Be Relentless in Your Pursuit of Yourself

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My name is Claire. I have been an athlete my entire life. I started lifting in high school to supplement my soccer and diving; and I kept lifting even after I stopped playing sports. I started competitively powerlifting about 9 months ago. Since then I have completed two meets with varying success. Regardless, I fell in love with the sport. Through a lot of time in athletics, I have been subjected to so many people’s opinions and biases and prejudices. Now I feel that I am finally at a point where I can do something about these ideas and make a stand in my community. Through my work I will reduce these prejudices for other women in sports.

People have asked me a lot of questions in my short time as a powerlifter. I remember one time at a dancing bar a young man approached me and asked, “I know you can probably beat me up, but would you like to dance?” Other people have asked me “Won’t you get too big?” or “aren’t you afraid you will be unattractive?” Friends and family have told me they worry about the perception that I am putting off. All these questions and concerns are mostly well intentioned, people are genuinely concerned about someone’s well-being (either mine or their own). The problem is these concerns are founded in all the wrong reasons and with underlying prejudices that are weaved into society. I could write a book on all the things people have said to me and where I think they come from. I don’t believe that these prejudices are going to go away for a long time and I believe that working to improve them will help, but we must be able to affect our own lives first. To be successful in what we are doing, we have to either overcome or ignore the prejudices that are presented to us. I have different tactics for different people I interact with to move past these biases.

For me it started when I realized that the things I love to do didn’t align with what other people thought were acceptable for a young woman to do. I questioned myself and second guessed my abilities and my worth because I didn’t fit the mold that other people wanted me to fit into. Through college I tried to fit into a lot of stereotypes that people thought I should fit into. This resulted in me being unhappy with the woman that I was. Growing up, my parents were big proponents of being an intentional human and critically evaluating the woman I wanted to be. It took a while, but one day, I finally sat down with myself and critically evaluated who I wanted to be.

Introspection is hard, it takes a lot of self-analysis. You must sit down and ask yourself what makes you happy.  When I am trying to introspect, I need the ability to be self-aware. I must remove myself from other people (this only affects me, it must be a personal decision). Once removed from people I can work through my thoughts and determine if they make me happy. If they do, great, I am going to continue doing actions that perpetuate happiness. If the happiness I give up is greater than the end goal, I probably won’t continue. For powerlifting I sat down and critically evaluated it from different perspectives. I looked at it before, during, and after a lifting session, I looked at the meets that I have competed in, I looked at the interactions I had with other powerlifters. All those interactions make me happy. I don’t want to be anywhere else when I am lifting (technically I want to be in my bed because powerlifting is hard, but I am actually happy), after a lift I am content with my hard work, happy with the time I spent improving myself.

Listening to who I want to be has been step one in overcoming other people’s opinions. If it makes me happy it doesn’t matter what other people think. Slowly but surely, I have learned to love me. I have stopped caring about how other people think of me, I have started to fully and completely accept who I am as a woman, as a scientist, as a friend, as an athlete. I am so multifaceted, and I love that about myself. I am not perfect, I love that too. Slowly I am realizing that I am more than ok with who I am, and I can confidently say that I am starting to like the woman that I am growing into. It’s not about growing into a woman so that I can fill someone else’s box, but about growing into the woman that I truly want to be. I have goals that I want to accomplish. I don't just want to float through life. I can proudly say that I have learned to accept me and doing so makes it easier for me to be ok with others not accepting me.

Being comfortable with myself was step one, now when strangers come up to me it’s easier to move past their prejudices. I just shrug and move on. My actions don’t hurt other people and so I don’t feel bad about continuing to do things that make me happy. I often think about peaches when I am interacting with those people: You could be the sweetest most delicious peach in the world and there will still be some of you who don’t like peaches. I can’t please all of you. The only person I need to please is me. This sport brings me joy and happiness. My actions have no bearing on your life and I will not change my life to please you.

With people I am close to its much more difficult to move past it. I am still working on this but overcoming their opinions have been the most difficult. When I started this journey, I realized that I had two options, one, I could cut those people out of my life and ignore them. I would lose a huge part of my life and some of the people who provided me with the biggest support systems for other aspects of my life. Two, I could keep doing what I loved and one day they might try to meet me halfway. I realistically don't talk to these people about powerlifting much. It hurts that some of the most important people in my life are not understanding of what I love, but I have chosen to be the bigger person. Their support shows in other ways and I look for the little victories. These people who are close to me and truly care for me have my best intentions in mind and I probably won’t ever change their mind no matter how much evidence-based science I show them that this is healthy for me. I must keep going and keep being successful and I will find their support showing in other ways. This only works with people who truly love you. If they truly love you, they will care another way.

Overall, I had to start with me. I had to overcome the prejudices with myself and accept myself before I could even start to overcome other people’s prejudices. I had to break down the box I had built for myself. Once I defined my own space that I wanted to live in I could finally start to conquer the biases others had set for me. I could move past it all.  

As we are all working through our own journeys, take care of the people around you. We are a collective of minorities and are working to continually break down the prejudices that society has set for us. We must keep raising our voice. Talk about prejudice, share your stories. Share how you overcome. We as a collective group of minority athletes need to help each other. Reach out to the people around you. We are all so connected by social media it’s easy to support each other. Do more than like a post. Message someone and tell them how much you love what they are doing. Find groups of people in the world you can positively impact. Join groups in your community. Inspire young people. Do what makes you happy!

Lastly, see the small victories and the little wins. Overcoming biases and prejudices in society doesn’t happen overnight. These wins look different for everyone because they are true expressions of who we are. I consider it a win when I wear clothes that make me happy. I consider it a win that I cook. I consider it a win that I compete in powerlifting competitions and I love it. I consider it a win that I am a woman who is fully aware of who she is that she needs no verification of her own self-worth. Self-worth is internal not external. The biggest win, over anything else: being myself and pushing myself to accept nothing less than what makes me happy and doing what is best for me. Through this I fully believe that I am widening the path for other women to follow. Many women already have existed in the strength space and excelled but I aim to get even more people involved. We are not done; our work will almost never be done because there will always be prejudice.  Your body is a tool, a temple, a message. Use it, take up space. Be relentless in your pursuit of yourself.




Maria Rodriguez