At the Iron Addicts gym in Las Vegas, the Wall of Power lists elite members who “did the walk … not just the talk” in the snatch, the clean & jerk, the dead lift, the bench press, and the squat.
Elena Seiple lies down on a bench, prepared to lift her body weight in iron. “I might fail. Might not,” she says to her spotter. “One, two, three. Stay close. Steven, stay close.”
Seiple is the only woman in the world who can claim the identity of IFBB professional bodybuilder, Elite powerlifter, and professional strongwoman. She’s also director of IT security at the largest hospitality and entertainment company in Las Vegas.
An uncommon drive
At the root of Seiple’s unique identity is her experience growing up in a large family, where she developed a confident, competitive nature. Her father taught her mental strength. “Practice does not make perfect,” he said. “Perfect practice makes perfect performance.”
She started competing athletically at an early age, and began doing bodybuilding shows after college. Within three years, she took second in the National Physique Committee (NPC) Nationals, and did that several more times before turning pro in 2008.
At the same time, she built a high-powered identity in the corporate IT world, starting out at a small bank and working up the ranks. Today, she manages four teams in IT security architecture, engineering, and cyber threat intelligence. She’s set her sights on a CIO or CISO position.
Taking the hits
But neither the bodybuilding world nor corporate America have been all glory and adoration—especially for a woman. “People would look at me and say, ‘Oh, you’re so unfeminine. You’re so masculine,’” she says. “It was hard for them to understand why I would want to put my body through this.”
People would look at me and say, "Oh, you’re so unfeminine." It was hard for them to understand why I would want to put my body through this.
As a corporate professional, she experienced similar obstacles. Seiple admits to being judged differently from her male counterparts. “If I get angry in a meeting, I’m considered emotional. When a man gets angry, he’s ‘strong’ and ‘tough to deal with,’” she says. “I tell women everywhere, ‘Don’t worry about all that stuff. Just be good at your job. The cream will rise to the top.’”
Going against the grain has always been part of her identity. “If everybody is going left, I’ll be going right,” she says. “I don’t want to be one of the crowd.”
Putting trust in a team
Seiple discovered powerlifting in 2004, and the “athlete” part of her identity began to evolve. She started a strongman career two years later. While bodybuilding pits woman against woman, and judging is extremely subjective, strongman and powerlifting are the opposite.
“There’s more appreciation among the competitors,” says Seiple. “If I hit a personal record, other people will be even more excited than I am, because they understand what it took to do it. With bodybuilding, it’s like, ‘Hey, you look better than she looks.’ It’s somebody’s opinion.”
Strongman and powerlifting are team sports. “You’ve got people looking at your lifts, setting the height of the bars, loading your weights,” says Seiple. “You don’t have to worry about anything because you know everything has been done perfectly. Because you trust your team.”
You don’t have to worry about anything because you know everything has been done perfectly. Because you trust your team.
That’s how she leads her IT teams, as well. “I have the opportunity to work with people who are much smarter than me, and to guide them down the path to delivering our strategies, our roadmaps, to be successful for the company,” she says. “I find that to be the most rewarding thing.”
Seiple retired from bodybuilding and strength competitions in 2009. “It takes a toll on your body,” she says. “I did everything I wanted to do.” If there’s anything she would change, it would be to stop and appreciate the fitness level she achieved during that time. “Don’t let that moment pass you by without appreciating it,” she advises.
She uses the lessons she learned in those years to inspire her team at work. “People are much stronger than they think,” she says. “It’s the fear that holds them back. If you’re not afraid to fail, you’ll go far.” She often wears pearls to work, using them as a simple reminder. “How is a pearl made?” she asks. “From a piece of sand being an irritant inside an oyster. Regardless of what happens, you can always make the best out of the situation.”
People are much stronger than they think. It’s the fear that holds them back. If you’re not afraid to fail, you’ll go far.
Like her spotters at the gym, she has her work team’s back as long as they own their mistakes and strive to be their best selves. She’s brought her passion for fitness into her IT role, helping colleagues lose a collective 1,000 pounds in a workplace “Biggest Loser” competition. Seiple buddied people up to help keep them accountable, and led boot camps in a nearby park.
“It was rewarding for me,” she says. “I get more pleasure out of watching other people succeed than when I’m up there receiving my trophy.”
With her teammates backing her up, Elena Seiple is free to express all of her identities fully—to appreciate her own strengths, while relying on and celebrating the strengths of those around her. Being the best doesn’t always mean standing alone.