Cheryl Haworth demonstrates her weightlifting prowess in the GIAC.
Cheryl Haworth Teaches Haverford to be “Strong”
At first glance, Olympic weightlifting might seem out of place amidst the scholarly brawniness that generally defines Haverford. But then again, Olympic medalist Cheryl Haworth has never been one to uphold traditional expectations.
Haworth, who has been called “the strongest woman in this hemisphere,” visited Haverford last week as a part of both the ongoing art exhibition And the Winner is… and the Strange Truth Documentary Series. She currently holds the North American record in the clean and jerk lift (319 lbs.) as well as the snatch (275 lbs.) and has competed in three Olympic Games, winning the bronze medal in 2000.
Her weightlifting prowess, however, isn’t the only thing that sets her apart. While Haworth weighs about 300 lbs., she remains flexible and agile. She’s fond of boasting that she could out-jump all but two players on the U.S. Olympic Volleyball team and even run the 40-yard dash in 5.5 seconds. In her free time, though, she’s an accomplished artist and received a B.F.A. in Historical Preservation at the Savannah College of Art and Design.
On Wednesday, the filmmaker Julie Wyman offered the Haverford community the first full public preview of her new documentary, STRONG!, which explores Haworth’s multi-dimensionality and also her personal struggles. As she prepared to compete in the 2008 Olympics in Beijing, she fought against injuries and the constant self-doubt that plagued her; she even contemplated quitting on several occasions. The film also chronicles the struggles of female weight lifters in general, living in a society with narrow views of femininity and acceptable body types for women. Even everyday activities like clothes shopping can be difficult and sometimes embarrassing for Haworth.
Visiting Assistant Professor John Muse, one of the curators of And the Winner is…, which explores competition and cooperation with an all-campus skee-ball tournament and a series of artist residencies, says he was initially inspired by the the tension between the two worlds that Haworth inhabits. The athletic sphere elevates and admires her strength, while the societal sphere is highly critical of women gaining weight. In one way, Muse noted, Haworth demonstrates how “by winning you can lose.” On the other hand, by exemplifying the “shared wonders of teaching and training,” she also breaks down the “so-called division between athletics and academics.”
Despite becoming one of the most recognized figures in her sport, Haworth, like many other professional weightlifters, originally never intended it to be her focus. Haworth “accidentally” discovered weightlifting after her softball coach recommended a weight-training regimen to her when she was 12 to improve her softball prowess. Her affinity for lifting weights quickly blossomed, and within a few years, she became a national champion. But for all of her obvious natural ability, Haworth shies away from boasting.
“I’m not a particularly strong woman, pound-for-pound,” she modestly insisted during both the post-screening discussion and the weightlifting workshop in the GIAC. “It’s all about technique.”
Though she placed a respectable sixth in the 2008 Olympics and contemplated competing in 2012, hip surgery forced her to retire permanently from the sport not long after competing in Beijing. Today, Haworth works as an admissions representative for her alma mater, but she told the audience after the screening that she’s considering going back to school to become a nurse.
At the workshop on Friday, Haverford students, faculty and staff had a chance for an Olympic-style workout with Haworth along with Haverford’s Head Strength and Conditioning Coach Cory Walts. Haworth demonstrated the technical intricacies of both the clean and jerk as well as the snatch, peppering her tips with humor.
“You’d be hard pressed to find an athlete without a butt,” she reminded her audience by pointing to her backside. “It’s where all the power comes from.”
The workshop was also followed by a lunch conversation with Haworth, Wyman, Walts, and other Haverford coaches that took on competition, gender and other issues raised by STRONG! For a full schedule of events relating to And the Winner Is…, please visit http://andthewinneris.haverford.edu/.
-Matt Fernandez '14