How I Learned to Celebrate My Body En Route to Becoming Nashville's Strongest Woman

You may know me from the viral TikTok where I flipped a 500-pound tire — but there's so much more to my story.

Photo: Courtesy of Dani Dyer

I've had a knack for standing out in a crowd since an early age. From ballet and jazz to tap and gymnastics, I was consistently one of the best (and strongest) athletes in the classroom. Beyond my athletic prowess, though, I also physically stood out. I was taller and weighed more than most of my classmates or teammates. With my large, muscular frame, I certainly didn't resemble what a dancer should look like, according to most people. And when my doctors put me on steroids for acid reflux at 14, my already larger frame grew rapidly — and, despite my practitioners' assurance, it continued to do so even after I stopped taking the Rx. See, not only did the medication cause me to gain weight but it also increased my appetite (both are common side effects of steroids, BTW), and this contributed even more to my growing size.

From there, it was a slippery slope: I started emotionally eating, hiding snacks throughout my house, and only consuming food in private. I stopped looking at myself in the mirror; I was ashamed of how my body looked and ashamed of how out of control I felt. During this time, the way people treated me also shifted. It seemed to be acceptable for my male classmates to make comments on my looks — for instance, that I was the "thick" girl that they wanted to mess around with, but never date — or in some cases, I was disregarded entirely. I lost all self-esteem, spiraling into depression. I questioned my worth as a whole. (

All the while, I tried diet after diet. And despite the fact that I, myself, never thought there was something wrong with the size and shape of my body, everyone kept telling me I should look differently — and so, my body image issues really began to escalate.

Still, dance continued to be my safe "space" and I never gave up on achieving my athletic goals. After high school ended in 2011, I was determined to carry my passion for dance through to college. So, I auditioned for the University of Tennessee, Knoxville (UTK) Dance Team, only to last until the final round and ultimately not make the cut. I was disappointed in myself and ready to leave dancing in the past.

And so, I tried to find a new safe space and joined a sorority. However, I always felt as though I didn't belong and was out of place among my sisters and on campus –– and that was particularly true at the gym. I can recall the first time I went to the UTK campus gym, leaving after only 10 minutes on the treadmill, fearing what others thought of me.

Movement Helped Me Take Back Control

Despite not making the dance team, and despite feeling self-conscious on campus, I continued to turn to movement as an outlet. So when, in 2012 (my sophomore year at UTK), I heard a fellow sorority sister was auditioning to be a group fitness instructor, I decided to give it a go, too. I was done with trying to be — and look like — everyone else. I wanted to break the stereotype and continue doing what I loved: exercising.

Turns out, that tryout changed everything. After auditioning, I went on to receive my group fitness instructor certification through the American Aerobics Association International / International Sports Medicine Association (AAAI-ISMA) with a woman named Susie Gorman Green, a master trainer with AAAI-ISMA. Through her mentorship and guidance, I became more knowledgeable about my body and, more specifically, how food could fuel it.

Meanwhile in school, I began learning more about business, and during an internship at a wellness resort in Vermont, I started to see how I could eventually marry my passions of running a business and pursuing fitness. I finally felt as though I was moving in the right direction.

Then, in 2017, I started my own dream personal training business, Dani D. Fitness in Franklin, Tennessee. To celebrate the opening, I organized a 75-person Find Your Fit Festival event with sponsors and a DJ — aka one big party. But it also was the culmination of a decade of defying expectations and proving people wrong.

The best part? Not a single person in that massive crowd cared what my body looked like. We were there to celebrate ourselves, have fun, and be powerful.

How I Broke Into the Strongman World

Throughout 2017, I was crushing it with my personal training business and helping others succeed. Still, I wanted someone to help guide and motivate me, so when Matt McQuiston, a fellow trainer, commented on how strong I was in 2018, a lightbulb went off. Around that time, Matt also introduced me to Blake Harris, a Strongman competitor. ICYDK, Strongman is a sport similar to bodybuilding, powerlifting, or Olympic weightlifting in which competitors lift or hold (for extended durations) super-heavy objects for specified reps or time periods. Unlike those more well-known sports, however, Strongman is often less structured with events, objects, and other factors varying from competition to competition. (Basically, it's supposed to be the ultimate test of strength and skill.)

After hearing about Blake's love for the sport, I decided that I wanted to compete, too. So, with no real training (just the encouragement of Blake and Matt amping me up), I signed up for my first-ever Strongman competition. (

And soon enough, as I continued to qualify for competition after competition, I also fell in love with the sport. Eventually, in late 2018, I competed in the Strongman Nationals — the most coveted Strongman event in the U.S. that you must qualify for and be asked to compete in — placing 15th in the entire country.

The more confident I became through training, the more my business grew. After everything I'd gone through — the bullying, the body-shaming — there was no sense in not staying positive and fighting for what I wanted. I felt on top of the world. This was my safe space.

Still, that didn't mean my journey toward discovering this physical and mental strength within myself was entirely smooth sailing. About two weeks after my 26th birthday, I was competing at the Music City Strongman Classic, Nashville's first-ever Strongman competition, which I helped organize with Blake. One of the competition's biggest events? Flipping a 500-pound tire — a task that actually made me somewhat social media famous. (In fact, it might be how you recognize me. The video of me flipping it went viral on TikTok in February 2021, almost a full year after the event.)

While that video shows a roaring crowd pushing me to hoist the heavy tire up and over, what you don't see is the journey it took to get there. On my first attempt (not filmed), I positioned my body beneath the tire in hopes of hoisting it upwards as forcefully as I could, but I couldn't get it past my knees. As the tire hit the ground, you could hear an audible sigh echo from the audience as crowds began to disperse. Although groups of onlookers not believing in me might've sent 15-year-old Danielle into a dark place and push her to give up entirely, the opposite happened in that very moment.

With just 30 seconds (of the total one minute) remaining to flip the tire, I refused to give up. As I went for my second attempt, I channeled all the hurt, frustration, anxiety, and sadness I'd experienced over the years into a single place, pushing it (along with the gargantuan tire) up, off of the ground, eventually slamming the other side onto the ground.

I had done it. And in doing so, I became the only woman at the competition that day to lift the 500-pound tire.

But, what might be even more impressive, is that I'd flipped the tire despite the disbelievers who had walked away after my first attempt. I'd completed the task — which, BTW, was a goal of mine — despite all those voices throughout the years that told me I wasn't an athlete because I wasn't skinny enough or didn't look the part. That day, I also squatted 300 pounds for 12 reps, did a 300-pound "yoke carry" for 60 feet (which is essentially like carrying the entire squat rack across the gym), pulled a 150-pound sled with a 150-pound sandbag perched on it, and did a "deadlift medley" consisting of regular deadlifts, axel presses, a tire deadlift, and a log press. The combination of my scores on these exercises led me to be crowned Nashville's Strongest Woman. (

Despite being awarded such an impressive title and achieving a major feat of strength, however, most of the comments on the tire-flipping TikTok were focused on the way my body looked, as opposed to what it was actually doing.

But I didn't let it get to me. When a friend asked how I was feeling about the negative feedback, I told her I was unfazed — after all, I'd been the recipient of unfounded (and unnecessary) criticism from others for years.

Pushing Forward and Refusing to be Put in a Box

After competing in the Mammoth Strength Challenge in Kentucky in January 2020 (which consisted of carrying 400 pounds for 60 feet, pulling a large truck that same distance, and deadlifting 405 pounds for four reps), something felt off. The day after the competition, I could barely walk and had lost feeling in my left leg for a few days. I'd aggravated a previous back fracture injury and needed time away from my sport to heal –– four months to be exact. Throw in the COVID-19 pandemic and the loss of a loved one, and I was faced with one setback after another.

Still, I persisted. I started my own podcast, Love Your Body, became a body-positive influencer, expanded my business to Nashville (now, I train solely there), and became Shape Squad trainer. It goes without saying that a solid support team was instrumental in helping me get where I am, from Blake to Matt to my parents and countless others. I really found acceptance among the Strongman community, too, which helped me continue to dream big.

Plus, my journey to becoming Nashville's Strongest Woman was more than just about myself; I was determined to set an example for others. I could dance, run half-marathons, lift 500-pound tires, and operate a successful business –– all at the same time, no matter what I looked like. I was never meant to be put into a box, nor was I meant to "fit" into a certain category or community. I was meant to stand for something incredibly unique, beautiful, and positive.

If there's a single takeaway from my story that I hope others can learn from, it's this: My accomplishments have never had anything to do with my body. I had the drive and determination to fight for what I wanted. Since this is the reality that I've made for myself, through my own hard work and dedication, I genuinely don't (or, rather, can't) care what people think of me. (

The most important factor in achieving my goals has been loving myself, regardless of whether I have a bit of belly fat or am in peak athletic shape. I'm worthy of an exceptional life, and you are, too.

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