LAKELAND - Before Angie Houle was competing for titles at strongman competitions, she was flipping tractor tires on a track. And before she had a tractor tire, she only had a road to walk on.
“I just went with what I had, and what was there. That’s how you build your strength,” said Houle, who recently claimed third place at the amateur national strongman championship in Fort McMurray.
Few strongmen and strongwomen can say they’ve claimed a title at their first-ever national competition. Fewer still can say they did it with an injury. But as one of the only Indigenous women to ever compete and win, Houle did all of that last month.
Often clad in moccasins and a scarf as a way to honour her Kokhum, Houle threw, carried and deadlifted her way to a third-place win in competition on Oct. 16 and 17.
The 38-year-old mother-of-four laughs when she talks about the competition. After all, she’s only been competing for a few years. At six-foot-one and 200-plus pounds, she now competes as a heavyweight, and she’s having the time of her life.
That’s despite taking a fall at nationals during the farmer’s carry – with 200 pounds of weight in each hand. She got up and carried on for three more events, only later finding out she’d fractured her hand in the fall.
“Honestly, by the grace of God, I don’t know how I’m not hurt (worse). It was a wicked fall,” she said.
“After that fall, I thought I would for sure lose points. And, oh man, I was definitely wrong.”
She’s proud to be breaking ground for future Indigenous strongmen and women, and to be setting an example for her kids and other youth.
“I honestly don’t know how I did it, but I did it. And I’m paving the way for our Indigenous youth – I’m putting a foot in the door for them,” she said.
“It’s pretty deadly.”
Flipping tires to fight depression
Houle is from Whitefish Lake Band #128. She says there wasn’t much available there for recreation when she was younger – she grew up playing hockey, baseball and soccer, but there was no opportunity for things like powerlifting or gymnastics.
As a naturally strong person, those limitations didn’t stop her as a kid from carving her own path, hauling around furniture, lifting up couches and packing animals out of the bush when her family went hunting.
When Houle eventually got serious about the sport, she had to come up with creative ways of training.
“I started having kids, and I had my kids back-to-back. I suffered from postpartum depression really bad,” she recalled.
“I had to figure out a way to deal with it and keep living my everyday life … so I would just load up my kids and put them in a stroller and I would just walk, walk, walk. That’s how I managed my depression.”
Then one day she came across a tractor tire and loaded it into her truck.
“As soon as the snow melted, I hit our local track and I just started flipping tires while my kids played at the park,” she said.
In 2017, she decided she would go to a strongman competition in Manitoba. She ended up winning.
“Honestly I didn’t even know what I was doing,” she laughed. “And from then on, I was hooked.”
Finding a trainer was difficult. Then, in 2019, she met Colten Sloan – who just claimed his own title and his pro card at October’s competition – and they became training partners.
If they didn’t have the equipment to train for events, they made it. She recalls Sloan whipping up a makeshift sandbag out of a tool belt and wrapping it in duct tape so they could practise their throws.
“We conquered a lot of goals, him and I,” she said.
“I’m really proud of that. I’m really proud that I came through my depression the way I did, and I raised my kids … and now I’m just taking off.”
She’s received an invite to the Arnold Strongman Classic in March – a competition she describes as “like the Olympics for strongman.”
“It’s a big deal. Not a lot of women get this opportunity to go this far, this fast.”
She’ll be easy to spot at the Arnolds, with her beaded moccasins and Kokhum scarf. Houle says she always deadlifts in her moccasins and scarf because they make her feel grounded and they’re a tribute to her Kokhum, her grandma Maggie Houle.
“Everybody always asks me, ‘Ange, where do you get your strength from?’ And I always said, ‘You know, my grandma is the strongest person I know.’ She’s 88 years old, and she’s still alive and strong. So every time I wear that scarf, she’s with me.”