GET inspired

ERIKA GILLAM

My name is Erika and I have been competing in Strongman since 2017 as a MW 148 and I'm excited to compete in the first Fem and Fierce show! I work as a sweater and knitwear designer for Kate Spade and love that I can be fem at the office and fierce at the gym. I am super proud of the next generation of strong women that I have been training, who will be making their debut in the novice classes! 

I have always been a competitive athlete and played team sports growing up, but there was something unique about strength training and strongman that brought out a little grit. I had been through some traumatic experiences throughout my life, one of which was an abusive relationship.  I was so ashamed that I had allowed someone to have complete control over my mind and my body.  I hated looking in the mirror and not recognizing myself. I worked really hard at gaining back my mental strength and confidence and learned to trust myself and others again. That’s when I realized that my physical health had deteriorated. I picked up running but it just didn’t have that community feel or accountability I wanted. Fortunately in 2015 I was paired up with Bryan, a trainer at my local gym. He lifted me up and left the heavy lifting to me. After a few years of getting wicked strong, we realized I needed something to kick my motivation up to the next level. Bryan was a strongman competitor and after attending one of his shows and seeing the support from the community and athletes, I couldn’t wait to have something to train for! After winning my first competition in April of 2017 and also qualifying for the 2017 USS Strongman Nationals, I was hooked! Since then, I have competed in 3 strongman shows and also qualified for the 2018 Nationals in New York, hosted by none other than my gym family! Throughout my life I have been tested, and I have learned that strength is earned not given. The barbell doesn’t lie, it’s the most honest and humbling conversation you can have. Either you are strong enough to pick it up, or not. You can put in the hard work and be rewarded, or just walk away and never know your true strength and potential. Every day we have a choice to live authentically, have honest conversations with ourselves and each other and there is always an opportunity to get stronger. We can train our minds and bodies to pick up the heavy stuff in life and surround ourselves with the people who care and love us and put down the things that don’t make us stronger. I feel so fortunate to have found a wonderful man to share my life with and together we have a house full of animal fur babies. I am so excited about this opportunity to be part of the Fem and Fierce community and to be inspired and inspire other strong women to lift each other up!

CATHERINE GRYGORCEWICZ

I've been training with Coach Alexander and my friends at Hybrid Strength and Conditioning in Massachusetts to develop our physical, mental, and spiritual strength. This is my first strength competition! I'm a a high school English teacher, and I love to run and play basketball.

JANET MCGRAW

After decades as an obese person, I was finally motivated enough to begin to make changes in my life at 43 years old. My goal was to get fit enough to play roller derby. I managed to start losing some weight, started working out at a gym, and in about 1.5 years, I made enough progress to go out for a team. It was as much fun as I had hoped and expected. I missed most of the games in my first season due to injury, but I kept working at it and played in my second and third seasons.   

Then, in January of 2016, a derby team mate roped me in to trying out a strongman contest. It was, and continues to be, the most enjoyable and the most empowering thing I’ve ever done. I’ve been at it now for almost 2 years, and I love the grind of hard training. I love the physical changes I see in myself. More importantly, I am getting to be comfortable in my own skin. At 49 years old, I’m developing a confidence I didn’t think was possible. The best part of this experience is, now as a personal trainer, I can help other people become better versions of themselves, too.

MELISSA LONQUICH

I am truly grateful for what strong(wo)man has done for me and my strong “family” that came along with it. Throughout my life I've been an athlete in one form or another (including being the first female ice hockey player on an all boys team in Yonkers when it was unheard of at the time for a girl to play, and a martial artist training in various techniques since the tender age of 6 years old through adulthood). As far as I could remember staying active was important but not just for the purposes of staying fit but for the comradery that naturally comes along with being part of a team or just bonding over a sport. Let’s not forget the added benefit of being able to get out some excess energy or relieve stress after a hard day! I couldn’t have imagined a few years back that any of that part of my world would be in danger of disappearing. Roughly two years ago I was diagnosed with a blood cancer that rocked my world and has forever made me a different person, oddly I wouldn’t take back the experience if I could from all the lessons that I learned from it. Unfortunately, that journey also ended up changing my sport of choice along with it. I continued to train as much as possible during treatment although it got increasingly difficult. The chemo that I was given had done such irreversible lung damage that I knew fighting again wasn't in the cards for me. (Trying to catch your breathe with fists, feet and knees flying by you is not ideal!) That left me in a predicament since the older you get the more you realize how important it is to stay in shape to stay healthy and I also wasn’t ready to say “I used to do this” or “I used to do that” … I wasn’t done experiencing new things, challenging myself and pushing myself to new limits the way only sports and athletics could do. It was heart breaking knowing that what I was doing my entire life I couldn't do anymore but the "typical"; gym scene never worked well for me. Being on a treadmill makes me feel like a hamster on a wheel and that just wasn't going to cut it! It was a little over a year ago I discovered strong(wo)man and it seemed like the perfect solution to me. It was a fun and challenging in a non-traditional way and keeps me in shape but more importantly it “kept me in the game” so to speak. It’s a perfect sport that combines having the sense of a "against me" type of thing while still working up to the point of being competitive. This sport has opened up a world to me that I didn't know existed, a world where your competitors are not just the people you’re up against but they’re also your friends and biggest supporters! There’s nothing like the feeling of wanting to win yet still wanting your friends that are competing against you to win as well… and giving and receiving advise to those competitors that are up against you because they are also your biggest fans! One of the great things about this sport as well is that a great majority of the men in the strongman world also empower women and treat them like true equals (and the women are striving to push each other up and not tear each other down as well which is amazing to witness!) I enjoy it so much that even after major knee surgery I was right back to the gym (even with crutches you couldn't keep me away!) I'm back now and look forward to years of competition to come!

ALYSSA ZAUDERER

In 2005 I took a puff of my first cigarette and my first sip of alcohol. I was a freshman in high school and in a pretty bad place in my life.  I continued to smoke, drink and eat horribly for the next nine years. You'd never know the girl lighting cigarettes off of each other with the gangly arms was once the athlete who carried her teams to championship titles. Eventually the destructive lifestyle caught up and brought along their friend depression, sending me from 145 pounds to about 200 pounds.
I got my wake up call in the form of a phone call that one of my longtime close friends had passed away from a heroin overdose. Though I never have or would touch heroin, I had my vices, and they were chipping away at my mental and physical health. After her funeral, her family rented a restaurant where we sat and talked about all of the good times with her. I sat outside sipping a beer, smoking a cigarette and reflecting on what had transpired that day. I knew change needed to happen, and it needed to happen now. On April 19, 2014, I said to myself, "This is the last cigarette I will ever smoke." I threw the pack away and never looked back. On the off occasion I think about smoking, I take a nice, deep breath and remember that I couldn't always do this. With cigarettes out of the picture, I needed to dial in on nutrition and start working out. I joined a 24 gym near my house and started working with a trainer while eating healthy. It was exciting to see the scale go down and tap into that young athlete who had been locked away. Months later I moved into New York City and on a whim walked into and joined one of the most intense gyms I've ever been to. It was HIIT and niche in the aspect that it catered to the obstacle course racer. I would be sore for days and reliant on my inhaler, but I kept going back and eventually got stronger and leaner. The gym got a new coach who competed in strongman, something I had never heard of. Myself and the other members were blown away that she could carry more than her body weight per hand and run. She ended up leaving the gym but brought in her friend Caitlin to be a new coach. Caitlin and I immediately hit it off and we began talking about strongman, as I had become very intrigued by it. I met her at NY Strong on a July day to try out some events and exercises, like using a barbell for the first time. Around this time, my grandfather succumbed to cancer, and training strongman was something that helped me through the grieving process. Nearly three months later I jumped into my first competition at Battle of the Belles and finished middle of the pack of 22 women. I've competed seven times since, with two podium finishes, a trip to Nationals  and a brand new sense of self. I've learned just how disciplined I am and how far I'll go for it. I live by the quote, "if you want something you've never had, you have to do something you've never done." I have never had such a positive view of my body and self love, because I had never done strongman.

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