Exclusive Interview: How Leslie Hofheins Became the Strongest Woman in the World 2016 at the Age of 44
On August 28, 2016, Leslie Hofheins took the Arnold podium in Florida and accepted the well-earned title of The Strongest Lightweight Woman in the World. Her large fan base rallied around her to celebrate this incredible moment she had worked so hard for.
2 years earlier in January of 2014, alone in her quiet Utah home, she had put a gun in her mouth and pulled the trigger.
This is the unbelievable story of a woman who overcame unbelievable challenges to show herself, her two sons, and the world that you are capable of doing whatever you set your mind to – no matter the obstacles you face.
Leslie’s journey to the Strongman podium in 2016 began nonchalantly. She started going to the gym to lose weight and become strong enough to lift her physically disabled son, who was born with a rare bone-and-joint disease that required him to have over 10 surgeries before he was 2 years old.
One day, she met a trainer at the gym who challenged her to try just one session with him. She laughed it off at first - but this is Leslie Hofheins we’re talking about. It wasn’t long before she came around and accepted the challenge. When she easily benched 140 lbs – about twice the average female – her trainer, jaw agape, asked her if she had any idea how strong she was. She just shrugged her shoulders and continued to exceed every challenge he gave her.
Impressed by Leslie’s strength, her trainer – John – began encouraging her to branch out and try things like powerlifting. Though she hated exercises like deadlifts and squats at first, she learned to love powerlifting as she grew stronger and realized what her body was capable of.
Leslie began looking up local powerlifting records and became intrigued when she saw she wasn’t that far off. She started watching videos of women lifting heavy and realized that her previous misconceptions of women and lifting were completely wrong.
It wasn’t long before the trainer-trainee duo became a couple. What began as the picture-perfect swole-mate romance quickly turned into an absolute nightmare. John grew more and more controlling and abusive, occasionally leaving her with bruises all up and down her arms.
While all of this was going on, Leslie continued to care for her two sons and work for the fire academy at UVU. Intimated at first by being the only woman on the crew, she ended up being selected to be the squadron leader over 20 + men after completing 24 pull-ups in preliminary testing – three times what most of the men were able to accomplish. She grew confident in being a leader, whipping the men into shape, and becoming close friends with everyone on her team. They remain like a second family to her to this day.
On top of this, Leslie began competing. She entered in a local competition and trained rigorously for months. Finally, the big day came. She began the 500lb tire flip with confidence, but as soon as she went in for her first flip, she felt a “snap” in her bicep. Flooded with adrenaline and determination, she ignored it. The pain started to spread and intensify, but Leslie is no quitter. She had a goal in mind – to qualify for the Strongman Nationals. Despite her injury, she continued on to excel in the deadlift and log clean & press.
Next came the truck pull – an obstacle where the women are asked to pull a full-sized Ford with a rope. By this point, her right arm was so swollen and in so much pain that it was unusable. So she dragged that truck one-handed like a freaking beast and pulled ahead of the competition. The day ended with the stone over bar, a challenging obstacle she hadn’t even trained for. She needed three to secure the win. She completed four and won the entire competition.
After, she went to the doctor and found out her bicep had been entirely torn from the ligaments. She had to have surgery to repair it. She wasn't supposed to lift heavy or compete for another 18 months. That was 12 months ago.
“I’d stay up with you all night had I known how to save a life”
One night, Leslie hopped on Facebook to find out that John, who she’d spent the last 10 years of her life with, had been cheating on her continuously for 2 years – with a 17-year-old. This, combined with the endless abuse she’d endured, finally shook her enough to leave. She broke things off and moved away closer to her family.
This only worsened the abuse she endured from John, who sent her daily texts with threats like “I will hide in your basement and kill you”. She felt unsafe everywhere she went. She had trouble sleeping, ceased to feel comfortable in her own home, and even quit training for a bit because he told her she couldn't lift anymore without him.
No one knew. She dealt with this alone for far too long. She was embarrassed and felt helpless. Finally, she spoke up (she was working at Police dispatch at this point) and her work family immediately rallied around her. The policemen Leslie worked with sent John multiple warnings to cease and desist, but the earliest court date they could set was nearly a year out. John continued to threaten Leslie daily. Knowing this entire case would be going to court, she was forced to read and record every single one of these texts as evidence against him.
The seemingly endless depression, guilt, and fear were the heaviest weights she’d ever had to carry. In January 2014, it all became too much. One night, alone in her room, she took out the gun she kept in her nightstand. She put the cold, metal barrel in her mouth and pulled the trigger.
For whatever reason, the gun jammed. The bullet she’d loaded into it never fired.
When that gun jammed, it didn’t just save Leslie’s life – it saved the lives of hundreds of women everywhere who have been inspired by this incredible woman.
A New Leaf
After that night, Leslie realized she couldn’t let the abuse of a psychopath control her life any longer. She had two beautiful sons, incredible friends that adored her, an amazing talent in weightlifting, and an inspiring story no one else could tell quite like her.
The court date eventually came around and, after some jail time, John has kept his distance ever since.
Finally free, Leslie began to undo years of mental and emotional damage. No longer living in fear, her light and tenacity attracted incredible people around her. She began training in a private gym in Utah for pro athletes where her gym mates quickly became her closest friends.
“We’re competitive but we’re like a family. They’ve kind of saved my life.”
She went to Strongwoman nationals in Iowa in 2015 and won. In March 2016, she earned 2nd place in Arnold by half a point after her legs gave out during the keg carry. Now 44-years old, she was planning on retiring. Later that month, however, it was announced that for the first time ever, women would be given a pro card for Strongwomen. The challenge was too good for Leslie to pass up. She figured she’d try it out just for fun. “Just for fun” ended up translating into her earning $4,000 and the world-renowned title of The Strongest Lightweight Woman in the World 2016. Now that’s my idea of a good time.
The Strongest Women in the World 2016 – Her Message to Women Everywhere
Leslie now spends her time training, enjoying time with her competitors and friends, and working as a medical billing specialist. As a co-chairman for NAS state Strongwoman, she also mentors girls and women getting started on their fitness journeys.
“I’ve just done everything at this point. I’ve done more than I ever imagined. So now I’m going to do it just for fun.”