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This week, Her Campus Durham interviews the DU powerlifting captain, Kimberley, on her experience as a sportswoman, captain and coach. The less well-known sister to weightlifting, powerlifting is a demanding sport that requires outstanding strength and dedication from its participants. We wanted to find out how big a part being a woman is in a male-dominated sport, especially in the wake of a recent Durham University study, which found that men still dominate positions of leadership in DU sports.

Kimberley, or Kim for short, first got into powerlifting when she was a teen and began regularly going to her local gym. After a stint as an amateur bodybuilder, Kim moved into powerlifting to do a sport she enjoyed without the appearance-based pressure of bodybuilding. She said that she found value in powerlifting because “rather than focusing on aesthetics you’re focusing on performance goals”.

“It can be frustrating but it’s so rewarding”

Since joining the DU powerlifting team in first year, Kim has regularly competed in powerlifting competitions and is now also a trained coach. When asked about the support the team receives from the university, Kim pointed to the fact that powerlifting is rarely recognised as an essential sport, as it does not contribute to the university’s annual BUCS score. With Durham University ranked third in the country for sport, maintaining its level on the charts means turning more funding towards mainstream sports like rugby, football, and tennis. Luckily, she said, the powerlifting team are all good friends and make sure to support one another, even in circumstances where more funding, time and space would be beneficial.

At this point in our interview with Kim, we turned her attention to the recent Palatinate article that discussed the disproportionately low numbers of women in positions of leadership in sport, “despite the fact that women’s participation in sport as both athletes and fans is at an all-time high”. Kim agreed that, especially in her first and second years as a powerlifter at university, the men far outnumbered the women on the team. Last year, the lifting captains were all male, and the only women in positions of power were the social secretaries. This illustrates the same findings as the Durham University study, which found that:

“50 percent of women’s leadership work was in commercial and sales, club secretary, ticketing, and finance.”

Now in her third year, Kim has taken to the position of captain like a duck to water, both training herself and coaching new members. The careful advertising of the club with flyers containing photos of women, as well as Kim standing in a core position of leadership, has seen “a massive increase in the number of girls coming”. We might ask, if this attitude was reflected across all Durham sports, would the scales of women in leadership start to become more equal?

After discussing the concerning implications of this study, we began to talk in more detail about the part that gender plays in being a sportsperson, and whether it plays a part at all. Kim felt that while being a woman has very little to do with powerlifting itself, her gender has definitely made an impact in the club as a whole, by encouraging other women to join. Powerlifting, she admitted, is definitely quite a “masculine environment”; just having one woman in leadership can make all the difference. This difference, however, does not only affect women. Powerlifting is a typically masculine sport and can therefore attract patriarchal ideals of what it is to be a ‘man’ – whether that’s being the bulkiest guy in the gym or being able to lift more than everyone else. Diluting this with a sense of common purpose, regardless of gender, can help to prevent the sport becoming an all-consuming powerhouse of masculinity.

In speaking about her negative experiences of lifting, Kim mentioned that she has faced situations where she has not been taken seriously as a result of her gender. We can hope that in the coming years, being a sportswoman in leadership will become more normalised and that these kinds of incidents will decrease. In some cases, “I technically lift less than they [some men] do, so they see my advice as less valuable”. In her local gym at home, Kim was once very kindly told that lifting was dangerous for her “woman’s insides”. To that she said:

“I’m so glad that that’s over and my uterus didn’t fall out”

Another win for women!

Nonetheless, when asked about her positive experiences as a female powerlifter, Kim was overwhelmed with answers. “I’ve had people tell me how much it’s helped them mentally”, she said, and for her it’s a way to take her mind off work and the stresses of daily life. She said that it’s great for confidence, and that the team are all very friendly and lots of fun. The club participates in in-house and external competitions, but these, Kim stressed, are totally optional. At the end of the day, it’s most importantly about having fun. 

If you are interested in trying out powerlifting for yourself, the club is always welcoming new members. They offer two free sessions before you choose to commit to paying subs, and if you do choose to then join the team you are offered free training as a part of your membership. If you’re still uncertain, check out @du_evenlift (nice pun there guys) for more information. I myself have already been to my two free sessions and loved them, so maybe I’ll see some of you lovely readers there in the new year!

Hi! I’m Rachel, an English Undergraduate and editor for HerCampus Durham.
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