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Super Heavyweight Champion Cheryl Haworth Talks About Real Strength in Women

Haworth wants women to remember it's not about size, but health. (Photo courtesy of Jeff Braverman)

Written by Lisa Turner, editorial intern

Cheryl Haworth, super heavyweight champion and bronze medalist from the Sydney Olympics, has another title to add to her resume - as the star of the new documentary, “Strong!,” she shares her story of the triumphs and failures she experienced on her journey to the Beijing Olympics. Before placing sixth in Beijing, she overcame torn elbow ligament injuries that left her sidelined when she had been hoping for another championship title. With reconstructive surgery and a serious dose of determination, Haworth put herself back on the radar in less than a year. She competed for six more years, then proudly moved into retirement in 2010. As Olympic fever heats up again, we sat down to find out what other challenges she faced and how she handles having a large figure in a size-obsessed world.

What does being strong mean to you? Strength is whatever it means in your life to persevere, to maintain your place in life, to hold your own.

How can we encourage young women to become strong? We must continue to educate our young women in such a way that they realize how valuable they are as individuals. Instilling in women that they have enormous opportunities to succeed and not be afraid to explore them would be a great step forward.

Do you see yourself as a role model? I think we all have the great potential to be role models. Some of the most inspiring people to me in the weightlifting gym were the folks who were there every day; no matter how badly they felt or whether or not they would ever qualify for a competition, having the dedication to become better in any small way and see it through. If we all understood this capacity in ourselves we could make some great things happen.

How do you think you’re changing notions of femininity? Femininity is just that: It’s a notion. It’s something we associate with make-up, objects and manners. Am I feminine just because I’m a girl, or am I not feminine just because I choose to be an athlete? It’s a very complicated question with many answers, but I don’t think my femininity should be in question due to the fact I’m capable of being stronger than some men. (Sometimes, much stronger!)

What are some of the issues you deal with because of your size? If I had a dollar for each time I visibly annoyed someone as I approached the empty airplane seat next to them, I’d be rich! Buying clothes, traveling and all those things are a bit more of a chore. I’m an athlete and a super heavyweight - my hips and armrests are archenemies to other people!

Why is there so much emphasis on size? It seems to me that it’s part of a wider culture of consumerism. We all get accustomed to seeing certain images and it sort of just perpetuates itself. At the end of the day, size doesn’t matter – health does.

Want more from Haworth? “Strong!” premiers on the PBS Independent Lens channel today, so be sure to check it out!

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