In 2012, Brooke Sousa told herself to stop making excuses.

Her second daughter, Sophia, had just turned 1, and Sousa was determined to get in shape.

Within a year, she had begun a serious exercise regimen and dropped 115 pounds. The next year, she had run half and full marathons.

Sousa said Sophia and Zoe, her firstborn daughter, are among her supporters and often blend a protein shake for her when she comes home. The girls also have competed in children's fitness competitions.

"It's become a whole, entire family thing," she said.

These days, the 35-year-old Westerville resident is among the top 10 strongest women in the world. She plans to compete in the Arnold Pro Strongwoman at the Arnold Sports Festival, to be held Thursday, Feb. 28, through Saturday, March 3, in the Greater Columbus Convention Center and other venues throughout Franklin and Delaware counties.

Sousa will compete in five events Saturday and Sunday, March 2 and 3, in the convention center.

The feats of strength, featuring pure powerlifting and some with an added cardio component, include a 220-pound axle press, 220-pound stone-to-shoulder, 540-pound frame carry, 300-pound Husafell stone carry and 375-pound blob deadlift.

Sousa's got her work cut out for her: She was named the strongest woman in the world in her weight class at a competition in July in Norway.

"I was a fat kid growing up. I thought I'd be famous for my art, not my lifting," said Sousa, who attended Columbus College of Art and Design, specializing in oil painting.

The Arnold is expected to draw 200,000 people, putting $52.4 million into the local economy, said Matt Lorz, spokesman for the festival.

Among the guests are 22,000 athletes from 80 countries competing in 80 sporting events in 14 venues.

The center of activity is the convention center, with many events also being held at the Ohio Expo Center & State Fair. Free shuttle buses will be available between the expo center and downtown.

General admission tickets are $20 in advance, available at ticketmaster.com/arnold, or $25 at the door.

"We've got something for everybody," Lorz said. "Our expo has 1,000 different booths with clothing, nutrition and sports equipment, and four stages with nonstop entertainment and competitions."

Admission is free at some venues. To check the schedule, go to arnoldsportsfestival.com.

Several events have been added this year, such as "speed cubing," with Rubik's Cube-type objects. Foosball and futsal, an indoor soccer game that has a smaller field and goal, also debut this year.

At 7 p.m. March 2 in the Taft Coliseum at the expo center , there will be a professional match between futsal teams from Columbus and Lansing, Michigan.

The main event is the 31st annual Arnold Classic in the Battelle Grand Ballroom at the convention center.

The winner of the event, sanctioned by the International Federation of Body Building and Fitness, will be announced at 10 p.m. March 2 at the show's conclusion.

Meanwhile, Sousa trains under Matt Wenning at the Ludus Magnus gym in Franklinton. Sousa also trains others at the gym.

Going by the stage name She Hulk, Sousa said she often has surprised herself with her physical accomplishments, which she achieved in a relatively short amount of time.

"Time flies, man, but I wouldn't have it any other way," she said.

gseman@thisweeknews.com

@ThisWeekGary