When things get heavy, local woman is there to lift them

Christina Bangma, of Huntington, works out with a circus dumbbell at Champs Strength Academy on Thursday, Aug. 27. Bangma and teammate Jes Reeve will participate in the North American Strongman Nationals competition on Oct. 2 and 3 in Davenport, IA.
Christina Bangma, of Huntington, works out with a circus dumbbell at Champs Strength Academy on Thursday, Aug. 27. Bangma and teammate Jes Reeve will participate in the North American Strongman Nationals competition on Oct. 2 and 3 in Davenport, IA. Photo by Rebecca Sandlin.

Originally published Sept. 3, 2015.

By day she’s the smiling, mild-mannered secretary behind the desk in Huntington North High School’s front office.

But in her off-work time, Christina Bangma puts on her game face and when things get heavy, she lifts them.

It’s her skill as a competitive weight lifter that will find Bangma in Davenport, IA, on Oct. 2 and 3 for the North American Strongman Nationals.

Bangma will participate against some 30 other women in five events over those two days, including two pressing events, a front carry, sandbag carry and an event known as a “farmer’s walk.”

“It actually is quite like what it sounds, where you hold weights in each hand, and you walk with it. The quickest time would win,” she explains.

The 31-year-old athlete, who stands at 5 feet, 5 inches and weighs 145 pounds, trains at Champs Strength Academy, located in the gymnasium at Life Church in Huntington. The mother of two school-age children, she has been lifting weights seriously for only about two years.

Bangma credits her boyfriend, Aaron Snider, with getting her involved in the sport.

“Before I started all this, I smoked, and I wanted to quit — I knew the bad habits were there. So I did that and I started running. And, oh, my land, I was horrible at it!” she says.

“I wanted to use the weights at the YMCA, but I was too scared to go into the weight room because it was so intimidating, in my opinion. I’m like this little person, and all these big men and they’re lifting heavy weights and stuff like that, and I am scared to go in there.”

Snider kept encouraging her, however, using a ploy that promised her she’d see results.

“He didn’t think I was going to keep showing up, but I did, and it evolved from there,” Bangma says. “He said to me, because he was doing the Heritage Days Strength Challenge at that point — he said, ‘If I’m training you and you don’t do this competition, it’s going to make me look bad!’ So that’s how it started.”

Bangma had three weeks to train for the Heritage Days event, but after she finished the contest she was hooked, going on that year to compete in three more strongman events and eight the following year.

The most weight she has lifted has been 465 pounds on her back in a “yoke walk,” in which a yoke holds the weight and the weightlifter must pick it up and walk. She’s also lifted a Chevy Cruze before, but has no idea how much weight it was because the car itself wasn’t weighed.

“Nothing like, huge or impressive,” she says, “but nonetheless, I can still say I lifted a car.”

Bangma earned the right to her first year as a national competitor by placing at a North American Strongman (NAS)-sanctioned event in Kentucky called “Beast of the Bluegrass.”

“I had to place in the top three in my division in order to qualify for nationals, in the lightweight women under 140 pounds division,” she said.

Snider, who has been doing strongman training himself for 14 years, serves as his girlfriend’s coach and mentor, teaching her everything she knows about lifting massive amounts of weight.

“The more I talked about it, I think that it just caught on, and she wanted to try it. Before this she didn’t lift weights; she just did 5Ks,” Snider recalls. “I finally got her into the gym, and she just wanted to try it and she got bit by the bug and did a competition. After that I didn’t need to motivate her anymore; it was all her.”

Snider will accompany Bangma to Davenport in the role as coach, cheering her on. He believes her chances of scoring well are very good. He says he has viewed videos of her competition, and she looks good in comparison.

“She’s very focused. She’s training hard. She couldn’t put another ounce of effort into this,” he says. “Everything that she’s doing — it’s all focused on this … She’s going into this 100 percent … At the other nationals this year she placed third, and that was her first nationals event. This one is a little bit bigger.”

Another member of Champs Strength Academy and Bangma’s teammate, Jes Reeve, will also compete at the nationals in Davenport. If they individually place high enough at the nationals, they could qualify to go to an international weightlifting competition known as “The “Arnold” — named after actor and body-builder Arnold Schwarzenegger — which takes place in March of 2016 in Columbus, OH.

Besides Snider, Bangma says her inspiration comes from the accomplishment she has seen from her efforts.

“I think it has a lot to do with the type of person that I am,” she muses. “I think I’m never satisfied with how I do, so weight lifting is just something, that the progression isn’t linear, it just ebbs and flows and you’re constantly trying to do better in something that you did before.

“There’s no cap, so that’s really what drives me to do this. Once I get to some point — I carry the 465 yoke — my next goal is to carry 475. Weight is infinite. If you keep pushing yourself, you’re going to get there.”

Bangma also credits having a core group of other women who train with her, praising the group’s dedication, consistency and encouragement. She believes more women should get involved in lifting weights for fitness, saying she finds the sport empowering, as she discovers her capabilities.

“It’s my own personal goal — I’m always hungry for more, so it’s always going to be there, until I get bored of it, if that ever happens. I don’t see it happening, though,” she adds. “We can change our oil, and we can lift weights, just like men can, and we are capable of it. We just have to try.”

Champs Strength Academy is located at 900 E. State St., Huntington. To find out more about its programs, call the gym at 452-7259.

More information about NAS and its Strongman events can be found online at strongmancorporation.com/.