Red Wiard, a registered nurse, an army reserve medic, a jazz singer, a roller derby competitor, a snowboard instructor, and a volunteer with St. John’s Ambulance is not short on dazzling resume accomplishments. At one point in her life, she was even playing 8 different woodwind and brass instruments.
Here in Australia, she is QLDs strongest woman and she has won the national title not once but twice! She is an Australian record holder for the Monster Dumbbell (55kg one arm press) & Farmers Carry (105kg per hand walking for 15m in 13 seconds).
She was invited to the annual world-wide championship, one of the most coveted in the world, after placing 2nd at the Arnold Classic in Johannesburg, South Africa (U82kg).
But what’s even more impressive, is what she’s up to next. This November, Red is in Daytona, Florida, to compete for the title of ‘World’s Strongest Woman’ (WSW) as an amateur Strongman athlete.
Red, can you tell us about the World’s Strongest Women (WSW) competition. What’s the importance of a competition that recognizes the best of women around the world?
There are other pro level competitions “strongest woman in the world” and the Arnold Classic Ohio which amateur athletes, like myself, do not compete at. Unlike those, WSW aka the official strongman games has no separate pro division so ill be up against some seriously amazing competitors!!! There are weight classes (light U65kg, middle U82kg and open - anything above 82kg) so it is the best of the best all fighting for the top spot. It is by invite only - so you have to win a national title, or do an online qualification by uploading videos hitting minimum standards and the top 15 get invites from that. There are the usual crowd favourites of these big comps every year. The winner isn't necessarily the strongest. Mistakes can be made if people have off days, nerves get the better of them and they can stuff up events they could have blitzed in training. It comes down to competition experience, mental game and who held it together to give the best performance overall to hold the title.
What did you think when you got the news you were invited to compete?
When I got the email, I felt waves of excitement, shock, nerves and “oh shit am I actually worthy of doing this?!” I replied to the organiser asking if was a mistake and he said it was from my Arnold South Africa 2nd placing. I knew that the winner of the Australian nationals would get an invite (which was a month after I already received my OSG invite) so at least it took a bit of pressure off for that. I started making arrangements to do some fundraising as soon as I found out it was legit.
With big heavy weight competitors, like the UK’s Donna Moore, whose won it 2 years in a row, or America’s Kristin Rhodes whose a veteran competing since 2008, will some of your idols be there? What will it be like standing beside them competing?
I AM SO SO SO EXCITED TO FAN GIRL OVER ALL THE STRONGWOMEN!!
I haven't competed against any of my idols yet, so this will be the first (and hopefully not the last) time which is super exciting. I am just happy to be there and it is an honour to be invited.
I have had chats with them over social media eg; congratulating Donna Moore on her recent lift of the Scottish Dinnie stones and asking her how she trained for them because this is definitely something id like to work towards. She replied with some helpful tips on getting replica handles made and that she's looking forward to meeting me at OSG - I was like “wow shes sooooo nice!”
What do you think the competition will be like this year and what are your goals and expectations for yourself?
The first 2 days have 2 events each day. Points are scored based on your placing in those 4 events. Only the top 10 go through to day 3 for another 2 events. I'd really like to make the cut and progress to the last day of the competition. I am training the day 3 events anyway, with the realistic expectation that I may not make it, and even though that would be disappointing for me, that's ok. I will cheer on the other Aussies that make day 3 and happily lose my voice screaming at them to succeed! All of the events are really heavy (as to be expected for WORLD level!) and I have not hit some of the required numbers in training yet. When the events were released, I was dreading them because they are some of my weaker lifts (overhead press / deadlifts / power stairs)... however, as time has gone by, I am gaining strength week by week. Competition day always brings out my inner warrior and the adrenaline of the crowd cheering is good enough to hit some personal bests!!!
Are you nervous?
Is the pope catholic? Haha it has been an emotional ride. Especially because this prep has been super tough. I am nervous for sure, but I am more excited to give this a go and have some fun in the process. After all, that's why I do it.
Photo credit Konrad Brewski
It’s been important for you to compete internationally in recent years, what does fairing up against the rest of the world do you for? Does it give you more inspiration to go forward?
It certainly does :) I'd rather compete against the worlds best in my weight class rather than an open weight class in Australia. Which meant I had to turn down my invite to Australia's strongest man and woman in Melbourne (on at the same time of year). I love the travel aspect of competing overseas and meeting new people in the sport. From previous international experience, everyone has been super welcoming and inviting me to social events / eating out pre and post comp because I usually travel alone.
Has anyone from Australia attended WSW before? What’s the significance for Australia’s to make their way over there and compete against the rest of the world?
Yes there has been some guys compete in previous years (Tyson morrissy in U105s came 3rd last year and Carl Sherry U80s also 3rd the year before) but there hasn't been any Australian females to compete in my weight division to my knowledge. This year we have 9 Australians going representing every weight class except the masters women! Strongman is still growing in Australia and it will be great to give our best in the USA all there to support each other and hopefully get some good results. The winners from nationals this year were given $200 towards their competition entry fee. Drew Spriggs (nationals organiser) created this initiative to put more Aussies on the international scene because many qualify for international events but unfortunately can't afford to go.
So if you don’t have a pro card with large scale sponsors backing you, how do athletes like yourself get to international competitions like this? It must get expensive if you’re paying for it yourself, not to mention the time away from work, how do finances determine what you can accomplish in the sport?
I have spent a lot of time at my computer sending emails and going into local businesses in person to get sponsorship. I am running a raffle and the ticket sales are going towards my flights and accommodation expenses. I was really surprised at how many businesses said yes to my requests of donating prizes! You'll never know if you never ask. I had more than a few rejections of course, but the strength community was willing to help as well by sharing my posts. I am fortunate to have an understanding boss that has approved my leave. I am a workaholic and have been picking up extra shifts at the hospital to save more money before I fly out. It is about $3k minimum out of pocket for an international comp. That sounds steep to a lot of people with kids / mortgages / debt, but for me, the trip is priceless for the experiences and memories I will gain - because I won't be doing this forever and I need to be grateful for the chance to represent my country doing something that I love. It is a juggling act sometimes, training when fatigued from night shift and fitting everything in, but I do the best I can!
Red and her friend Bec
I understand that the female competitive league for Strongman has had a different trajectory than the male’s side, with a pro league for women only recently established through the Strongman Corporation, and the World Strongest Woman Competition struggling some years to host the event due to sponsorship withdrawal. Why do you think it’s been slower for women to find the support and excitement for international competitions? What do you think of the current environment for women to compete in?
Its a man’s world out there unfortunately! The truth is that at the elite levels, men are biologically programmed to be able to lift more than women. This creates the entertainment value for spectators. Who can pull the biggest truck, push the most over their heads or load the biggest atlas stones? There are some seriously strong women, but realistically it is the guys. Like many other professional sports, men are paid more. For example at the Arnold Classic, Thor Bjornson received $70k USD in prize money for the win. When Liefa Ingals broke the world record atlas stone she only got $5k. I'd love to see the women get this same financial opportunity. I think this is still a few years away yet.
What’s the most empowering aspect about competing in strongman?
I love seeing the changes in my body from this type of training. I have always been a thicker curvier girl and got teased in dance classes in school that I was “too fat to be a ballerina”. This had negative impacts on my self esteem and body image. Competing in strongman has not only made me physically strong, but mentally strong and resilient as well. I am confident with my body now and have learned to love it for what it can do, not what it looks like. Having a big booty and biceps are a bi-product of the dedication to the work I put in. It is awesome to see positive the changes in confidence of newcomers in the sport as well. We often give each other compliments like “you're looking rather jacked today” or “that was an awesome lift!” the community is really something that is enjoyable to be a part of :)
What has been the most impactful achievement for you in Strongman?
The win from nationals this year was a massive achievement. I felt a lot of pressure to back up my title again (mainly from myself). I was sick with a terrible flu for a week prior to the comp and was debating whether my nausea, stuffy nose and vertigo would subside by comp day. I came last in the first 2 events feeling like I would pass out, and I threw up in my mouth while picking up a sandbag on the first event! The show must go on… I gave myself a pep talk, flicked a switch in my head and realised how bad I wanted it. I crawled my way back to win the next 4 events and only won the overall 1st place by 1 point. It was a hard battle with the other girls on the day but something I am very proud of.
Red, you’re a very accomplished strongwoman. You have even been permanently inked and memorialized on someone’s leg! Can you tell us how you inspired someone’s tattoo?
The lady that has me tattooed on her is Bek (NSW 2nd strongest woman in the open category IG @bigbirdstrongwoman). She started following me on social media about 2 years ago but we actually met in person at Tamworths strongest in Jan 2019. We instantly hit it off and now she is one of my closest friends! Her partner Benny (Australian national champion masters strongman IG @bennychessumtattoos) is a tattoo artist and he asked my permission if he could do up a sketch - using a photo from a professional shoot I had done holding a Monster Dumbell. He said that Bek found me as a huge source of inspiration and had been wanting a pin up style tattoo of a strongwoman for some time. I was happy to oblige and honoured that she wanted me tattooed on her leg, she's stuck with me now hahaha! I am stoked they have also both qualified for OSG and I am invited to their wedding in Feb 2020 - an example of beautiful friendships that blossom from this sport!
It’s not just the sport of Strongman that peaks your interest, you like to seek out test of strength in many other facets. You have participated in the Highland Games, Mas Wrestling, Powerlifting, what do you think it means to be Strong Women in this day and age?
This year I tried competing in Highland Games (placing 2nd at the Gathering Scottish festival) and MAS wrestling (winning the nationals in the 75KG+ class) for the first time. I felt out of my comfort zone trying something new and challenging, but my strength from 6 years of lifting weights certainly helped my placings!
I admire many strongwomen in other sports like Tia Clair Toomey (fittest woman on earth crossfit games winner 2017/18/19 and commonwealth games weightlifting gold medalist), Stephi Cohen (world champion powerlifter), Donna Moore (Strongwoman and HG athlete).
Not only for their strength, but for their presence on social media and their positive message to other women who idolise them. They are humble with their achievements, are recognised for being lovely, to their fellow competitors, are absolute weapons in the gym and their focus and determination is what sets them apart from the rest. Strongwomen lift each other up and support one another. I aspire to be like them!