Katarina Helcmanovska is one of the top female kettlebell sport athletes in the world, having achieved the rank of World Class Master of Sport in One Arm Long Cycle last year. Her talents do not stop there though…having entered her first Strongwoman Competition almost by accident last year…and with no serious training Kat managed to win the title of England’s Strongest Woman!
Kat is like a modern day suffragette, campaigning for equal rights for women in the world of kettlebell sport, as at present, women aren’t allowed to compete with two kettlebells. Slowly but surely, herself and a number of other high profile GS (Girevoy Sport) athletes are paving the way to a more equal future for women in the sport.
When Kat attempts some insane lift in the gym, it’s not uncommon for her to have a crowd of open-mouthed, incredulous people cheering her on. Let’s here a little more from the Iron Lady herself…
Q.1. Kat, having known you for the last 5 years, you’ve always struck me as a massively self motivated person, having trained pretty much on your own the whole time I’ve known you. What is it that motivates you?
A. I love being strong and I like finding out what I’m capable of. I really enjoy my kettlebell sport training but I equally love to lift various heavy objects in our Commando Temple gym. It is that curiosity to find out whether I can lift it. Also seeing other strong athletes around me is a huge motivation to keep training as it can happen that those who once were much weaker than me are now at least at my level or even better. It is a reminder that I have to keep training if I want to stay “in game”.
Q.2. About 3 years ago you had a pretty major car accident, can you tell us what happened, and how your subsequent injuries affected your training and your mindset?
A. On 2nd of June 2011 as a cyclist I got hit by a car so you can imagine who got the most damage out of the two. I ended up with complete fracture of tibia and fibula on my left leg around the ankle joint and also fractured left clavicle. The ankle required an operation to place a plate and 8 screws in . Because of the fractured clavicle I couldn’t use crutches and so had to use wheelchair for over 6 weeks.
During this time I became very weak. In the first 2 weeks after the accident I lost 8kg . It was mostly muscle. I never knew muscle atrophy hurts that much. It feels like having severe DOMS .
Once I was able to walk, I realised how weak I became. My core muscles became lazy after so many weeks spent either in bed or sitting in a wheelchair so I had a back pain just from standing up.
After about 3 months I started doing a little bit of training. During that summer I made a few visits to Slovenia to see Gregor Sobocan (who is my coach, mentor and a great friend) I can honestly say that without him I would most probably never got back to kb sport again.
Prior to the accident I already achieved world class numbers in One Arm Long Cycle with 24kg kb (121 reps on the competition platform and 131 reps in my training) so I was used to moving the 24kg with quite an ease.
My first attempt to lift again was right there in Slovenia in front of my coach Gregor. I picked up an 8kg kb and could not believe how heavy it felt. I started swinging it but after 3mins I was out of breath and needed rest. Not only I became weak but I also lost my cardio fitness. I then attempted to press it and with a huge struggle managed 8 reps. This was 3 months after the accident so I knew the come back was going to be slow. I wanted to cry and if I was in any other gym I would cry but I could not do that in front of Gregor. So I just kept lifting that super heavy pink 8 kg kettlebell for a while. A month or so later I was able to lift 16kg but again it seemed like the heaviest kb a would have confidence to lift. At that point all I could do was swings and snatch. I was not able to perform jerk or push press because my left ankle was very stiff and you can’t perform jerk with such limited ankle range of motion.
In fact , the ankle mobility was improving so slowly that it was only in December 2011 that I started training jerks. At that point I realized that when I attempted one arm jerk I would only use my right leg, the left one was there just for balance. However, when I tried to jerk two kettlebells I did use my left leg much more. At this point I started training jerk and long cycle with two kettlebells ONLY for almost 6 months. Under great programming from Gregor I managed to perform 78 repetitions with 2x 20kg kbs in long cycle and 71reps in jerk (also with 2x20kg).
Although I could not officially compete with doubles seeing how fast I was progressing meant more that winning a competition to me.
Although I did touch lifting doubles prior to the accident , it was only during this recovery period when I developed my true love for it.
It took me more than a year to get my strength back ( mostly due to inability to perform many exercises due to reduced ankle mobility) and it tested my patience hugely. I can’t thank enough to all my friends who helped during this time.
Q.3 In your experience as a female and as a coach, what do you think it is it that stops more women from getting involved in strength sports?
A. I can’t really talk for other women but I know for myself that I always feel better when I’m strong. I think the image that media gives to women as how they should look, act and behave could be to blame.
Q. 4. You’ve recently competed in your first Strongwoman competitions…and won England’s Strongest Woman!!! How was your experience? What would you say to other people considering getting involved in the sport of Strong(wo)man?
I love strongwoman training but it was always just something fun to do after my kettlebell training. I just love trying to lift all these odd objects that we have in our gym.
Although I wasn’t very keen on entering the competition you (Mayyah) literally dragged me along to the qualifiers where we both qualified for the finals. Even at that point I didn’t plan to go to Finals. I was on 2 weeks holidays at the end of August and then again one week away in September just before the competitions. Since the qualifier I didn’t do any strongwoman training at all. On top of that I was 4kg overweight only 4 days before the competitions so I spent those days running like mad on empty stomach every morning including the morning on the competition day. I got up at 6am , had a sip of coffee (trying to limit water intake to make the weight) and went for an hour run. I stood on the scales weighing 62.4kg. Chuffed to bits I made it, my stomach shrunk so much I could hardly eat anything.
So while I did make the weight category I felt very weak. I was telling myself how stupid it was to put this ‘losing weight’ part to the last minute.
Honestly, how I managed to win I don’t know to this day. All I can tell it was a joint effort of all the help I received from so many people who supported me there. Those who believed in me, those who lent me more suitable shoes for the events, those who let me use their tacky and helped me to put it on my forearms. All these people are behind my success. Without them I would never win.
Girls, if you like lifting heavy weights you should definitely enter a strongwoman competition. Because you never know, you might as well win it. Still, if you don’t win, it’ll be a great experience and you will make friends with like minded strong girls.
Q.5. What is your current training focus?
A. Since winning the England’s Strongest Woman last year, my focus is a little more on the strongwoman training. I was picked to compete at The Britain’s Strongest Woman 2015 competition which will be on the 20th June .Seeing the weights that I will have to lift there I definitely have to train for this. Only a week after this comp I plan to compete in kettlebell sport in Canada, so I will have to mix the two in my training.
Q.6. You’re obviously a very well respected athlete and have worked incredibly hard to get your numbers to where they are, but what is it that you would most like to be remembered for in 100 years time?
A. If I inspire other women to lift doubles, if I inspire more women to get stronger that’s my job done. What will be in 100years I do not know . I have not achieved all my goals with doubles yet. I will see what my future brings, maybe I will achieve results (with doubles) that will not be beaten in 100 years. But honestly, I can see more and more women lifting them, and there are some really strong women there and many are much younger than me so the potential for them is huge.