You won’t believe what petite 61kg Hong Kong Strongman challenger lifts

Daniella Means, former gymnast and rugby player, says you don’t have to be a meathead to compete, as she dead-lifts over twice her body weight and flips 220kg tyres in training for Arnold Classic Asia

PUBLISHED : Friday, 05 August, 2016, 1:14pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 09 August, 2016, 5:32am

Petite and pretty, it’s easy to be fooled by Daniella Means’ feminine facade – until she swaps her dress for gym clothes and dead lifts more than double her weight.

For the past two months, she has been lifting 50kg logs overhead, carrying 50kg sandbags, hoisting 60kg Atlas stones and flipping 220kg tyres – among other heavy objects – in training for Hong Kong’s first Strongman competition on August 20 and 21.

The event, part of the multisport festival Arnold Classic Asia to be held at Asia World Expo, will see men and women from around the world, both amateurs like Means and professionals, compete in gruelling challenges of strength.

At 1.63 metres tall, weighing 61kg and with just 13.5 per cent body fat, Means, an American-Malaysian born and raised in Hong Kong, doesn’t look like the typical Strongman athlete. But she packs a punch.

“[Strongman] has got that meathead connotation. You think of Strongman and most people think of some big fat guy with no neck who has a beer belly,” says 26-year-old Means, who works for a global education consultancy. “I think they don’t realise that’s not a prerequisite.”

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Sporty since she was young, Means has always had a preference for power over endurance. She was a gymnast for eight years until she was 14, then dabbled in various sports before settling on rugby at 16. Two years later in 2008, she made her debut in the Hong Kong women’s rugby team. She competed in international tournaments including the World Cup Asian Qualifiers, the Asian Championships, and the Hong Kong Rugby Sevens – even turning professional for a year – until she stopped playing rugby in late 2014.

WATCH Means flip a 320kg tyre

Since then, powerlifting has been her focus. Strongman is an extension of that. Means has been training daily, splitting her time between Ultimate Performance gym in Central and Ursus Fitness, organisers of the Strongman competition, in Sai Ying Pun.

So far, 25 competitors have confirmed for the amateur section, including nine from Hong Kong. Ten are expected to join the professional category.

What made you decide to join the Strongman competition?

I’ve always had a competitive spirit ingrained in me and my passion has always been lifting – I’ve been doing powerlifting for four to five years now. Through my rugby career I was always in the gym lifting and trying to be stronger. The idea of being strong has always appealed to me; it’s about being a powerful woman, I guess. When I heard about Arnold Classic Asia coming to Hong Kong for the first time, I knew I wanted to somehow be involved. So I started training at Ursus Fitness about two months ago for the Strongman competition.

WATCH Means do a log press

What is your target for the competition?

It’s hard to say because I don’t really know about the other competitors. I’ll be competing in the under 63.5kg category – the weights are doable for me because I have that brute strength base from rugby and my own training. But there’s also the technical side of it, and I don’t have the best technique. I’m hoping to place in the top three, but we’ll see on the day.

How does your sporting background help you in the Strongman competition?

Rugby is different because you have your team members to lean on. But rugby has given me mental toughness – you can’t stop running because you don’t want to let your teammates down. I’ve taken that mental toughness to Strongman, but more not to let myself down. It’s been really great having my boyfriend train with me (he is taking part in the Strongman competition as well) because he pushes me.

What do your friends and family think of you being a Strongman?

I think my family have got used to this idea that I’m really into being strong, so there’s not actually that much shock. There’s still some nagging for me to be careful – they are scared I’m going to injure myself. But my family have been quite supportive. My mum is 56 and she’s worried about her bone density, and realising now that she should be lifting weights as well to help with preventing osteoporosis.

Has there been any practical benefit of being so strong?

I think doing the variety of exercises that I do means I haven’t been injured in a long time. On the mental side, it’s about that “I can” attitude, I guess – chipping away at things and lifting a little bit more each time I go to the gym, rather than looking at a large object and thinking, ‘I can never do that’.

WATCH Means lift Atlas stones

How will you reward yourself after the competition?

I’ve been on a 1,200 calorie a day diet for about two months now. So my boyfriend and I have already planned our reward: either afternoon tea at the Conrad, or the Better Than Sex chocolate cake from Ms B’s Cakery.

Arnold Classic Asia is part of Arnold Classic, a multisport festival co-founded by Arnold Schwarzenegger in Columbus, Ohio in 1989. Apart from Strongman, there will also be other amateur sports competitions and demonstrations, a bodybuilding competition, a large health and fitness expo, as well as a seminar with Schwarzenegger.

Multisport festival tickets cost HK$150 per adult per day (HK$80 for under-18s and students), or HK$255 for Sat and Sun (HK$136 for under-18s and students). Bodybuilding competition and Schwarzenegger seminar tickets sold separately. Details at arnoldclassicasia.com