Truth be told, Jess Cegarra Tuttle doesn’t even like to lift weights.
She never had as a decorated high school and college athlete, and she’s still not a big fan of it.
And yet, the 34-year-old Danville, N.H., resident competed in the U.S. Strongman competition in Columbus, Ohio, last month and finished 10th in the middleweight division, barely missing a spot in the top five despite training for it less than a year.
In fact, if she hadn’t gotten an unexpected no score in the deadlift, she might have been as high as the top three. She was first among 48 contestants in the yoke, an event Tuttle considers her “bread and butter” and requires one to lift and carry a weight as fast as possible.
“It’s pretty unusual, and I’ve never had someone progress as quickly as Jess,” said her trainer, Robert Chaisson. “But she has very good technique in all her events, which is very important, and she just has that drive to be good.”
It’s a drive that Tuttle had as Jess Cegarra at Timberlane, where she was a three-sport star in volleyball, basketball and track and was named the Max Bishop Award winner in 2003 as the region’s top all-around female athlete. At Bryant University, she continued to play volleyball, which was probably her best sport, run track and even played basketball as a senior.
After graduating from Bryant, Tuttle continued to play adult volleyball at a high level, usually with former college standouts, and has remained active in other sports as well. But becoming involved in Strongman competitions was hardly in her radar.
“I would have never imagined I’d be doing this,” said Tuttle. “I’ve never liked lifting. I didn’t like it in college when we did it for volleyball and I still don’t really like it very much.”
But Tuttle is still a competitor and when friends at her gym, the Zoo in Epping, urged her to check out a Strongman competition in the late spring of 2018, she took them up on it. And that got the ball rolling.
“I loved the energy of it and especially the camaraderie — that’s what struck me,” said the 5-foot-8, 165-pound Tuttle. “It seemed like something I’d want to be part of. I was hooked.”
And when Tuttle, who is a counselor at Pinkerton Academy and helps out with the girls volleyball team there, gets hooked on something, she goes all out. There is no half-hearted effort in her repertoire.
For four months, Tuttle worked out diligently under Chaisson’s guidance, usually four times a week, focusing on back strength one day, maybe shoulders or legs on others and then doing specific event training on the weekends.
Different Strongman competitions have different events, but the dead lift is common. Others at the Nationals were the yoke, log clean and press, the sand bag medley and the sand bag throw, another event Tuttle is strong at.
After the four months of training, Tuttle competed in an Intro to Strongman competition and came in first place, automatically qualifying her for nationals.
ALWAYS THE COMPETITOR
“After watching her compete, I thought she was good enough for nationals,” said Chaisson, who is a three-time Strongman state champion as well as the New Hampshire chairman for Strongman and still competes as a 44-year-old while training others. “I’ve never taken someone (to nationals) after just one event before but I thought she was ready.
“She has incredible will power, is so competitive and is really good at the moving events. I think her experience as a college athlete has really helped out. She’s a competitor in whatever she does.”
In fact, while Chaisson was more than happy with a 10th-place finish at Nationals, Tuttle bemoans that she didn’t finish higher. The dead lift hurt her standing and so did a miscue in the sand bag throw, which is another event she’s strong at.
“I think I got more hooked at Nationals and I’m looking to next year (at Nationals),” said Tuttle. “I love the competition and I want to do a lot better. We’re putting a big emphasis on the dead lift now. I’m at about 320 (pounds) now and in 10 weeks I want to be at 370.”
Chaisson doesn’t doubt an even better performance from Tuttle at the Nationals next year or any other Strongman competitions.
“She just has the drive to compete and wants to be better,” said Chaisson. “After Nationals, I wanted her to take three weeks off but after a couple of days she’s begging me to go to the gym. That’s the way she is.”
That competitive fire hasn’t changed much over the years and neither has something else.
“I still don’t like lifting,” she said. “If I didn’t have a group to do it with and a trainer, I doubt I’d do it without them.”
“She (Jess Cegarra Tuttle) has incredible will power, is so competitive and is really good at the moving events. ... She’s a competitor in whatever she does.”
Robert Chaisson, Tuttle’s trainer
For a mom with two young children and as a full-time counselor at Pinkerton Academy, Jess Cegarra Tuttle has some juggling to do to get in the necessary training to compete in Strongman competitions. Fortunately, her husband, Bobby, and children, 7-year-old daughter Kiara and 5-year-old son Keegan are on board.
“My husband had been a huge support and my kids get excited and love to go with me when I go to the gym,” said Tuttle. “They think it’s cool and they’ve just started kids workouts for them.”