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Front Page - Friday, February 7, 2020

Can your paralegal lift 661 lbs? James Firm’s ‘Big Princess’ can




Samantha DiBois does an impression of Atlas while training for a powerlifting competition. - Photograph provided

As a paralegal for The James Firm in Chattanooga, Samantha DiBois is accustomed to doing some of the heavy lifting at the office.

“Paralegals do the same things as attorneys, only we don’t go to court or sign the paperwork,” she says. “We’re just as involved in the cases and just as deep in the research.”

DiBois does a different kind of heavy lifting outside the office. As a world class powerlifter and strongman competitor, she can bench, deadlift and squat enough weight to make onlookers sweat.

“My squat is 661 pounds,” she says without blinking.

Weighing more than 350 pounds, DiBois looks like she could do it. But if anyone doubts she’s telling the truth, she only needs to open her copy of the 2018 edition of “Guinness World Records,” which contains an entry declaring her knee-popping squat to be the most ever for a woman.

DiBois set the record at a charity event for HopeKids, which supports children with a life-threatening medical condition. When people kept asking her how much she had lifted, she started quipping, “All of it.”

DiBois is just as proud of the nickname she earned that day – The Big Princess. During her record-setting squat, she wore a tiara as part of an effort to communicate a body positive message to girls and women, who DiBois says can be both strong and beautiful.

She kept the tiara on throughout the day, earning her new moniker.

“I was this big woman who had just broken all these records and was walking around with a tiara on my head,” she says with a laugh. “Even though I don’t think of myself as a princess, who’s going to tell me I can’t wear a tiara?

“If you can outlift me, then you can tell me I can’t wear a tiara.”

DiBois has outlifted everyone in a host of powerlifting and strongman events. As a super heavyweight (a class of powerlifters weighing 198 pounds or more) she pursues records across multiple federations. Her most recent triumph is the record for the 10-foot log press, which she set during the 2018 World’s Strongest Woman contest.

DiBois also was the first woman to deadlift 600 pounds.

“I consider the deadlift to be one of the more primal lifts because it’s about your raw strength,” she says. “My body weight doesn’t help me lift that off the floor. To me, that’s the truest test of someone’s strength.”

DiBois says she has always been naturally strong. When her family’s beat-up van would break down near her childhood home in Valdosta, Georgia, she’d get out and push it the rest of the way while her dad steered. And when the football coach at her school wanted to motivate his players to squat, he’d ask DiBois to show them how it was done.

“He was trying to emasculate them,” DiBois says, chuckling.

DiBois also threw the discus and hammer for her high school track team and the University of Georgia. But even as she made life difficult for her opponents, she struggled to reconcile her innate abilities with her feminine side. Convinced the two couldn’t coexist, DiBois put off working to become even stronger.

“I was afraid I’d turn into a man if I started lifting,” she explains.

That changed when DiBois was 31 and began experiencing back and hip pain while dieting.

“I started a low-carb diet and was losing weight really fast,” she recalls. “Then I started hurting, and I couldn’t figure out why. My doctor told me I had muscle atrophy from the rapid weight loss and that I needed to lift weights.”

DiBois dabbled at lifting for a year. When she saw how the training was transforming her body, she shifted into high gear and began competing.

“I never went into any of these sports with breaking records in mind, I just liked how big my legs and arms were getting,” she says.

DiBois’ career has also developed nicely since her stint as a detention officer at a jail in Dodge County, Georgia. Although she had never considered a career in law enforcement, a jail administrator offered her the job when he saw her size, believing she’d be able to keep the unruly female inmates in check.

“I’m nonviolent. I’d rather use my diplomacy skills, but my size does come in handy with I’m trying to persuade people to do the things I want them to do,” DiBois says.

DiBois went from jailhouse muscle to the brains of the operation when she figured out a way to motivate the State of Georgia to provide the prison with the warrants it legally needed.

“Our department was running into budgeting issues, so I started looking into ways we could justify releasing inmates,” she recalls. “One day, there was a warrant in our system, but we didn’t have the physical copy of it, so I released the guy. After that, the state got us our warrants whenever we needed them.”

The episode stoked DiBois’ interest in the managerial side of law enforcement, so she returned to school and began studying criminal justice administration. “I couldn’t decide if I wanted to be a prison warden or an attorney,” she says.

DiBois was still weighing her options when a co-worker who disliked her by-the-book approach to enforcing the rules at the prison told her to back off because she wasn’t a lawyer. “I thought, ‘Maybe I’ll be a lawyer,’” she says. “So, here I am.”

DiBois plans to go to law school once she has her “ducks in a row,” as she puts it. She says she is a former victim of domestic assault and wants to help women who suffer the same things navigate the legal system.

“A lot of women don’t get justice because they don’t know what to do,” DiBois says. “When you’re in those circumstances, you need someone to guide you through them.”

In the meantime, DiBois will continue to do the heavy lifting at the office and the gym. Even at 39, she had many years of competition left in her.

“Powerlifting is more about the mileage than the years,” she says. “You can do this sport for a long time if you take care of yourself. I didn’t become really competitive until I was 34, so I can progress for another 10 to 15 years.”

This is good news for fans of The Big Princess, who have followed her record-smashing triumphs on social media. But they won’t be the only ones watching. Guinness World Records will be there, too.