Arnold Sports Festival

Sanda Heger, left, and Nancy Johnson, right, pose for a photo during the 2020 Arnold Sports Festival, the world’s largest multi-sport festival, that was held in Columbus, Ohio, March 5-8.

Two local athletes with close connections to Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune competed at the 2020 Arnold Sports Festival, the world’s largest multi-sport festival, in Columbus, Ohio, March 5-8.

Nancy Johnson, a Marine Corps reservist, competed in the Xtreme Powerlifting Coalition (XPC) Deadlift Salute Championship, finishing second with a lift of 480 lbs. Sanda Heger, facilities manager at Wounded Warrior Battalion-East, competed in the Strongwoman competition, finishing 21st in the middleweight division.

“In the nation, the Arnold is about as good as it gets,” said U.S. Marine Corps Master Sgt. Greg Popejoy, their trainer. “The Arnold is higher than what I would even call the Super Bowl. If you compete at the Arnold, you made it, on any platform, in any strength sport. If you get invited to the Arnold you are there because you deserve it and you are there for a reason.”

The competition was a bit odd for the two athletes, who both earned Strongman national titles a year ago, since spectators were limited to family and coaches due to COVID-19. Because there weren’t crowds to impress, the competitors had more camaraderie, something Strongman and powerlifting athletes believe is a major draw to the sports.

“This year was such a different year because the athletes weren’t just athletes,” Johnson said. “We took care of each other (and) did everything for each other instead of just competing against each other. I think that was the coolest takeaway from it all.”

Johnson and Heger plan on competing in the Strongman Corporation Nationals later this year following a local qualifying event. After that, the goal is to compete at the Arnold together again next year, this time both on the Strongman stage.

The Arnold Sports Festival is a four-day health and fitness celebration that presents 80 sports and events with more than 20,000 competitors.