AUGUSTA — Strongman is not just for men.
If Saturday’s Central Maine Strongman 7 at the Augusta Armory proved anything, it’s that women are more than capable of thriving in a sport once thought to be exclusively for men.
“It’s a huge advancement for what women have done in this contest, and in strongman in general,” organizer Dana Geneseo said. “This is the seventh year for this show, the first four years we didn’t get a woman to enter. Now almost half the competitors were women.”
Not only did women account for 12 of the 30-competitor field Saturday, but the women’s divisions were easily some of the most competitive. In the women’s open division, Holly MacKenzie, of Oakland, repeated as champ with 22 points after capturing first place in four of the five events. She held off strong charges from Kim Rowell (16 points) and friend Gina Melnik (15.5), while Mallory Tonner and Erin Ummer finished in fourth and fifth, respectively.
“It was a really great day today. I definitely had to work for it,” MacKenzie said. “There was some really great competition coming in from Massachusetts and Vermont. I really had to focus hard, and come back. I dropped the keg on the medley and that was kind of a blunder for me, so I really had to focus to get back.”
In the very competitive women’s novice division, Sam Gray rode wins in the yoke press and Atlas Stones to the title with 31.5 points, followed closely by Kristal Renaudette (27) and Erica Simister (24.5). Angela Parady (21), Jessica Wood (15.5), Annie Philbrick (11.5) and Amanda DeLauini (6) rounded out the field in the women’s novice.
For competitors like MacKenzie and Melnik, who have formed a friendly rivalry in the past few years, they have experienced firsthand the growth of women competing in strongman.
“A lot of times with strongman they literally think of men, and also really huge men, but I think that’s starting to change as more women are getting into the sport,” said Melnik, who traveled from Boston for the contest. “We have a strong women group in New England called New England Women of Strength, which I’m heavily involved in, and I think that’s a big part of where we’ve seen the change happening.
“It used to be the case when I first started you’d go to a contest, you might have one other person to compete against. It’s an open class, there were no weight divisions. Now, more and more you’re seeing novice divisions, you’re seeing some contests that have two or three weight classes and the competition is getting much, much better.”
It’s not just the gender perception that is changing when it comes to women in strongman though.
“People are taking notice and realizing that … not only do I not have to be a guy, I don’t have to be a massive sized woman,” Melnik said. “You have these 125-pound girls that are doing lightweight. Everything is really changing in the last five years from what I’ve seen.”
“We definitely are trying to bring women to the front of this sport, in more ways than one,” added MacKenzie. “Obviously we’re strong enough, we can hold our own … (but) you wouldn’t see us walking down the street and be this huge, big, bulky girl. We can still be strong and still be feminine at the same time.”
While the women certainly made their presence known Saturday, there were also some impressive performances on the men’s side — particularly in the 176-200 and 201-231 pound weight classes.
In the under 231 class, Ryan Larguy won four out of five events to narrowly hold off Elliot Storey 19-15, while Clark Atwell and Jonathan Crowe rounded out the division in third and fourth, respectively.
“The under 231 class was just a dogfight between Elliot Storey and Ryan Larguy,” Geneseo said. “Ryan Larguy lives in Vermont now, but he’s from the Bangor area. He’s just an extreme competitor, he’s very, very strong and athletic and Elliot is, too. This is one of the few times I’ve ever seen Elliot lose.”
In the under 200 division, Oakland’s Brian Beaupain was forced to settle for second for the second year in a row as he was just edged out by Vermont native Aaron Fondry. Fondry won the yoke press by a single rep, the carry medley by a little over two seconds and the max log clean by just 10 pounds to take the title. Peter Morrison rounded out the division in a distant third.
“Brian Beaupain, from Oakland, he always does phenomenal,” Geneseo said, “but a guy, Aaron Fondry, showed up from Vermont and beat him today.”
The male novice division had the tightest finish of the day, as Matthew Brackett’s win in the Atlas Stones gave him a 17-16 win over Jared Derring. Both competitors put four stones up, but Brackett got his fourth stone on the pedestal a little less than a second ahead of Derring for the win. Brian Doherty and Steve Messenger wrapped up the class in third and fourth, respectively.
In the under 175 division, Nicholas MacPhee won every event to finish ahead of Seth Carbonneau, Jordan Royer and Francois Duchesne. Nick Keough defeated Jared Heath in four out of five events to claim the heavyweight division, while Alex Gauvin was the winner in the teen division as the lone entrant.
While the event itself was an undeniable success, full of great displays of strength and sportsmanship, the end of the competition uncovered some unfortunate news.
In the area where the men’s Atlas Stones — which weigh anywhere between 175 and 330 pounds — were contested, the tile floor beneath the layers of plywood and rubber Geneseo had laid down had been caved in, revealing approximately a seven-foot long by three-foot wide area of damage.
“We had four sheets of plywood, two sheets of rubber. You’re talking about four or five inches of protection on the floor, I’ve never had that happen. I’ve done it every year,” Geneseo said. “It really bothers me. I take more protection in the floor here — actually by measurement almost three times more protection — than I do with my own cement floor at my house. The cement floor at my house I have two sheets of plywood and one sheet of rubber.
“… Whatever happens, happens. Do I think I’m the only cause of that? No. But I’m the one who did it. It is what it is.”
Evan Crawley——firstname.lastname@example.orgTwitter: Evan_Crawley