With beads of sweat and quivering strain, Cheryl Haworth (HAY-worth) hoists a 137.2-kilogram (302.5-pound) barbell from the floor to her shoulders. Locking her elbows and knees, she musters every ounce of strength and manages to thrust the bar over her head. A judge declares the press a clean lift–and Cheryl breaks another U.S. record.
Sound easy? It sure doesn’t look hard for the 16-year-old weightlifter from Savannah, Georgia. But then, Cheryl may be the strongest woman in the U.S.! This year, with rigorous training and muscle know-how, she’s hoping to nab a medal in the debut of women’s weightlifting at the 2000 Summer Olympics in Sydney, Australia.
Training hard and building muscles are the strongest forces behind Cheryl’s success. Though she’s trained for only four years, she’s become one of her sport’s elite thanks to a dedicated practice regimen. When not in competition, Cheryl trains five days a week after school. And when she gets to the gym, it’s time to put those muscles to use!
How does Cheryl do it? Hoisting heavy weights takes a whole lot of muscle contraction, or tightening. When Cheryl wants to lift a weight, her brain signals her muscle cells to contract. In the process, long proteins in her muscle cells move past one another, making cells denser, or more compact below left). The result: contracting muscles give her arm the energy it needs to pull the weight close to her body.
Over time, Cheryl’s muscles grow stronger because they get used to repeated stress of lifting every day. “You do lots of squats in addition to the Olympic lifts in order to get strong,” says Cheryl. “It takes a lot of focus and dedication–and a good coach.”
Cheryl is looking to build on her accomplishments at this year’s Olympic Games–the first ever to hold the weightlifting event for women. And as America’s best female weightlifter, Cheryl is aiming high. Though her goal right now is simply to grab a medal, being the first Olympic gold-winner in her event is one weight Cheryl would love to bear!
Year Weight lifted
1996 186 pounds
1997 253 pounds
1998 286 pounds
1999 308 pounds
2000 313 pounds
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