The first time Jenny Lutkins stepped foot in a CrossFit class, she caught the weight-lifting bug. Specifically, she was intrigued by two of the lifts in the workout: the snatch and the clean and jerk. "I was like, I really like these [lifts], and then I found out it was a sport all by itself, so I got super excited about it," she says.
Someone told Lutkins about Olympic-style weightlifting, the sport that involves performing the lifts that are done in the Olympics, and she figured she would give it a shot. She found a certified coach to teach her the lifts, and signed up for a local competition just for kicks. "At my first meet, I qualified for Masters Nationals. I went to Masters Nationals and got the silver medal," she says. "Then I was hooked."
Growing up, Lutkins played soccer and basketball, but something about lifting weights alongside women of all shapes and backgrounds made her feel at home. "There’s little teeny women that weigh about 100 pounds that actually do Olympic weightlifting," she says. "So, it’s pretty exciting because every body type can do it."
To celebrate her accomplishments, Lutkins is featured in a public service announcement about women's equality in sports alongside other women athletes breaking barriers, called Watch Me, directed by Connor Carroll. Lutkins spoke to Refinery29 about body-diversity and equality in sports, and she shared her advice for how to start lifting on your own.
Interview has been edited for length and clarity.
It seems like people tend to have an image of what a weightlifter looks like, and in reality it's a very diverse sport in terms of body types. Do you think that’s a common misconception people have?
"It definitely helped that I found a sport that is so inclusive. They actually scale [the lifts] based on your size and weight classes. I find that comforting, because I can compete across the board with bigger women and smaller women, and we all are doing the same two lifts, and we all know how hard they are. It puts us all on the same playing field, and nobody in this community is like, Oh, there's this little girl, she's so tiny, she's prettier and better. It's just, Wow, look at all of us who can do this. So, it’s a really cool place to be. Even the men treat the women like we’re all weight lifters — we’re not necessarily skinny or fat. It helps me focus on what I can do with my body rather than how it looks."
It’s just me and the bar, and I don’t have to worry about anything else. It’s just for me, there's no other noise to it.
Do you think there's a double-standard when it comes to how men and women are treated within the sport?
"Men are still viewed as the main event. They’re always the last session, so the women will go first. The men have the 'finale,' so to speak. CrossFit is the same way. And it’s kind of like, Ugh why? And that goes along with sports-wide how women [are treated]. The female soccer team doesn’t get as much media attention as the male soccer team, and I think it's just pervasive throughout all of this. To me, it’s kind of boring watching a 300-pound man lift heavy weights, because of course he can! Let's watch the women lift super heavy weights, because that’s a little more rare and interesting to me. It’s tough, because it is obvious [that] people stick around to watch the guys' session. So, the perception of it is that [men are] the real thing, you know? Everything else is the fluff before the main event."
What's your favorite thing about Olympic weightlifting?
"While there’s competition with other people, it really is kind of ego-centric. It’s focused on me, and what I can do. You still might go, Oh she lifts more than I do, and that sort of thing. But when it comes down to walking up to the bar and lifting it, there’s nothing better than beating your old max or knowing that you did really well in a meet on your own. I competed in CrossFit as well, and [played] sports in high school, and it was just never the same as this is for me. It’s just me and the bar, and I don’t have to worry about anything else. It’s just for me, there's no other noise to it."
Even the men treat the women like we’re all weight lifters — we’re not necessarily skinny or fat. It helps me focus on what I can do with my body rather than how it looks.
Some people might feel like there's too high a barrier to entry for weightlifting, so they're intimidated and never try. What advice would you give them?
"I wish I would’ve found it when I was younger, and I think that people need to not be afraid. Everybody needs to lift some weight, whether you do weight-lifting or power lifting, or dumbbells. As a 15-year-old girl, when I was sitting on the bench in soccer and basketball, if I would’ve found weight lifting? Oh my gosh, I probably would’ve been to the Olympics! I'm always trying to look for those girls in particular, who want to play a sport, but maybe just they’re second-string on one of the other sports. Why don’t you try this, because you never know? We have little girls that compete in our weight-lifting club — I'm talking 10 and 11 years old — and they get out there, and they do it, and they can win medals. How cool is that?"
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