22 Photos Of Incredible Women Power Lifters That Will Make You Want To Pick Up A Barbell

Photographed by Andrew Hetherington.
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.
Special thanks to CrossFit South Brooklyn.
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Photographed by Andrew Hetherington.
Mandy, 38

"I've been weightlifting since I was 12, and then started CrossFit as a way to train for roller derby. Now I'm a coach at CrossFit Wall Street, so I get paid to work out and help other people get in shape, which is super-awesome.

"Being able to do more than you think you might be able to do is empowering. You set a goal, you work towards it, and eventually you meet it — then you set a higher goal. That bar is always being raised, and you're never done. Maybe at some point it'll just be impossible, given my size, to lift an amount of weight, but I'm not going to stop until I get to that point."
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Photographed by Andrew Hetherington.
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Photographed by Andrew Hetherington.
Katie, 34

"I had a heart condition and I realized I needed to try to be as strong and invincible as I could be. When you carry emotional burdens, you feel like you're strong, but you don't know how strong you are until you see physical manifestations.

"Sometimes you feel like: What more am I going to have to go through? How much stronger do I have to prove I can be? When you think you can't possibly take on more, you go to the gym and you lift even more.

"There's a community aspect to powerlifting, where everyone gets behind one other and screams for you to do well. Where else can you do that in your life, have people you don't know cheer for you to do well?"
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Photographed by Andrew Hetherington.
Danielle, 26

"Seeing progress, seeing the numbers go up, and feeling stronger is amazing. You doubt how much you can do until you test it, and it always surpasses what you think it can do.

"I do musical theater, so my appearance is important. My dad is always worried about me looking too buff or something. You don't see huge muscles on these girls, and they're still so strong.

"When you perform on stage, you rehearse, and you know you're with other people, so you know it's going to happen — but I had never done something like this. It's quite vulnerable here, because it's all you."
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Photographed by Andrew Hetherington.
Bethany, 39

"My kids know I'm a powerlifter, and they like to watch videos of me lifting weights. I have cute pictures of them in matching sweaters cheering me on at last year's competition. I'm getting older, but I'm also getting stronger, which is an incredible feeling.

"I find it empowering to work consistently on something all year round, then reap the rewards on one day. You have to be very patient; powerlifting is not a sport for impatient people, because it can take a long time to see progress — but I like that."
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Photographed by Andrew Hetherington.
7 of 22
Photographed by Andrew Hetherington.
Rebecca, 30

"My sister drank the CrossFit Kool Aid and nagged me for a year to try it, but I was like, No, it's stupid. Day one I was obsessed. The people were all really cool, so I stuck with it.

"I was a gymnast growing up, and then played rugby for seven years. Gymnastics competitions are scary, but nothing about this is scary. You still get nervous, but you're not going to break your neck.

"Guys in my office are into weight lifting, and they decided to have a competition. I'm going to school all the guys, and they'll be very surprised."
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Photographed by Andrew Hetherington.
9 of 22
Photographed by Andrew Hetherington.
Linda, 71

"I started lifting because I wanted to support my daughter in what she loves doing, then I found out it helped me physically. I've never been a complete couch potato.

"The sense of accomplishment that I can do it and, so far, remain injury-free is a big deal. You're going to build up your bone capacity and your flexibility — which, at my age, that's it! A lot of my contemporaries have trouble walking up the hill, and that's not good. My friends think I'm crazy and ask how I don't get hurt. Dumb luck, probably.

"I hope women in general realize they are strong in their own right, and hopefully gives them the ability to be strong in other ways. Because we need it now... desperately!"
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Photographed by Andrew Hetherington.
Allie, 30

"My total definition of what it means to be a strong woman has changed in all aspects of my life since I started lifting. I used to think to be beautiful meant you had to be a slender, lean woman, and I came to this gym and met so many women of different shapes — and I, myself, became a different size, shape, and build.

"You're constantly thinking: I need to be strong and talented, but not too strong or too talented. Whatever you are here, whatever your capabilities are, is acceptable and you're congratulated. Your body isn't defined by any way it looks; you're celebrated by the accomplishments you make."
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Photographed by Andrew Hetherington.
Rachel, 27

"Weightlifting is just fun. There's a ton of stigma around women lifting heavy weights, so it's nice to be a part of an event that's really inclusive and hopefully helps dispel some misconceptions about what it means to be strong.

"People think lifting is dangerous. I think anything, a lot of things, are dangerous if you do them without caution and just throw yourself in. We're pretty careful here, and when I train with my coach, they watch every single lift to make sure you're doing it with good technique. It's safe, and really controlled."
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Photographed by Andrew Hetherington.
Bintou, 21

"You're always surprising yourself about how much you can push to go further. That's what life, in general, is like: You push yourself to see how far you can go to push the limit. Never in my wildest dreams did I ever think I could do this.

"I'm a math teaching assistant for Grace Outreach, and last year we were so nervous for the competition, but we knew it was for a good cause so we decided to participate. I'm still not there yet, but I know I'm going to be doing this for a very long time.

"Everybody's so encouraging, congratulating you and telling you that you can do better, even when you fail. There's a power you have when you know you can do something, you run with it."
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Photographed by Andrew Hetherington.
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Photographed by Andrew Hetherington.
Nathalie, 47

"I feel very strongly about women and education, and by any means necessary we need to get it. Communities of women feel the need to make ourselves smaller than we need to be, and we diminish our prowess.

"I've always been the tallest, or biggest somehow, usually never the stereotype. I've always broken stereotypes, even as a fitness instructor. We all need to embrace our diversity, our uniqueness, and create our own paths.

"I have my 70-year-old mother here going, 'Are you serious?' We need to, as women, understand how beautiful strength is."
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Photographed by Andrew Hetherington.
Andrea, 30

"I had breast reduction surgery because I decided I was going to be my best self. After recovery, I started lifting with a trainer.

"I move better. My mood is better. I have more confidence. I suffer from anxiety and depression, and powerlifting has absolutely saved me this year as I've been in those hard places. I go and lift, and it's something I can do well for me. I've been constantly making growth, which helps me through those patches where I'm low."
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Photographed by Andrew Hetherington.
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Photographed by Andrew Hetherington.
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Photographed by Andrew Hetherington.
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Photographed by Andrew Hetherington.
Morit, 30

"Everyone always told me I should try powerlifting, but I didn't want to wear one of those onesie singlets in public. I found out you don't have to!

"As a trainer, I make sure my clients are all strong to fight the good fight — we have to be strong mentally and physically right now.

"Finding powerlifting has changed the shape of my body, it made me more curvy, but I haven't lost a single pound and who cares? This has nothing to do with what you look like or what you weigh, it has to do with what you're willing to push yourself to."
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Photographed by Andrew Hetherington.
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Photographed by Andrew Hetherington.
Jennie Kixmiller, 61

"I'm a massage therapist and I had a lot of clients come in with CrossFit injuries, so I decided to check it out for myself. I was like, Oh, I like this!

"Lifting makes you feel less vulnerable in the world. As females, we internalize sexism, which can make us feel little and vulnerable. You realize you're strong, and you don't have to believe the things you've grown up to be.

"I can be distracted easily, so I was worried that I was going to be more interested in the crowd, but I was able to focus, which is a big success for me."
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Photographed by Andrew Hetherington.

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