Search this site



Gym Belle  - noun  one who enjoys pull-ups, push-ups, lifting things up/putting 'em down, PRs of all kinds, racing, jumping, spinning, daring and blogging re same (more here)


Gympressions on Facebook

« Silver Linings | Main | Gym Belle Q&A: Reebok Nano 2.0's vs. Inov-8's »

Cheryl Haworth and Strong!

We all know how I excited I get when I meet Olympic athletes.  First was Dara Torres.  Second was Bruce Jenner.  Well, I met another, and not to knock Dara or Bruce, but she was so awesome that I hardly know where to begin this post.

Last night, I went with twelve friends from CrossFit Metropolis to see Strong!, a new documentary about three-time Olympic athlete Cheryl Haworth.  As usual, I was running late.  As I dashed through the movie theater lobby, I could have sworn that I saw Cheryl herself, but when I took my seat with my friends, they were skeptical and I put the thought out of my mind.

I was right!  Cheryl stayed for a formal Q&A session after the screening, and then invited everyone to join her at a bar across the street for drinks.  Naturally, the CFM crew went.  (She does CrossFit now, so naturally we were smitten.)

The film was fabulous, and you do not need to be a woman or an olympic weightlifter to appreciate it.  The movie follows Cheryl over several years of her career, through record-breaking performances and career-threatening injuries.  She is a born performer and eminently watchable.  Her story is funny, compelling and inspiring.  And while her strength and athletic ability are truly mind boggling, she is remarkable relatable.  If you are a female who lifts, this really is a must-see.

To would-be olympic lifters, Cheryl offers this advice:  Know where the bar is, where your body is and what you're capable of doing.  Lifting isn't all about strength.  It's much more about technique, and much more about the time you are willing to dedicate to it.  It's about repetition.  It's also mental, and she cautions that, "as soon as you start thinking about how heavy something is, you're done."  Cheryl told us that she believes that there are women out there who are stronger than her who will never lift the weights she lifted because of all the other factors. 

Producer Julie Wyman, who was also in attendance, commented after the movie that when she first met Cheryl, she thought she had found a true exception - a 300+ pound female athlete who was totally at peace with her size.  It's easy to see how Wyman saw that in her.  Cheryl speaks candidly about her weight, and about her body as an asset in the sport of weightlifting.  "Mass moves mass."  But what's clear in the film is that, despite her genuine confidence, Cheryl is ambivalent.  And she's not alone.  She explains that, almost without exception, the male weightlifters want to "bump it up" and get bigger and the female weightlifters want to move into a lower weight class.  "If any group of people should know better it's us," she told the audience after the film.  Part of the beauty of the sport of olympic weightlifting is that there are different weight classes - that there is a place for every body type - but that doesn't dampen the societal pressure on women to be small.

Wyman deserves a lot of credit for not glossing over this conflict for the sake of portraying Cheryl as that heroic "exception."  This struggle is one that I think all women weightlifters face to some degree, whether they weigh 90 pounds or 300, and whether they lift 50 pounds or 500.  "Bulk" is perhaps the dirtiest word at the gym.

As a female coach, a gym veteran and a fitness blogger, I strive to embody and embrace the "strong is beautiful" mantra.  Most days, this comes easily.  As a coach, little excites me more than seeing the women of CrossFit Metropolis get strong.  But I have my moments.  I'll put on a ribbed sweater that used to fit perfectly, see the lines bow around my biceps and think, "What am I doing?"  Those moments pass.  I ask myself, which PR would you give back?  How many pounds would you give up on your backsquat?  And the answer is - emphatically - none.  Most days I like my muscles.

What I've realized is that, unlike Cheryl, I'm less willing to vocalize those moments when I feel insecure.  I don't blog about them.  I keep quiet because I feel guilty for even thinking that way.  What I realized watching Strong! is that maybe those thoughts should be shared rather than edited out of my story.  Acknowledging them is certainly more honest, and perhaps more productive.  Being insecure is human; it's the actions you take based on or in spite of those thoughts that define you. 

Doubts alone don't dilute the message.  Strong is beautiful.

-Gym Belle-

EmailEmail Article to Friend

Reader Comments

There are no comments for this journal entry. To create a new comment, use the form below.

PostPost a New Comment

Enter your information below to add a new comment.

My response is on my own website »
Author Email (optional):
Author URL (optional):
Some HTML allowed: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <code> <em> <i> <strike> <strong>

© 2012 Gympressions. All rights reserved.
Privacy and Terms. Site design: Cloudyreason