First up in our SHEs in Sports series is Lauren Cox. Lauren lives on Long Island, NY with her husband and dog, Maggie. She is hopelessly obsessed with food, Abraham Lincoln, sarcasm and murder/cult documentaries.
Name: Lauren Cox
Industry: Mental health client finances/licensed wedding officiant
SHEroes: My mom, Georgia O’Keefe, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Anne Bonny, Melissa Edwards and basically any woman who paves her own path
Five favorite things: naps, food, my dog Maggie, my husband and travel
When people hear “Strongman” they either think of the cliche old-timey mustached man in a striped singlet with a ridiculously bulbous dumbbell over his head or of Hafþór Júlíus Björnsson, better known as Thor, who plays Gregor “The Mountain” Clegane in HBO’s Game of Thrones and who recently won the title of “World’s Strongest Man”. Strongman started in the 19th century and is, by definition, someone who competes in strength athletics. In the late 20th century Strongman evolved into a more eclectic strength competition in which athletes showed their raw functional strength by lifting boulders, carrying fire hydrants or engine blocks, log pressing, farmers walk, pulling an 18-wheeler, etc. The most well known competitions are World’s Strongest Man, the Arnold Strongman Classic, the Strongman Champions League and the Giants Live tour (all of which are typically male dominated) however many countries hold national-level competitions as well.
Strongman is, in my experience,
a very inclusive sport.
It’s not uncommon to show up to a competition knowing no one and to find your direct competitors cheering you on during an event or even lending you straps, tacky or other equipment. Most of the people I’ve encountered in Strongman are “regular” people, we all have normal jobs, families, friends and (sometimes) lives outside of the gym. In the women’s divisions you’ll see all different body types. Of course we’re all strong and have muscles but the majority of us aren’t “ripped” and people are surprised when they find out what we do.
How did you get into Strongman, and what was the point where you said, “Aha, yes. This is for me”?
I’ve always been “aware” that strength sports existed but never thought it was something I’d be part of. In November 2015, I walked into a CrossFit gym (it was actually a hybrid strength/CrossFit gym) and began my journey towards bettering my health. A lot of the WODS (which is what the CrossFit community calls their daily workouts) also had subtle strongman elements – dumbbell work, carry medleys, tire flips, etc. I fell in love at the very first tire flip and knew I wanted to transition from being a CrossFitter to being a Strongwoman. The gym offered Strongman classes on Saturday mornings so that was my first step, and I entered my first amateur competition as a novice in April 2017.
I was hooked and I began to train solely for Strongman.
From there I placed 2nd in heavyweight novice at NYStrongest Man & Woman 4, 1st in heavyweight novice at Battle of the Belles 8, 4th in open heavyweight at NYStrongest Man & Woman 5, set a NYS record in the under 198 weight class for 18′ deadlift with a lift of 421 and 3rd in open heavyweight at Fem & Fierce 1.
What was the reaction to you doing Strongman from family and friends? I know Eric (your husband) is super supportive of you competing and training. Was there any initial disbelief or concern from them?
I’m incredibly lucky to have such a supportive husband. In addition to working 8 hours a day and performing wedding ceremonies on the weekend, I spend 2-3 hours a day at the gym – I often walk in the door around 7:30pm tired, sweaty and smelly. He allows me time to pursue my goals and he is always willing to listen to me lament about my lack of progress on a certain lift, my anxiety about an upcoming competition or just about gym nonsense in general. My parents, on the other hand, wince every time I send them a training video. Recently I did a yoke carry of 530lbs and my dad called to voice his concern for my knees. When people find out I do strongman, they normally give me that obnoxiously slow up and down look and comment about how I “don’t look big” but when I tell them what I can do, they usually shut up.
What’s been your relationship between Strongman and body image or mental health? Have you found that strength training has had a positive effect on how you see your body?
Strongman can be a really isolating sport and it takes a toll on you mentally. Often times I train completely alone and for hours at a time. Sometimes it’s hard to be alone, in your own head for that long and to keep pushing yourself physically, but that’s all part of the sport.
I’ve always had a hate/hate relationship with my body but strength training has shown me that my long ET-like fingers are super useful for carry events and “thunder thighs” are celebrated in this sport. I’ve never liked my body, but now I’m proud of all that its capable of.
When you go into the gym to train or show up to competitions, do people ever underestimate you because you’re a female/woman? Do people get weird when you first tell them that you do strength training competitively?
Within the community, no. Like I said before this sport is made up of all different body types. Outside of the gym is a different story and there is still the underlying idea that muscles aren’t sexy and that women shouldn’t have built shoulders or hearty quads. I had a coworker tell me how she didn’t want to work out because she was afraid she’d “get big” and then she wouldn’t be attractive. I think it’s really sad that in 2018, we’re still hung up on things like that. I think it’s sexy as hell to be able to load a bar full of weight and pick it up.Women should feel comfortable doing whatever they want with their bodies without the fear that they won’t be “attractive” anymore.
I’m sure that like every athlete or competitor there’s been a time when you wanted to quit, whether it was from a bad workout or a fail at a competition. What keeps you going and pushing past those feelings? What keeps you coming back?
I don’t like failure, no one does, but what makes a good athlete great is the ability to fail and still show up to the gym the next day. I set incredibly high standards for myself and when I don’t meet or exceed them, I have a really hard time recovering. I did a show last March and I zero’d the first two events, something I’ve never done. I was so embarrassed, angry and upset with myself that I cried in the handicap bathroom for 10 minutes. I knew I had to turn the rest of the competition around so I allowed myself a 10 minute pity party and took first in the next event. Sometimes the only thing that keeps me going is the incredible people I’ve met through Strongman. I know I can text/call at least a dozen people at any time of the day and they will answer, build me up, encourage me and tell me to quit whining. We’re all a big, loud, weird family and I love all of them.
What keeps me coming back is seeing my own personal growth. When I started strongman I was struggling to deadlift 200lbs, now I can hit 330 for a double and I hit a 345 at a competition. There is no greater feeling than finally hitting a PR (personal record) you’ve been chasing.
CALM DOWN. Everything in your life is happening the way it’s supposed to whether you like it or not. It’s going to be much easier for you if you stop fighting and just relax into the process. No one is looking at your thunder thighs. Stop trying to make yourself like coconut water. Be nicer to yourself, if you wouldn’t say it to a friend don’t say it to yourself. Don’t get caught up in office politics. When you fail, know that it’s only a failure if you don’t try again. Love yourself, drink less coffee and eat more cake.