Young woman lifting barbells

Growing up, the words “athlete” and “Brooke Sousa” were rarely used in the same sentence. The Westerville resident said all that has changed in the past year.

After becoming “addicted” to Strongwoman competitions, Sousa can’t believe she will be competing in the Arnold Sports Festival March 3-6 in the Bricker Building in the Ohio Exposition Center.

“Last year, we sat in the crowd watching the Strongwoman competition and it was our dream to get there,” Sousa said. “My coach (Bob Howell) had a lot of faith in me and he gave up a lot of his time to help get me there. We both knew last March we had a lot of work to do but he kept asking me ‘How hard are you going to work to get there?’”

“I haven’t seen anyone strength wise excel like she has,” Howell said. “After two weeks of working out with her, I told her if she trusted me, we could get her to compete in the world’s strongest woman competition (at the Arnold). Now here we are.”

Strongwoman competitions test a person’s ability to lift and move objections. The contests usually involve five feats of strength but the events vary from competition to competition.

Sousa will be one of handful of central Ohio athletes competing at the 70-events Arnold. Some of the local residents participating are:

·         Columbus’ John “Mountain Dog” Meadows, who will be competing in the Arnold Classic 212 bodybuilding competition;

·         Upper Arlington’s Joseph Streb, who will be competing in fencing;

·         Columbus’ George Brown, who will be competing in the men’s pro physique;

·         Columbus’ Aaron Palko, who will compete in the XPC powerlifting.

Sousa believes she is the first person to qualify for the Arnold after competing in strongwomen competitions for just a year.

“The people I’ve been competing against have been doing this for five to 10 years,” she said. “I’ve been doing this for about a year.”

Competing in a Strongwoman competition is something Sousa couldn’t even imagine herself doing before 2012. After the birth of her second daughter, Sophia, in 2010, Sousa weighed over 300 pounds and knew something had to change.

“It was definitely hard,” said Sousa, who had struggled with her weight since she was nine years old. “(Weight gain) happens to a lot of women after having children. We tend to lose ourselves.

“When Sophia turned a year old, I knew I needed to set a better example for my kids. I wanted to show them you don’t have this depressed mom who is only good for taking care of her kids and doing laundry.”

In 2012, Sousa dropped 115 pounds in nine months. With the confidence she gained, she began competing in every type of road race including the Columbus Marathon in Oct. 20, 2014.

“I hated every step of it but I had to prove I could do it to those that said I couldn't,” Sousa said.

“I knew previously she ran marathons. I thought that was crazy because she wasn’t built to run them,” Howell said. “She said she was running marathons because someone told her she couldn’t do it. I knew then she had the drive (to do Strongwoman competitions).”

Howell didn’t meekly suggest Sousa try the Strongwoman competition. To hear Sousa tell it, Howell told her.

“He said ‘I’ve got this Strongwoman competition you’re going to do in three weeks.’ I was like ‘Okay, I’ve never lifted before and have never trained for anything like it,’” Sousa said with a laugh. “But I trained for it and when that competition came three weeks later, I won it. I became addicted to the sport.

“People don’t understand the appeal of a Strongwoman competition unless they’ve been to one. There’s so much energy. It’s so exciting.”

Flushed with her first success, Sousa knew immediately she had found a sport she could excel in. Between August, 2014 and September, 2015, she competed in eight competitions in six states and won six of the meets. She also placed first in a powerlifting meet, setting state records in the bench press (215 pounds) and the deadlift (380).

“When you get to competitions, it doesn’t matter how big or how small you are. It comes down to how much you can lift,” Sousa said. “You’re always training for a different awkward object to pick up. I like working out and challenging my body to do that.”

Whenever Sousa competes in a meet, she realizes it took a family effort to get her there. Her husband Jose and her two daughters, Zoe, 10, and Sophia, five, have all have picked up chores around the house to give Sousa more time in the gym.

When she placed sixth in the North American Strongwoman Competition in Las Vegas on Sept. 19 to qualify for the trip to the Arnold, it was a victory for the whole Sousa family.

“In order for me to do this, there are a lot of sacrifices that have to be made in our family,” she said. “I knew a year’s worth of work had totally paid off. I saw it in my kids’ eyes. I kept thinking ‘We’re not going to be in the crowd next year. We’re going to be on stage competing.’”






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