(NEW YORK) – Tamara Walcott will never forget the day she stepped on the scale and it read 415 lbs. “I did not recognize who I was,” Walcott, 39, tells PEOPLE exclusively in this week’s Beyond the Scale issue.
“I actually stopped looking in the mirror for a very long time.”
Growing up she’d always been bigger than her peers but was athletic, playing volleyball and softball and throwing the shot put in the U.S. Virgin Island of St. Croix.
“I have always been the heaviest — my siblings are toothpicks compared to me,” she says. But it wasn’t until after she came to the States to start a family that things took a turn.
“I didn’t blow up after having my daughter, but after I had my son it started to get really bad. I turned into a food addict.”
Walcott was in an unsatisfying marriage by then and would often eat at night while everyone was asleep.
“I gained a lot of weight and became morbidly obese,” says the property manager from Laurel, Maryland.
Looking back, she realizes that one of her biggest mistakes was not making herself a priority.
“Working a 9-to-5, the weekends were about spending time with my kids,” she says. “At that time, I couldn’t figure out the balance.”
In 2017 she decided “enough is enough” and started weight training with dumbbells. Little did she know she that within a few years she would become one of the strongest women in the world. She eventually joined a new gym, where people were lifting heavy weights.
“They were screaming, they were squatting, they were doing deadlifts. And I just fell in love,” Walcott says. “I got a coach and decided that this is something that I wanted to do.”
From then on, she was focused on powerlifting and made it her new love — along with herself. “Nothing or no one could have deterred me from my goal once I set my mind to it,” she says. “It was really empowering to take control of my life and do something that felt rewarding just for me.”
In Sept. 2021, she broke the world record for heaviest raw deadlift in the world by a woman— 636 lbs.— and then broke her own record earlier this year, lifting 639 lbs. She trains 3 to 4 days a week in prep season and enjoys a lighter workout schedule during off-season as the sport allows.
Along the way she has lost more than 140 lbs., but she’s not focused on that.
“Even from the beginning when I started my journey, I never called it weight loss — I call it fat loss,” she explains. “I have pictures of me at 275 from two years ago that look nothing like what I look at 275 now. My body composition because of the muscle that I’ve put on looks so different.”
As she trains for upcoming competitions this spring, she continues to be a role model to for her kids, Masjahlee, 16, and Bryce, 10. “I live my life fearlessly now, ” she says. “I live my life in a space of, it’s okay to make a mistake. It’s okay to not know the right way to do something, because that’s how you learn and grow.”
And her own trajectory just keeps growing. She is not only the strongest woman in the world but has added motivational speaker to her resume.
“I don’t feel like I’m just lifting heavy weight anymore,” she says. “I feel like I’m lifting spirits.”