Strongest of the strong

By Kristen Meub

Photography By James Ferree

Friday, September 14, 2018

Tiffany Tafoya wins regional strongman games and places third nationally

Tiffany displays award plaque
FIRST PLACE — Tiffany Tafoya took first place in her division at the strongman competition that was part of the 2018 Rio Grande Celtic Strongman Games and placed third in the 2018 U.S. Strongman Nationals this summer.

Tiffany Tafoya, a Sandia missile defense technologist, deadlifts cars and carries around giant heavy stones in her free time. She’s also really good at it.

Tiffany trains in strongman, a weightlifting-based sport that involves physical and mental strength, speed and endurance. Her passion for the sport has led her to win her division at the Rio Grande Celtic Strongman Games the last two years and place third at the 2018 U.S. Strongman Nationals this summer.

“It was great; it was a battle,” Tiffany said, when asked about the national competition.

The word “battle” could also be used to describe her journey to this point. Last June she was diagnosed with rhabdomyolysis, a condition that releases a damaging protein into the bloodstream and causes muscles to rupture and tear.

“I was in the hospital for five days,” Tiffany said. “It was pretty scary. It attacked my upper back. The doctors told me I would never be able to work out again, and that I should just find something else, another hobby.”

Tiffany tossing kettlebells
KETTLEBELL TOSS — Tiffany tossed two 18-pound kettlebells and two 25-pound kettlebells over 10 feet behind her and took first place in this event at the Rio Grande Celtic Strongman Games.

Just before her hospitalization, Tiffany won the lightweight division of the 2017 Rio Grande Celtic Strongman Games, and then did an intense CrossFit workout. She said that those events, back to back, left her dehydrated, which led to the rhabdomyolysis.

“I’m just really stubborn, and basically when I left the hospital, I went straight to my home gym and tried to do a pull-up,” Tiffany says. “I couldn’t even budge, and pull-ups were my strong suit. It was devastating to hear the doctor say I wouldn’t be able to work out, and then to go home and think, ‘Maybe she’s right’.”

Tiffany was determined to get back into working out, so she met with different doctors, one of whom suggested she start practicing yoga. She also learned more about rhabdomyolysis and how to avoid it. She gave up CrossFit and focused on strongman training, which she describes as “lifting heavy weights for a short amount of time instead of lifting semi-heavy weights for long durations, like in CrossFit.”

“I listened to my body after getting rhabdo,” Tiffany says. “The doctors didn’t know the faith I had in myself, and with God, and the heart that I had to get back into it. I was able to push through and recover my strength.”

After about eight months of training, Tiffany went on to win the 2018 Rio Grande Celtic Strongman Games and qualify for nationals. Each strongman competition can have a different mix of events, which provides fresh challenges for the competitors. The Celtic games included a log clean and press, an 18-inch deadlift, a kettlebell toss, a farmer’s carry and a sandbag carry.

“There weren’t enough lightweight women registered, so they ended up combining our classes,” Tiffany said. “So I was competing with girls weighing 165 pounds, while I weighed about 131. It was pretty intense, but it was fun.”

Tiffany carries two racks of weights
FARMER’S CARRY — Tiffany carried 145 pounds in each hand 155 feet in 60 seconds.

At Nationals, Tiffany had to do 80-pound circus dumbbell repetitions, a car dead lift (a Chevy Cruze), an arm-over-arm car pull, 440-pound tire flips followed by a 500-plus-pound sled pull and lift a series of atlas stones (160, 190, 210 and 225 pounds) into a 50-inch tow truck bed. Her third-place finish qualified her to compete in the U.S. Strongman Pro-Women’s World competition in October in Memphis, Tennessee.

“The stuff we do is insane, but my body has really been taking to it,” Tiffany said. “I’m stronger now than I was before getting smart, and I train smart.”

Tiffany says her ultimate goals are to earn her professional strongman card, which is something she can achieve by placing in the top three at the upcoming world competition, and to someday compete in a strongman Arnold competition.

“It’s a way of saying that you are a professional athlete, that you’ve worked hard and earned that card,” Tiffany said.

Tiffany hopes she can also encourage other women to try strength training.

“You never know how strong you are until you try. You’ll be amazed at how strong you really are.”