Lifting to lighten


Natalie Veson, Guest Columnist

My Thursday mornings begin Wednesday night. I diligently scramble to finish my homework before 10 p.m. in order to survive my 5 a.m. alarm. I stuff my backpack with my notebooks and laptop and place it strategically on my desk chair to prepare for my speedy exit. The next morning, I have 10 minutes on the clock to brush my teeth, wash my face, get dressed, and hop in my car. Windows down, my mom and I blast some traditional Greek music (the best pump up music if you ask me) on our way to The Body Shop, our gym 30 minutes away. Sleepy eyed, I give my casual nods and fist bumps to the other usual morning people (it took months to catch on to the etiquette), and begin my lift.

For the rest of the day, I’m energized, focused, and motivated—even after the early wakeup. Thursdays are my favorite.

In my life, physical health and emotional well-being are contingent upon each other. Despite having a supportive community and family surrounding me and two very snuggly golden retrievers, lifting is what has eased the mental stresses of adolescence for me.

Stanford University, The Washington Post, and The New York Times, among others, have written on the positive effects of lifting weights on mental health. These articles support what I’ve come to know over the past two years. Weight lifting takes enormous self-discipline and accountability, which has translated into my academic success and personal happiness.

Yet, while discussing this topic with my family over dinner, I remembered an experience this past winter when lifting caused me tremendous stress. In the Northeast Kingdom of Vermont, I entered my first-ever nationally recognized weightlifting competition. Driving up north that morning at 7 a.m. was not a pump up music kind of car ride; it was a hoodie-up, headphones- in kind of car ride. The headphones served only as a “don’t talk to me” sign, with no music blasting through them. When we arrived at the gym, Stephanie (better known as “thathappylifter” on Instagram) checked me in at the desk with the sweetest smile you can find on a 305-pound muscle ball. She gave me a hug and showed me to the warm up benches where I met the rest of my family and coach.

From the three benches, person after person went up and warmed up for their lift. Too afraid to approach the bench, I put my headphones back in. I could feel the other competitors’ eyes on me and hear their thoughts: “what is she doing here?” I couldn’t stop my legs from shaking. When I finally got my chance to warm up, my lift was up in five minutes. When I heard my name, I ran over to my mom and told her I wanted to drop out and go home.

To my utter dismay, she made this information public to my coach and family. “Don’t be ridiculous,” my coach said, grabbing my shoulders. “We came all this way. You’ve got this.” I had no choice. I went to the stage and performed my lift. My eyes never left the floor. The crowd clapped, but it didn’t feel sincere. Leaving the stage, Stephanie and one of my competitors gave me the nod and fist bump.

By the time the competition concluded, and awards were given, I was the Massachusetts Raw Full Power Junior Women’s age 16-17 record holder. It’s a mouthful, but for my first time this was a pretty good outcome—except I had felt stressed, weak, and unhappy doing it.

I had fallen in love with the process—the training. I had developed a personal relationship with lifting, and I didn’t feel ready to share it on a stage. I had been using lifting to heal and cope with challenges. Lift was something I did for myself; competing felt like it was for the crowd, my family, and my coach.

However, the more I reflect on my experience competing, I realize how important that moment was for my personal growth. I pushed through. As much as I didn’t want to perform that lift, I did it. And I never have to again, but some part of me still wants to. The next week, with some proper rest, I resumed my Thursday mornings. I confronted my humanity, my fear of failure and embarrassment during my competition, but it didn’t stop me.

I’ll see where my Thursday mornings take me next.