How Glenrock’s Sarah Chappelow Became One Of The World’s Strongest Women

Ten years ago, Sarah Chappelow of Glenrock, was recovering from a pulmonary embolism and was told she would need a double-knee replacement. Now she's one of the world's strongest women including world titles in armlifting in 2022 and 2023 and the armlifting champion in Arnold Schwarzenegger's annual sports festival.

DK
Dale Killingbeck

January 01, 20246 min read

Glenrock's Sarah Chappelow competes in grip competitions. At left, she's lifting in the 2022 Arnold Sports Festival while at right was earlier this month at the 2023 Grip Wars in Sweden, where she placed third overall.
Glenrock's Sarah Chappelow competes in grip competitions. At left, she's lifting in the 2022 Arnold Sports Festival while at right was earlier this month at the 2023 Grip Wars in Sweden, where she placed third overall. (Doreen Dawkins via 614Whatstolove.com; OSM Training)

Sarah Chappelow may not have all the powers of Wonder Woman, but she’s nearly strong enough.

The Glenrock woman lifts weights and competes in grip competitions — basically, whoever can life the most weight and maintain a grip on it. It takes amazing strength and technique, and Chappelow is so good at it she recently placed third at an international competition in Sweden.

Not bad for a woman who 10 years ago was trying to recover from a pulmonary embolism and was told by a surgeon she would need a double-knee replacement by her mid-40s.

Now she’s 44 and accomplishing feats that she never dreamed possible a decade ago when she struggled to just get out of a chair.

And her knees are still original equipment.

“Really just getting stronger has increased my mobility and it’s kind of two-fold,” she said. “I am able to do these regular daily things that make it a good life like walking my dogs and just being able to comfortably walk around up and down stairs. But also it is cool that I can do these strength feats and have world records and win these big contests.”

Chappelow’s journey to becoming a world-class strong woman began with encouragement from her husband. She said as a teen she competed in high school sports, but kept getting injured. As a young adult she wanted to be active, but her knee pain kept her back.

She went to the doctor 10 years ago and was told she needed surgery. She received the surgery to remove some meniscus from her knees. That surgery led to blood clots, which traveled to her lungs and created a dangerous pulmonary embolism.

Sarah Chappelow competes at the 2022 Arnold Sports Festival.
Sarah Chappelow competes at the 2022 Arnold Sports Festival. (Doreen Dawkins via 614Whatstolove.com)

‘Rock Bottom Physically’

“So, I was rock bottom physically,” Chappelow told Cowboy State Daily. “It took me about a year to recover from the pulmonary embolism. I still had knee issues even after the surgery. I had a hard time standing up out of chairs, I had a hard time walking up and down stairs and the surgeon I got referred to said I would need double-knee replacement surgery by the time I was in my mid-40s.”

Meanwhile, her husband Jim Chappelow had begun lifting weights and in 2016 competed in a strong man contest in New Hampshire, where they lived at the time. She saw the benefits that he experienced through weightlifting, but “it seemed really crazy that I would be able to do that because I could hardly walk.”

She talked to her orthopedic surgeon.

“He was really dismissive about it. He said, ‘I don’t think it’s going to help you and your problems, but go ahead and try it. I don’t think it’s going to make it any worse,’” Chappelow said.

So in early 2016, with guidance from her husband, she began her weightlifting lifestyle. She said though it was challenging, she realized the benefits early on.

When she saw Jim compete in a strong man contest, she was impressed with the athletes’ abilities to do the feats of strength, lifting incredible amounts of weight. She saw a posting for a local contest and registered. She would have six months to prepare.

“I was totally new to this and just developing my strength and I decided to register,” she said.

That led to other contests until in 2019, Chappelow realized that her grip strength was what set her apart from other contestants. She looked for a grip competition that involves using one or two hands to grasp heavy and/or unwieldy objects and lift them.

Her First Win

She found a contest in Maryland — and won it.

“I have been competing in grip ever since then,” she said. “I’ve won multiple national titles.”

Her titles include “Queen Kong” for 2019, 2022 and 2023 as being the top overall female lifter in the King Kong Grip Challenge that featured 222 lifters from 31 countries, including 40 women. She also is the 2022 and 2023 World Armlifting Champion, and was the 2022 Arnold Armlifting Champion, an annual contest sponsored by Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Armlifting is defined as a sport where a weight is lifted or manipulated predominantly using one’s grip. An example would be placing two short ropes around a barbell bar that has weights attached. The contestant would grip the ropes to deadlift the bar and weights.

Sanctioning bodies for the sport are Armlifting USA and Grip Sport International.

The Winter Grip Wars

At the Winter Grip Wars in Karlstad, Sweden, earlier this month, she competed in seven events over 10 hours — the longest competition she has experienced. Those included picking up objects such as rolling handles that are tied to a weight, pinching events and holding a weight for time.

There was a farmer’s carry that involved picking up 220 kilograms in each hand, or 485 pounds in each hand, the most weight she’s ever carried.

“I came in second place behind Gabi Dixson, who is a professional strong woman and the woman who came in third place is Rebecca Roberts, who is the current World’s Strongest Woman,” Chappelow said. “It was a very competitive contest, and I was pleased coming in second; very strong ladies there.”

The Chappelows moved to Glenrock in 2019 from New Hampshire and have established a weightlifting club and classes for adults and teens at the community’s recreation center.

In their day jobs, Jim Chappelow is an instructor at Casper College and Sarah works with a financial services company.

Nearly 10 years after picking up that first set of weights, Sarah has no plans to stop. And it is not about winning medals or trophies.

“The biggest benefit is having a quality daily life without being in pain. The contests that I do are really a motivator to keep going to the gym,” she said. “For me, I’ve structured things so that it is just a part of my life, it’s what I do … that keeps me active and working out and the benefit is being strong to have a happy life.”

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Dale Killingbeck can be reached at dale@cowboystatedaily.com.

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