CRYSTAL LAKE – Paige Roeser takes a tug on her water bottle, cinches up her weight belt as tight as possible, and rubs chalk on her hands.
She bends at her knees to pick up a 75-pound circus dumbbell, one with a 3-inch diameter bar, with both hands and raises it to her right shoulder. With her right arm only, she presses it three times above her head until her elbow locks. Then, she does the same from the left side.
It’s something most 17-year-old girls would never think of doing. Or 17-year-old boys for that matter.
For Roeser, a junior at Prairie Ridge, testing herself in workouts has become a passion. She has been a quick study with her coach, Quint Zambon, the strength trainer at Davis Speed Center in Crystal Lake. In the 18 months since she started training and competing in Strongman contests, Roeser has added 25 pounds of muscle.
Zambon believes the time is not far away when Roeser will win a national Strongman title.
“Doing what she’s done at 17 is unheard of,” Zambon said. “There’s no one close to her age doing this. She always competes in the Open division. For her to be where she is now, it’s [almost] impossible.”
At the Arnold Strongman Classic in Columbus, Ohio, the first weekend in March, Roeser finished 12th out of 20 competitors in the women’s 150-pound division, a result made more impressive considering the rest of the competitors were at least seven years older. Strongman competitions are divided by weights, not ages.
It was only Roeser’s sixth competition. She will be better prepared for the St. Louis Strongman competition in May, when she plans to qualify for a national meet this summer. She has come a long way since the fall of her sophomore year.
“I want to win nationals in years to come and get an Arnold first-place title,” Roeser said. “I was hooked after my first competition, I liked it that much. I got first, there was only
three in my weight class, but the events were super-hard. I’ve never done anything like that before.”
That was the fall of her sophomore year. Roeser had started working out at Davis with some other track and field girls – Prairie Ridge’s Jessica Ayers and Crystal Lake Central’s Holly Dowell and Sami Staples. Two other Davis clients, Cary-Grove’s Carly Loeffel (Notre Dame) and Prairie Ridge’s Sam Nirva (Saint Joseph’s College), already were competing in the heptathlon.
Roeser since has given up track, even though her father Rich is an assistant coach with Prairie Ridge’s girls, working with sprinters and hurdlers, which were Paige’s events.
“When she notified my wife and I she wasn’t going to run, it was sad,” Rich Roeser said. “Strongman has been a great experience for her. As a parent, that’s an exciting thing to watch. It’s a different sport. I miss her dearly [in track]. I ran in high school and I miss having her here. She’s done some phenomenal things in a short period of time.”
Rich Roeser loves watching how older competitors – and in Paige’s case they all are older – have grown to respect her ability.
Zambon noticed right away that Roeser was smitten by strongman. He is amazed at how Roeser, a 111-pound hurdler who “could barely pick up a [45-pound] bar when she came in here” has become a 136-pound beast of a competitor.
At the Arnold competition, Zambon said Roeser was the only one in her weight class to lift a 550-pound frame, in which competitors step into, then lift by their sides. She also beat some of the top-five competitors in the wheelbarrow load, in which competitors take a keg and two sandbags, walking various distances, and load them into wheelbarrows to push across the finish line.
“I don’t think a top-three finish at nationals is out of the question,” Zambon said. “She’ll be a national title-holder by [age] 20. She’s 100 percent committed and enjoying every second of it.”
Roeser, who as a high schooler cannot yet accept prize money, trains four or five times a week with Zambon. Each strongman may have different lifts, but the same elements, so they will work hard on technique until the St. Louis event in May.
And then, the youngster will cinch up her belt, chalk up and likely earn herself a bid to the national meet.
“I like having new goals every time, and the events are really fun,” Roeser said. “It’s something different that a lot of people don’t do. It’s unique in that way, and I enjoy doing it.”