Holly McRae is hoping to inspire the next generation of girls in Fort Frances to push for their dreams and to never hold back through her journey in the world of strongman competition.
The 32-year-old, who was born and raised in Fort Frances before moving to Thunder Bay at the age of 18, has been competing in strongwoman events since 2016 and became the first woman from here ever to gain a national amateur title recently.
“I have always been an active person. I was a competitive figure skater my entire childhood,” said McRae.
"I always have been in and out of the gym. When I was 21, I had my first child and gained a lot of weight.
“It took me a long time in the gym to work that off. I had my second child when I was 26 and started back in the gym. I never really lifted much weight, just did what I found online and some machines.”
McRae said she was informed about a local strongwoman competition in late 2015 by a friend who told her that she would be great at the sport.
“I thought he was crazy,” she remarked.
"I hired a personal trainer and I gave it my all in training. I didn't know what a deadlift was, a weighted squat, or an overhead press, which were the events. I was very new to it all. I competed in early 2016 and I was addicted.
“The women were amazing, the atmosphere was great,” she lauded.
"The empowerment I felt for myself was addicting. I come from a hard past and the weights allowed me to work through a lot of that.
Standing at 5'1" tall and weighing 140 pounds, McRae has been to the strongwoman nationals three times in her career.
She placed third in 2017, wound up 10th the following year due to injuries, before securing her first national title last year.
“In 2018 I had battled blowing my rib out and pulling all the muscles down my right side,” McRae recalled.
"I then suffered major issues that caused my right shoulder to not be able to bear a lot of weight. I still battle these issues, but they are getting better and are minor. In the summer of 2019, I injured my back and was bedridden.
“I compressed my L3 and L4, my hip was cocked forward and up and I had a ball of fluid,” she continued.
McRae said those injuries forced her to miss a lot of time training in the gym, but by the grace of god, and due to some amazing healthcare workers, she is recovering well.
“Winning nationals as an amateur lightweight was my goal when I started this,” she noted.
"It was surreal when it happened [in 2019]. I go into competition with my own goals to beat and to have fun, to learn and experience everything it has to offer. I had six events and I won five and tied for first on one, giving me 29.5 points out of a possible 30.
“The show was run amazing and, as always, the athletes were so great,” she lauded.
Winning the title at the Acafa Caasa National Amateur Championships advanced McRae to the Arnold's World Championships in Ohio held back on March 5-8, where she placed ninth out of 17 competitors in the enitre world in the lightweight division.
Due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, McRae said that spectators were not allowed to enter the venue.
“Many people did amazing, hard work to have the show still go on for the athletes and I couldn't be more grateful,” she enthused.
“I placed ninth out of 17 in the entire world as a lightweight woman. It was absolutely incredible. The women were fierce, strong, and so kind and awesome. A lot of laughs and smiles were had. I can't wait to go back again.”
McRae feels that the one of the biggest benefits that strongwoman comepetition offers is how it helps one to grow as an individual.
“The biggest benefits for weights is that it has allowed myself to learn how to love myself, embrace my body for what it can do and not what people think it should look like,” she noted.
"I am able to be an amazing role model for my two kids to show them anything is possible. Your dreams are attainable if you work hard. They see me fail, they see me succeed.
“They see me keep going and having faith,” she added.
“Strongman brought happiness and personal growth to my life. It has given me experiences I never dreamt possible. I have met some of the most amazing people, this journey is life altering and I don't plan on stopping anytime soon.”
Because McRae did not place in the top at the worlds earlier this month, she wasn't able to secure a professional card.
As such, this year she again will be competing to win the nationals and earn her pro status.
“I hope to go back to the Arnold's and place in the top 5,” McRae said.
“I did the very best I could this season and I am very happy with it, but I have big dreams and big goals.”
With health precautions being set out to help stop the spread of the COVID-19, McRae did admit that it would make her training more difficult.
However, she said that it wouldn't be impossible to maintain her fitness levels, it will just force her to get more creative.
“You just have to get creative and think outside the box,” she stressed.
"It is a good time to focus on the things you don't normally want to. It is a good time to allow the body to rest and recover from our intense training.
“Reset my mind and refocus on what I want and what I need to get there,” she reasoned.
"It is a time to be available to help people of need and spend some extra needed time with my kids. Rest is important in the sport of strongman. We can't always be pushing heavy weights. Proper sleep, food and off-days play a huge role, as well as taking care of our bodies.
“So, I am going to take this time to focus on me for a bit,” McRae concluded.