Trailer (3:03)
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About the Film

Cheryl Haworth sits at a diner counter, with hand on fork, looking into the camera with an apprehensive expression.Olympian Cheryl Haworth stands in silhouette with large weights stretched overhead.Cheryl Haworth seated in her car at dusk looks at the camera with a serious expression.Cheryl Haworth wearing workout attire but with high heels, stands with one foot propped up on a red chair, looks at the camera with a serious expression.

Cheryl Haworth is an Olympic weightlifter who has competed in three Olympic Games, winning the bronze medal in Sydney in 2000. She held the title of National Champion for 11 consecutive years. Weighing close to 300 pounds, Cheryl uses her size to her competitive advantage in a sport that has traditionally been the province of men. Strong! is the story of Cheryl’s weightlifting career, the rigors of training for competition, and her personal experience of being big in a culture that values women who are small.

Cheryl entered the weightlifting world at age 13 after seeing women weightlifters at the gym. With her parents’ support, she began training and entering competitions. At 15, she was the American national champion, and at 17 she competed in the 2000 Olympics in Sydney, the first Games that included a women’s weightlifting event.

Cheryl says her large size is a plus, something that makes her sturdier and more stable, enabling her to lift weights in excess of 300 pounds. She is conscious of what she eats and follows a balanced diet, but her fast metabolism and the need to maintain her strength and build muscle require her to take in additional calories in the form of daily protein supplements.

She has always been strong, even as a child, and now her strength is a tool she puts to use in her chosen sport. Explaining the two competition events — the snatch and the clean and jerk — Cheryl notes that weightlifting is not just about heaving a weight over your head; it requires timing, flexibility, and knowing how to use inertia and gravity to make the weight move as if it is a part of your body.

As in most sports, injuries are a risk, and Cheryl has suffered several torn ligaments over her career. After sustaining a traumatic injury at the 2003 Junior World Championships, she experienced a loss of confidence and had to work hard to rebuild her mental, as well as her physical, ability to lift weights. In the four-year cycle leading up to the 2008 Olympics, Cheryl set a world record at the 2005 Pan American Games, lifting 161 kilos, or 352 pounds.

After graduating from college, she moves to the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs to train for the 2007 World Weightlifting Championships in Thailand. Despite struggling with new injuries, she scores well enough in Thailand to help the American team secure four slots for the Beijing Games.

Cheryl knows her career is nearing its end, and starts to think about life after weightlifting. She looks into joining the Coast Guard, but notes that she would have to lose a significant amount of weight to meet the requirements. She hadn’t focused on romance during her years of training, but now she wants to lose weight but be healthy, to wear nice clothes, to be whistled at once in a while. She sees a world that values people more if they’re smaller. She admits to feeling big, heavy and cumbersome, to feeling unhappy in her body — a body that’s good for weightlifting, but that doesn’t fit the social norm.

Strength itself is morphing for Cheryl — it’s not just about lifting heavy things or succeeding on the platform anymore: it’s about perseverance and grappling with disappointment and loss.

The Filmmaker

Filmmaker Julie Wyman

Julie Wyman is an award-winning filmmaker and a performer, writer, and professor. Her 2004 film, Buoyant, screened at MoMA New York, the Walker Arts Center, the La Jolla MoCA and at festivals internationally. Her full-length documentary, A Boy Named Sue (2000) aired on Showtime, MTV’s Logo TV, and screened at festivals internationally, winning the 2001 Sappho Award for Best Documentary and receiving a nomination for the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation’s Media Award for Best Documentary. Wyman’s writing has been published in the Journal of Aesthetics and Protest and an edited volume entitled Scholarly Acts. Wyman is also a member of the artist/activist collective BLW whose performance work has been featured at venues including the Institute for Contemporary Art, Philadelphia, Southern Exposure Gallery, San Francisco, Pilot Television, Chicago, and the Wadsworth Athenaeum, Hartford. Wyman holds an MFA from the University of California, San Diego. She is currently a Professor of Digital Filmmaking in the Cinema and Technocultural Studies Department at UC Davis.