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Strong Women: The Women of Weightlifting

Every day, the world witnesses' countless awards of medals, trophies, and titles, celebrating the success of those who take pride in their achievements, whether big or small. What’s even more amazing? Driven, strong women in the world of sports are breaking barriers. Now is the time for everyone to see what these ladies are capable of.

You may have heard their names, but now let’s hear their stories.

The Strong Women of Weightlifting

Strong Women: The Women of Weightlifting


Meet Ernestine Shepherd.

The 81-year-old competitive bodybuilder is from Baltimore.

"Age is nothing but a number.”

It wasn’t until she was 56 years old that she and her sister, Mildred Blackwell, tried out a couple of swimsuits, realized they looked like couch potatoes, and decided to hit the gym.

They were a big part of each other’s lives, and you’d never see one without the other. They both made it a goal to make it to the Guinness Book of World Records as two of the oldest female bodybuilding sisters.

It took a great toll on Ernestine when Mildred died of a sudden brain aneurysm. She felt the effects of her sister’s death physically as she dealt with high blood pressure, panic attacks, acid reflux, and even depression. However, she knew that this wasn’t how her sister wanted things to be.

Ernestine then started her days at 2:30 AM, making time for devotion, along with ten scrambled egg whites, 16 ounces of water, and a handful of walnuts.

When she hit the age of 71, she asked former Mr. Universe Yohnnie Shambourger to be her trainer. She wanted to pursue competing as a bodybuilder, and seven months later, she did. She fortunately took home the gold in her class at the Natural East Coast Tournament of Champions bodybuilding competition.

In March 2010, Guinness World Records finally gave her the title of the World’s Oldest Performing Female Bodybuilder, fulfilling the dream her sister had wanted for the both of them.

Ernestine lives by her life motto, “Age is nothing but a number!” as she continues to train and inspire senior women (and even men) to reach their physical potential, no matter their age.

Meet Elle Hatamiya.

The 12-year-old multisport athlete is from the San Francisco Bay Area.

“There’s nothing I can’t do. I am limitless.”

It all started when Elle was only 7 years old. She began her first sport, Cuong Nhu martial arts. Her perseverance has brought her to her current rank of green belt.

However, one sport wasn’t enough for Elle because, just two years later, she also got into USAG competitive gymnastics. Here she earned State Championship for Level 3 Floor and Level 4 Beam and Floor and she is now at Level 8 of the Junior Olympics gymnasts. She just recently began her competitive season in January 2018.

She didn’t stop there, because two wasn’t enough for this little girl, either. Elle eventually started doing CrossFit to help with her gymnastics movements, and this is where she discovered her love for Olympic weightlifting.

It was because of CrossFit that she became inclined toward Olympic-style lifts, and from there, she decided to train and compete. She grabbed the title of USA Weightlifting National Champion in both the 11U and 13U age brackets of the 31kg weight class on June 24, 2016.

Elle trains 22 hours a week over four days for her gymnastics. In between, she trains at her barbell club and martial arts dojo twice a week for an hour each session for each sport. That’s a total of 26 hours of training for three sports. On top of that, Elle still fulfills her academic priorities. She still sees to it that there’s time for her to relax and rest, so she takes her Sundays off unless there’s a competition.

This 12-year-old is a gymnast, martial artist, and Olympic weightlifter all in one. She’s young, and she’s driven with no excuses for her age, size, or capabilities, and at such a young age, she is already dreaming of joining the Olympics.

Elle proves to everyone that any age is the age to work hard, and this girl has no limits.

Meet Saikhom Mirabai Chanu.

The 23-year-old Commonwealth Games champion is from India.

“It’s worth the pain.”

It wasn’t an easy comeback when the 21-year-old at the time broke under pressure and failed to finish in the women’s 48kg category during the 2016 Rio Olympics.

Mirabai instantly became a crowd favorite when she broke the national record of her inspiration, Kunjarana Devi, during the trials, so it was heartbreaking for Mirabai to leave the actual competition without fulfilling the expectations everyone had of her.

It was just recently that she was able to redeem herself, completely wiping away the loss from two years ago. Mirabai, the weightlifter who saw an opportunity to grow despite her failure, proudly earned India its first gold medal in the 2018 Gold Coast Commonwealth Games at the age of 23. In addition to that, she also broke her own record – lifting twice her body weight and ending with 196 kg (2 kg more than her previous record).

Mirabai’s mother and father tearfully celebrated the young one’s success, knowing that she had brought massive pride and honor to India despite the financial crisis they had fought with throughout the journey.

The champion’s career has only begun, and her eyes are already set on the next target, the Asian Games, which will be held later this year. The Asian region is known for having some of the toughest weightlifters, yet Mirabai is confident that she can deliver as long as she works hard.

There was doubt and there was pain, but Mirabai didn’t allow them to win; for that, she did.

You’ve heard the stories of these strong women—the women who were once just like us, trying to get through each day while dreaming of what could be and dreaming of where they are right now. Thankfully and finally, the world has recognized and accepted that women are indeed powerful beings, and there is no stopping them, whatever their age or struggle.

Here’s the takeaway:

There is no better day to take a look at yourself in the mirror and ask, “What is holding me back from my dreams?” Whatever you do, whatever sport you’re into, the only thing standing in your way is yourself. Get off your ass and work for your dreams!

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