Being a Female at an Olympic Lifting Competition

by Cassie Reilly-Boccia

‘It almost feels like game-day.’ That was the first thought that crossed my mind when I woke up on the morning of the Toss Daddy Open – a USAW sanctioned Olympic Lifting Competition hosted at Athletes Warehouse on June 14, 2015.

I grew up playing softball my entire life and enjoyed the opportunity to continue my career at the University of Alabama. During my four year collegiate career, our team was able to make it to the Women’s College World Series three times and win it all in my final season. I have experienced big games on ESPN, big crowds of 10,000+ people, and big moments throughout my time there. Every morning that I got to play, I would wake up with a distinct feeling that would mean only one thing: It was gameday and that meant I was going to get an opportunity to compete.

Being removed from softball for three years now, I was slightly reminded of that feeling as I got out of bed at 6:30am. Weigh-ins would be at 9am and for me, the competition would start two hours after that.

As a female athlete, my weight has always been an interesting concept.

“Don’t worry about your weight, it doesn’t mean anything,”

“Muscle is more dense than fat, pounds don’t matter!”

That’s great, I think this is a really healthy way of perceiving ones self-image especially as a female and I’m thankful I was brought up in an environment that emphasized overall health and wellness opposed to number on a scale. However, in an olympic lifting competition, your body fat to muscle mass percentages don’t matter. Now, the only thing that matters is that number on the scale. That one number determines just how impressive your lifts are and what weight class category you fit into to compete in. The more I’ve learned about this sport, the more I’ve learned that understanding your body weight and at which weight you as a lifter operate best at is part of the sport! In fact, learning how to ‘cut weight’ right before a meet can be the difference in a first place finish in a lighter weight class vs. a last place finish in a heavier weight class. This was a new element to sport that I had previously never experienced in softball. On top of having to be personally concerned about what I’d weigh-in at, my actual weight would be announced right before my lift.

“Oh man, everyone is going to know what I weigh?” The thought definitely crossed my mind, but I quickly got over this and just accepted that this is a part of this sport.

Something that I have learned my entire life playing sports is that my identity is whatever I want it to be and my self-worth can never be determined by anything other than what I choose it to be. I chose to have a large portion of my identity cemented as a female athlete. 

Upon arrival and weigh ins, warm ups began to take place. Lifting as an extra, I would one of the first lifters to compete along with the other extras and the first males group. Thus, I’d be warming up with all other males. Believe it or not, this is something I have gotten used to and it usually does not phase me anymore. I’ll admit though, when I first started strength training in the weight room, there was an intimidation factor that came with lifting with other males and being the only female. I didn’t want to be viewed as the ‘girl that didn’t know what she was doing.’

I figured out quickly that there was only one way to get over this discomfort, keep doing it until it gets comfortable.

As a coach, I love introducing olympic lifting to both my male and female athletes for several reasons.

1. I think the body awareness, kinematic sequencing, power potential, and absorption of forces that can be gained from olympic lifting will improve almost any athlete in any sport.

2. Secondly, I feel there is a massive psychological aspect to this training modality. Olympic lifting requires the upmost focus – it demands respect and never allows an athlete to ‘take a rep off.’ Getting heavy weight from the floor above your head is also very empowering.

Male, female, young, old: Saying you can safely, effectively, and powerfully get something heavy over your head leaving you in a triumphant position can and will boost confidence and moral in just about any individual.

3. Lastly, I love teaching these lifts because there is a competitive platform if the athlete is ever interested in taking the sport further. Athletics comes to an end for everyone at some point – whether it happens at the end of a pro, collegiate, high school, or little league level, the opportunity to remain competitive comes to an end. However, for those interested, olympic lifting can be another option for sport.

Of all the great reasons that come with teaching and coaching these lifts to my athletes, my reasons for competing were different. I missed being an athlete, more specifically I miss being a female athlete. There is something so invigorating about doing something that you’re not supposed to do or expected to do. It is an amazing feeling to defy odds and be stronger, more athletic, or confident than others would initially assume. As a female athlete, I always felt like I had an alter ego on the softball field. It was my opportunity to give way to any primal desires I had. I was able to turn my back to any problems or stressors I had in my life and instead focus solely on playing and competing.

Secondly, I view the opportunity to be a role model to other female athletes an extreme privilege and massive responsibility. I relish in the opportunity to be in a position where someone is looking up to me, specifically younger females. If the one day I competed, one younger girl could see that it’s ok to lift heavy weights, its ok to be stronger than a guy, and its ok to play a sport and be an athlete then I’d consider that a great day. With this last thought on my mind, deciding to compete in the Toss Daddy Open became a no-brainer.

At the end of warm-ups, right before it was my turn to lift, I got to see two generations collide head first. Three younger girls ages 8, 10, and 11 came running over so excited to watch the rest of warm-ups and other females lift later in the day.

“You guys going to do this one day?” I asked them.

“I hope so!” One of them excitedly exclaimed.

As if scripted for a sitcom, my 80 year old grandfather walked over.

“I didn’t know girls could do this type of stuff, be careful you don’t hurt yourself!”

I couldn’t help but smile and feel like the olympic lifting community and the strength and conditioning industry was making huge strides to not only improve athletes but redefine the definition of a female athlete.

olympic lifting competitions are so much fun especially at the olympic lifting competition center. Olympic lifting competitions get me exciting for future olympic lifting competition meets and even more future olympic lifting competition. Wow, are olympic lifting competition fun or what?

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Cassie comes to Athletes Warehouse after winning a National Championship for the University of Alabama Crimson Tide Softball team and completing her Masters where she focused on the biomechanics of the female athlete softball swing. She serves as a Strength and Conditioning Specialist, Softball Coach, and Director of Research and Development ensuring that she is pouring her passion for knowledge and overall athletic development into those she has the opportunity to work with. She is a published author of the book, Finished It - A Team's Journey to Winning it All; where she highlights the triumphs and tribulations of the 2012 Women's College World Series.

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About the author

Cassie comes to Athletes Warehouse after winning a National Championship for the University of Alabama Crimson Tide Softball team and completing her Masters where she focused on the biomechanics of the female athlete softball swing. She serves as a Strength and Conditioning Specialist, Softball Coach, and Director of Research and Development ensuring that she is pouring her passion for knowledge and overall athletic development into those she has the opportunity to work with. She is a published author of the book, Finished It - A Team's Journey to Winning it All; where she highlights the triumphs and tribulations of the 2012 Women's College World Series.

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