Tamara Walcott: After years of dieting, record-breaking strongwoman says powerlifting ‘saved me from myself’




CNN

Tamara Walcott still remembers the first time she set foot in a powerlifting gym: the hands on the chalk, the straps on the wrists, the shouts and screams as the lifters lifted the weights off the floor.

As he took the stage, Walcott’s competitive spirit drove him to try for himself. Soon, he had a weight on his back and was preparing to do his first squat.

The spark was instant.

“When I felt that weight on my back, the first squat … I fell in love because I was doing it for me,” says Walcott.

This was in 2017, and at the time, Walcott had been training with dumbbells for a year in a desperate attempt to lose weight. After having children and going through a divorce, she weighed 415 pounds and used to eat through the night.

Dumbbell training and healthier eating habits had already seen him lose 100 pounds, but powerlifting became Walcott’s lifeline at a time when his mental health took a turn for the worse.

“Powerlifting saved my life,” Walcott told CNN Sport. “He saved me from my mind, he saved me from my addiction to food; it was my therapy, it saved me from depression, and it changed my life.’

The personal and deeply rooted importance of powerlifting in his life perhaps explains Walcott’s success in the sport.

In July, he broke the World Raw Powerlifting Federation (WRPF) record for heaviest cumulative bench/squat and press, recording a total of 1,620.4 pounds in the squat, bench press and deadlift at the American Pro competition in Virginia.

In the same competition, Walcott broke his own WRPF deadlift record with a weight of 639 pounds. To put that into perspective, that’s roughly the weight of a Dexter cow or a baby piano.

But years before he even thought about lifting those weights, Walcott had to find a way to be accepted in the male-dominated world of powerlifting.

When she first started the sport, she would regularly be the only woman in the weight room, sometimes the subject of sideways glances and squeals.

“I remember guys telling me, ‘Don’t bench, because women shouldn’t bench. It’s going to change how your chest looks, so you shouldn’t bench,'” says Walcott.

“I heard people say I wasn’t doing well. I remember hearing one person say, ‘Why is it here and not on tape?’ … I held on to that and continued like that.”

Today, however, Walcott has noticed a change in attitude and says women are “tightening the powerlifting community.” In March of this year, she founded Women in Powerlifting, an organization dedicated to increasing female participation and removing negative stereotypes about female powerlifters.

For Walcott, who is nicknamed the “plus size fitness queen” on social media, empowering other women to play sports is one of her main ambitions.

“It’s why I wear my hoops, why I wear my eyelashes, why I wear my jewelry when I lift it up,” she says. “Sometimes I wear lipstick because it’s okay to be beautiful, to be sexy, to be a woman and to lift weights.

“I would tell other women to do whatever you want to do: get in the gym, own it. It’s given me a lot more confidence.”

An influential female figure continues to inspire Walcott’s powerlifting career.

His grandmother, Walcott grew up in the Caribbean St. A cook on Croix Island, she died in 2019, and Walcott is moved to remember her grandmother’s great spirit and open-armed generosity.

“When he prepared the dishes, they were not small pots of food. It was like the whole community was being fed,” says Walcott.

Throughout his powerlifting career, he has drawn strength from the memory of his grandmother, using it as fuel in his toughest moments.

“I was chasing 496 pounds dead for like a year, I couldn’t break it,” Walcott recalls. “And a couple of months after she died I broke it by channeling her energy, saying, ‘I’m going to do this for you,’ you know? And I was finally able to block it.

“I remember being full of emotions. I was crying in the gym. At that moment everyone was looking at me – everyone was cheering, everyone was clapping… It’s almost like he gave me his energy or something, I don’t know how to explain it”.

Powerlifting’s impact on Walcott’s life has been far-reaching, giving him purpose and self-confidence when he needed it most.

It has been essential in this that the relationship with food and healthier eating habits has changed.

“I’ll be completely honest: is my food addiction gone? No, I traded it for something else,” he explained.

“In the morning, when I started getting up and working out, I remember eating late at night when I was heavier, and I said to myself, ‘You know what? When I start having these cravings, I’ll go down and do 20 push-ups or 20 push-ups, or I’ll go drink a big glass.’

Walcott’s new lifestyle involves drinking a liter (about 4.5 litres) of water a day and making sure she gets enough sleep every night, which can be difficult when balancing training with childcare and a full-time job in real estate.

Sometimes that means hitting late-night gym sessions (finishing close to midnight) and sleeping in at every free opportunity. Walcott has tinted his car windows to help him get the prized eye during the day.

“I make it work,” he says. “My motivation died a long time ago. All this right now is pure dedication.”

Walcott deadlifts during the competition.

Walcott now plans to take a break from competitive lifting. He battled knee arthritis earlier this year, barely hobbled and was reduced to walking up and down stairs just weeks before his record-breaking lift in July.

She talks about competing in an international event at the end of next year, but for now she’s committed to her “My Strength is My Sexy” gym tour, where she’s sharing her powerlifting journey at gyms across the US.

That doesn’t mean he’s lost sight of his competitive goals. Daniel Fox talks to his coach about his goal of lifting the “747”: 700-pound squat, 400-pound bench press, and 700-pound deadlift.

“Don’t you sound good?” says Walcott. “I’m a big demonstrator; I’m very good at setting things up, letting them grow and saying them out loud.’

Setting and exceeding his goals has been Walcott’s style since he entered the powerlifting gym five years ago. He never looks at who else is on the list in competitions and hates being told how high a bar is before he tries to raise it.

“I don’t want to hear all that, it’s going to make me psyched,” says Walcott. He competes on his own, all his drive comes from within.

“Right now, it’s just me against me,” he says. “I challenge myself to be better every day – I think I love that aspect of it.”