A powerlifting competition doesn't immediately sound like the venue for female empowerment: Participants are stacked against one another to lift heavier barbells than the person before them. But to the women in the Iron Maidens Raw Open in Brooklyn, it's not just a place to lift a heavy thing and put it down, it's an opportunity to metaphorically lift up the women around them and their community.
The all-female powerlifting competition, now in its third year, brings together amateur lady lifters to test their strength in three classic lifts: bench press, squat, and deadlift. All the money raised goes toward a scholarship fund, through a Bronx-based non-profit called Grace Outreach, which helps pay for college tuition for low-income or undocumented students. "The cause really ties into the event because we're supporting female strength and perseverance in hard times, which is a whole different type of strength," says Danae McLeod, associate executive director at Grace Outreach. "Many of our students are undocumented, so it's a really dangerous time for them, and it's hard to get funding." This year they raised over $34,000.
The day-long event, held at CrossFit South Brooklyn, was full of cheering, grunting, and even a few tears. If there was a mold for what powerlifters are supposed to look like, these women broke it. And luckily, photographer Andrew Hetherington was there to snap badass pictures of them, and we managed to speak to a few.
Here, you'll hear what it means to be strong and lift weights, according to a 71-year-old soon-to-be grandmother, a 26-year-old musical theater actor, and a 30-year-old English teacher — just to name a few.