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Lifestyle Shift Leads Soldier to Excel at Strongman Competitions

Kellye Brestan

SSG Kellye Brestan had one month to get in shape.

After years of treating fast food as a main food group and not prioritizing exercise, Brestan heard the words that all Army National Guard (ARNG) Soldiers dread: she failed her APFT. Now she was faced with a decision – make a huge lifestyle shift in 30 days and pass her APFT or be forced to leave the Illinois ARNG.

Her decision was simple – leaving her job as a recruiter in the National Guard was not an option. Brestan quickly joined a local gym to mentally prepare and motivate herself for the hard work that lay ahead of her. Her new gym also happened to be a training facility for Strongman Competitions, a sport that tests individuals’ overall strength through lifts, pulls, and a variety of challenging tasks.

Brestan trained regularly with a Veteran who provided encouragement as she began her transformation. One day, her trainer asked Brestan to move some of the Strongman equipment. Watching her move the stone balls, kegs, and heavy weights with ease, her trainer was convinced that Brestan had a natural talent. During those first 30 days, Brestan decided to start training more competitively. At the end of the month, Brestan lost 40 pounds, passed her APFT, and found a new passion.

In October 2014, Brestan put her training to the true test at the National Strongman Championships. Even though her competitors were the best in the country, and she was understandably nervous, she knew winning was possible.

Thanks to a motivational speaker who helped her realize that Strongman events are “90% mental,” Brestan believed she could win. This mindset alone was a huge shift from when Brestan first started her training more than two years earlier. She never thought an out-of-shape person like herself could one day compete, let alone win, a Strongman event.

With a positive mindset, Brestan entered the last event of the competition – a car deadlift. Each of the two participants was given one chance to lift a car off the ground as many times as possible. Brestan knew, going first, that she needed to set the bar high. In addition, the former heavy weight champion had recently dropped a weight class and was competing against Brestan for this event.

Brestan approached the car, took deep breaths, leaned in, pulled … and nothing happened! The car didn’t even budge. Instead of panicking, Brestan relaxed, gave herself a pep talk and mentally refocused as she tried to lift the car again. Nineteen successful lifts later, Brestan anxiously sat back to watch her competitor. At first, she thought they tied. It wasn’t until a few minutes later that Brestan learned she won by a single point!

Brestan knew that refocusing and changing her mindset allowed her to succeed in this event and be crowned the third strongest woman in the country. Believing she could win and succeed was key to her success.

The mindset Brestan has during a Strongman Competition carries into her work in the National Guard. Every time one of her young recruits asks if basic training is hard, she always responds the same way: “It’s about being mentally strong.”

She encourages anyone – Strongman participants, Guard Soldiers, and those simply working to improve overall fitness – to realize that “fitness is not an overnight thing and it is important to set goals, be realistic, and be ready to work. Find what motivates you to do it – what is your reason why?”

Two days after Nationals, Brestan completed her APFT with her best-timed run ever. Although her body was sore, she told herself that if her Soldiers can do it, she can too. For Brestan, her motivation is always her fellow Soldiers.