March is National Women’s History Month. So, today we are going to dial things back to 2001 when the inaugural World’s Strongest Woman was held in Zambia.
Jill Mills would go on to win the event, setting course on historic competition career. Josée Morneau of Canada finished fifth that day. Morneau was a versatile competitor who also excelled in powerlifting, arm wrestling, the Highland Games, and track and field. For Strongman Corporation, Chad Clark put together this Q&A with Morneau where she talks about the past, present, and future.
CC: I look to you and the class of 2001 as true pioneers in the sport, what did you think at the time?
JM: It needed to start eventually for the women, I’m glad I was part of it!
CC: What were some of your accomplishments pre-World’s Strongest Woman and post?
JM: Before the World’s Strongest Woman in 2001, I was a Canadian National Champion in powerlifting, Olympic weightlifting, arm-wrestling, Highland games and javelin in track and field for 15 years old and under.
CC: You have had such an amazing and long athletic career, what do you attribute this to?
JM: First, I grew up on a big dairy farm. I started at a young age doing chores every day after school and by the age of 12-or-13 it was before school too. Second, I always loved being active and doing any sports. Third, my first coach I ever had was my biggest inspiration and always will be. His name was Ian Hume, 6-foot-5, tall and slim. He was 74 when he started coaching me in throwing events in track and field when I was 15. I was training around 7:30-8pm after I was done doing my chores on the farm. He started competing in track and field at the age of 14 and competed until he was 85. He died at 91. He has more than 40 world master’s records to his name. He was competing in pretty much all the events in track and field. He had over a 1000 trophies, medals and plaques. He never took drugs or supplements in his life. So to make a story short I attribute it to work, being active and my inspiration.
CC. How did World’s Strongest Woman come about?
JM: In June 2001, I went to compete for a money arm-wrestling tournament close to Ottawa. A few months before I heard of Hugo Girard who was Canada Strongest man Champion and I found out his home address from a friend. Well, after the tournament I went knocking at his door, he was just back from a competition in Ontario. I presented myself and I asked him if there were any competitions for women going on and that it was something I would love to try. He mentioned that he heard that they were gonna have some competitions in Scotland at the end of July for women. He said to give him a few days to call Douglas Edmunds and he would phone me. Two days later Hugo phoned me and said Douglas is very interested about having you coming, if you can buy yourself a plane ticket, he will pay you back when you are there and you’ll have a place to stay for free. So I went to Scotland, where there were 8-or-9 women from all over. I realized after we were done competing that it was a qualifier for the World’s Strongest Woman 2001 in Zambia, Africa. Jill (Mills), Heini (Koivuniemi), Jackie Young and I placed in the top four for the two competitions we had and we were told that we were gonna compete in Africa a few months later for the first World’s Strongest Woman Championship.
CC: What was the World’s Strongest Woman experience like and do you still keep in touch with the other athletes?
JM: The experience was fun, hard on the body, a learning experience and traveling around was amazing. I’m still in touch with Heini and Jill.
CC: What do you think of the sport now and the rising number of female athletes?
JM: For the last few years it’s become more popular and I’m happy to see more women training and competing for it. It makes them feel confident and proud.
CC: Tell us about your daughter, is she going to follow in her mom’s footsteps?
JM: My daughter is seven-years-old. She has my big hands and my big feet, and she’s supposed to be six-foot tall. She started doing arm-wrestling just after turning five. She competes with kids her age and weight. She also started taking tennis lesson since she was six. When I look at her, I see myself when I was young; always active, she loves to laugh, loves any sport, loves to do things with her hands. I hope she’ll keep being active and doing sports her whole life like me. It’s good for the health, the body, the head. and the mind. I’ll tell her to also never take drugs or supplements. I never took any drugs or supplements and I was able to accomplish lots in the strength sports, I have been National Champion in six different strength sports, a total of 54 national titles (37 in arm-wrestling), World Arm-Wrestling Champion in 2001 in Poland, 11 times medalist at 7 World Arm-wrestling Championship participated. I’m at 482 trophies, medals, plaques, swords, and urns. Jasmine has 23 now!
CC: Knowing you grew up on a dairy farm how did this contribute to your success?
JM: The farm work shaped me for life, it did build my tendons for resistance and endurance. Thank goodness my dad made me work like my brothers.
CC: At the time of World’s Strongest Woman what was your training like and knowing what you know now would you change things?
JM: In 2001 in Scotland, the first time I competed for a strongwoman competition, I’m glad I was training for powerlifting and Olympic weightlifting. It helped me for the farmers walk, the log lift and deadlift events. So after that, I realized that the best way to train is with the implements of the events. So at the first World’s Strongest Woman, I cannot say I was 100-percent ready for it. I didn’t have the implements to train with.
CC: I know you have competed and been successful in so many strength sports, what are your thoughts of people who specialize in only one?
JM: I think it’s great to see people specializing in only one sport, but for myself, I needed to experience them all. It’s probably because while I was growing up, I couldn’t stay after school for training or competing for any sports. I had work to do on the farm, I felt guilty if I was missing work. So I told myself that when I was gonna leave home I was gonna do all the sports I want.
SC: How many times did you compete at World’s Strongest Woman and what were your placings?
JM: Four times. In 2001 in Zambia I placed fifth. In 2002 in Malaysia placed seventh. In 2003 in Zambia placed seventh. In 2004 there was no World’s Strongest Woman. In 2005 in Ireland placed seventh.
SC: As a female strength athlete who has traveled the world can you tell us how you were received both then and now, and are women strength athletes treated or respected more in certain parts of the world than others?
JM: I have to say that Europe and Africa are probably the places where I felt the most well treated and respected as a strongwoman, an arm-wrestler or a Highland games competitor. Some of those countries in Europe have arm-wrestling as a national sport and when a person places top three on the podium at a World Arm-Wrestling Championship in Europe, they don’t forget you! When I was in Turkey last October for the World Arm-Wrestling Championship (WAF), I had four people from Europe that came to me and said that they remember me from the World (WAF) in 2001 in Poland when I won the left arm in the 80kg class. I really think they remember me because, from the whole rack of medals they had, they were short of one gold medal. Guess what, they decided that I was gonna be the one leaving with no gold medal, the 80kg+ woman winner was a Russian so that was a no-no. I was telling myself; ‘Josée you better start smiling and laughing because you are gonna start crying.’ I decided not to make a big deal about it, at least I know I won it. Well, about five months later I received a big beautiful gold medal in the mail!”