lifting heavy, that’s for sure.
Once I did have surgery, it was like starting from scratch all over. Luckily, I found myself some amazing physical therapists at Everett Physical Therapy and now I feel like I’ve made a full comeback!
PB: What has given you the greatest joy in the sport, was it the obvious one of winning America’s Strongest Woman? or another?
KVW: Strangely enough, as amazing as winning ASW for a third time was, the thing that has brought me the most joy is competing at my first contest after my ACL repair in August 2009.
The Rhodes family put a show on in December down in San Diego, and I had been planning to go since even before I got injured. I remember telling my surgeon and physical therapists that I would be doing this contest and they all said, we’ll just have to see.
I remember people around me saying I’d never compete at the same level in my sport again, having torn my ACL. Honestly, having to prove all these people wrong was what gave me the motivation to do just that.
Four months after my ACL repair, I competed once again, and I took second place in an open class. Yes, I had to wear a stupid/ugly ACL brace, but I still did it. I pressed, I deadlifted, I even did a conan’s wheel!
I definitely wasn’t 100% rehabbed at the show, in fact, I don’t think I hit 100% rehabbed until this year, but knowing that I could still show up, hit it hard, and lift heavy things, well, it was a pretty amazing moment for me.
PB: Who do you go to for training advice? And how often do you train?
KVW: For training advice I go to my training crew. These days, we’re all a bit spread out all over the place, but I know I can still count on John, Tyler Scott, Zack McCarley, Grant Higa, Scott Hughes, Steve Spellman, and Laurion Burchall for amazing advice when I need it.
Some of us are super skilled in olympic lifts, or power lifting, or the strongman events, but our diversity is what makes our crew so successful in competitions.
PB: What is your favourite event? What one do you hate ?
KVW: Oh, yoke is most absolutely positively my favorite event. I remember thinking that once I had my ACL repaired, I’d never be able to do it well again, so I just trained, trained, trained, and I have now been able to carry over 600 lbs on my back for 20 feet or more.
I have to say, the tire flip is my least favorite. I’ve never been able to get very good at this one, even when I train it really hard.
PB: How many times a week do you train?
KVW: Depending on the week, anywhere from 3-6. I have to admit, there are some weeks when work is just absolutely dreadful, and the gym just isn’t always the answer to that. When work is particularly rough, sometimes I just need rest and some play time with Atlas. (editors note: Atlas is the dog’s name)
PB: Do you do conditioning/cardio work? If so what type and how much?
KVW: I do, yes, but the type and how much just depends on what event I happen to be training for at the time. I try, as much as I can, to do strongman events that will help in this area: prowler pushes, sled drags, etc.
Sometimes, though, I just walk on a super steep incline on the treadmill, or go for runs, or maybe a swim, or a bicycle ride. It’s always changing depending on the weather and what I’m training for.
PB: If you could only do one exercise what would it be and why?
KVW: SQUATS!!! This exercise is absolutely the best for developing overall strength and I have often told people, if there was only lift I could do for the rest of my life, it’s be squats. There are also so many variations to keep it interesting.
PB: What is the best piece of advice you have ever been given?
KVW: I was feeling pretty disappointed in how I did at a contest in 2010, and Scott Hughes,
one of my training partners asked me… “Was it life changing when you won Nationals in 2007?” “No.” “Was it life changing when you won Nationals for a second time?” “No.” “Then remember, this sport is supposed to be fun, so why not focus on just having a great time with it, versus being so competitive that it brings you down.”
I am always reminding myself of this conversation and trying take the sentiment to heart. I love strongman, and if it ever becomes something that I dislike, then I just really shouldn’t do it anymore. Either choice I make, it won’t be life changing.
PB: Who are your sponsors? And how have they helped you ?
KVW: I am currently sponsored by Bulky Boy clothing and when I was rehabbing, Everett Physical Therapy was also a sponsor.
PB: When you’re not competing in strongwoman events or training, what do you do? What is a typical day for you? What is your job and what does it involve?
KVW: My official job title is “Acting Dean for Corrections Education.” I work for Edmonds Community College, in Lynnwood, WA, but I am contracted to do my work at the Monroe Correctional Complex, in Monroe, WA.
This complex contains 5 separate correctional institutions, and I am responsible for supervising all of the educational programming at these institutions.
I just became the Dean in April of this year. I have now been working in correctional education for 8.5 years.
PB: What do you do to relax?
KVW: When I’m not working, I’m usually hanging out with my family, which consists of me, my husband, John, and our dog, Atlas.
Currently, my husband is deployed, so I keep myself busy with work, working out, and doggy play time.
I recently finished my M.Ed., in March of this year. It took me 3 years to complete, and that definitely took up a fair bit of my time.
PB: Final question, if you could invite 5 people (currently living or dead) to your house to have dinner with you, who would they be and why?
KVW: Well, firstly, my husband. Deployment just plain sucks. People have said, “I don’t know how you do it.” Well, I only do it because I have to, not because I’d ever choose to. Luckily, John will be coming home in about 2.5 months!
Second, my mom. She passed away in 2002, and I’d love to have her over for dinner just to let her see what kind of life I’ve made for myself. I’m pretty sure she’d be a proud mama.
Hmm, who next… Jill Mills. She is an amazing athlete, and really the reason I even started competing in the first place. I’d love to meet her someday.
Oh man, only two places left… I’ll just say this… I would love to have every strongwoman competitor I’ve ever had the pleasure to train with or compete with come over for a dinner. I just can’t pick two!!! There are some amazing women I’ve met out there, and I’ll always welcome them to dinner at my place, any time:
- Sue Metcalf, the Australian wonder woman
- Amy Simmer, one of the buffest strongwoman I know
- Lisa Kromer, she’s just plain fun
- Kristin Rhodes, my mama K who has always taken good care of me when I’ve travelled alone to contests
- Marilyn Mickey, one of the toughest chicks I know, Lacy Okey, a long timer who loves this sport as much as I do
- Christina Lafex, a WSW competitor who I’ve watched from the very beginning of her strongwoman career
- Hanne Bingle, an amazing strength athlete who has competed for decades
- Beth Grauer, she’s currently deployed and I want her to come home safely
- Shayna Fitzgerald, she’s just freaky strong
- Kelly Piccione, an amazing competitor
… seriously, the list goes on and on and on. There are probably a ton of names I didn’t mention, but I really do love my sisters in strength, and it’s always a pleasure when I get to spend time with them!