By Marcy Farrell
When people are asked to imagine a weightlifting competition, they may think of oiled, broad muscled competitors in bathing suits or unitards staring coldly at each other as they wait their turn on the platform.
The Woman of Valor meet at Woodmere Fitness Club was nothing like that. In November, 12 frum women took to the platform wearing skirts, sheitels, headscarves, leggings – whatever THEY wanted – to show off their lifting skills.
The group also enabled 200 girls from Emunah’s Achuzat Sara children’s home to have something they wanted: new clothes. Front Row Apparel offered attendees the opportunity to “buy one, give one” by donating a skirt for every skirt purchased.
Inna Koppel, owner of Woodmere Fitness Club, hosts the only all-women Starting Strength program in the world. Because it is in the Five Towns, it appeals to religious women who want to work out separately from men.
The women, between the ages of 35 and 65, “competed” in the deadlift, one of the three primary lifts in powerlifting. They could wear whatever they wanted – most regulation weightlifting meets require participants to wear a singlet, which looks like a unitard.
In a room crowded with female family members, friends and other Starting Strength club members, the women showed how important staying strong is to themselves and their families.
Mozelle Goldstein, a trainer and instructor at WFC, was the staff member who took Inna’s vision and ran with it. While Mozelle loved seeing the joy in the competitors’ faces, she was also struck by the reaction of the audience.
“They had never seen their moms, grandmothers, daughters or granddaughters do this before. Watching their faces registering delight and pride in our lifters was amazing. It’s such an unusual thing that we are doing in the frum community. Most people have not seen frum women do anything like this before.”
Who could help but cheer for Louise Kramer, 66, of Woodmere, who came to Woodmere Fitness Club four years ago at the of her daughter, who thought lifting weights would alleviate her arthritis?
Because Louise’s bones and muscles were weak, she fell a few times, and the fear of not being able to recover brought her to WFC. Her starting goals were “to get off a bench by myself and to get off the floor by myself.”
Now she gets the bar off the floor too. Louise lifted 135 pounds off the ground to cheers and applause and ran into the arms of her two daughters, two daughters-in-law and several grandchildren who rushed to hug her.
What could a spectator do besides smile when Sara Ganz, wife, mother and grandmother shared her sweet smile of success after completing her 155 pound deadlift? Sara, who placed first in the Womens Masters division, won a free month of training at WFC and showed herself how strong she could be.
She loves the way lifting makes her feel strong, clearheaded and happy, but “it’s more than that,” the Woodmere resident said. “There is so much team spirit. A feeling of being a part of something.”
When some of the women were having a difficult time getting the bar off the floor, Sarah “wanted to get under there and lift it with them. It’s almost as if we all did all these lifts together.”
Elissa Warman, 41, who deadlifted 245 lbs to take third place in the Womens Open Division, agreed. “I was so surprised that I was able to do it,” said Elissa, who had her fifth baby boy in May. “But what also surprised me and helped me along was the energy in the room, how everyone cheered for each other.” Elissa won a free Estee Gershokovich massage.
The room vibrated with shouts when Suri Fineberg, a mother of two from Cedarhurst, completed her 325 lb deadlift. Suri flashed a confident smile as she held the bar up and the crowd whooped with excitement. Suri has been at Woodmere Fitness Club since the Starting Strength Program began and was lifting two years before then. Suri, a mother of two and a special education teacher, chased her goal of lifting 300 lbs for years but was only able to accomplish that recently.
“I’m very happy I did it,” said Suri, who took top place in the Womens Open category and won a MICHELE watch. “For the past year I had been having a difficult time with my deadlifts. It was really all in my head, but today, doing such a heavy lift made my regular training seem easy. And once the deadlift felt easy, I started to love it again. Because who doesn’t love a thing they can do well?”
Knowing how much the moment meant to Suri, Starting Strength club members could not help but feel caught up. Every woman’s success belonged to her, but also to everyone who trained with her and encouraged her to that point.
WFC sponsors lifting events regularly, some for charity and others for points, but this was the first event that exclusively showcased the WFC Starting Strength participants.
Gila Rapp, 43, who has competed in the WFC Spring Classic, Fall Classic and other events, didn’t have her best day, but still came in second place and took home a clutch from the Elizabeth Sutton collection.
“I knew I wasn’t going to set a personal record going in. But I wanted to be a part of this inspiring event,” said Gila.
But she will face the bar on the platform on March 22 when WFC hosts another deadlifting event.
“Some women didn’t do as well as they could have. Some couldn’t even be here. But we are all in this together, training every week and supporting each other. That’s what the event was about.”