Ask a world-class strength athlete how she got to where she is today, and you might hear tales of collegiate sports or exploits from a decade spent in the gym. Jessica Fithen’s story, however, begins with Zumba. It’s not the origin story you’d expect from the Strongest Woman in the World, who dominated the field at the recent Palmer, AK competition. By winning brute strength events like the keg carry, truck push, and salmon toss, Fithen qualified for next year’s Arnold Sports Festival in Columbus, OH—one of only 12 women to do so.

She may be one of the world’s strongest women now, but it was just a few years ago that Fithen decided Zumba and step classes weren’t cutting it.

“I wasn’t seeing results and I was bored, so I joined a gym in 2015 to learn Olympic lifting,” she says. What seems like an extreme transition proved to be a natural fit. “I quickly realized that I was really strong, but I was terrible at the technical Olympic lifts. So, my coach suggested Strongman as a better alternative.”

The switch was successful, allowing Fithen to channel her raw strength into workouts better suited to her skillset—for example, flipping a heavy tire rather than performing a perfectly executed snatch. Soon after, she joined an amateur Strongman contest and won by a landslide. That kicked off a passion that has only grown since.