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The Scarlet & Black

Emma Olson talks lifting, power and empowerment

Emma Olson started weightlifting in high school, she cites the activity as transformative to her respect for her body and peace of mind. Photo by Reina Shahi.

A typical day at the Bear Athletic Center for Emma Olson ’19 is taking on five reps of 225 pound squats. Through her commitment to weightlifting, Olson developed a broader philosophy that involves harnessing the power her body holds while also battling back against any claims that weightlifting cannot be an activity for all people, regardless of gender.

During the winter of her senior year in high school, Olson and a few friends joined the winter weightlifting club which, while open to all students, was designed as an off-season activity for football players and coached by football coaches. The club built her foundational knowledge of weightlifting, including how to squat, bench press and power clean, which allowed her to continue to train on her own.

“It changed a lot about how I view my body, and how I treated myself, and I ended up just really falling in love with it for that,” said Olson. “It became more about really respecting my body and respecting what it could do, and looking beyond just like this is what you look like, but this is the body that carries you and your personality.”

This shift also extended to Olson’s relationship with nutrition. In particular, this means not putting pressure on herself to eat a particular diet as another means of respecting her body.

“If I truly respect [my body] the way I do, and I respect its power, then I should give it the fuel it needs,” Olson said. “Which means sometimes my body just really needs a cookie, and sometimes I really wanna go and get ice cream and that will make me feel so much better. … 90 percent of the time I’m eating pretty well, and that pressure drops off a lot when you put it that way.”

Currently, Olson can bench press 145 pounds for three repetitions, squat 225 pounds for five repetitions and hang clean 145 pounds. Olson trains between four and five days a week, but avoids keeping herself to a strict schedule or making training a chore. “Some days I don’t really wanna do anything, I just wanna run or I go bike for fifteen minutes and that’s it and I don’t do anymore, and other days I go in and I’m like, okay, I’m gonna crush these really heavy sets of weights and make sure I feel it because I’ve had a hard day and I need to do that for myself,” Olson said.

When it comes to the stigma of women with muscles being considered manly, Olson has the philosophy that “if you’re a woman, however you look is a womanly look, it doesn’t matter.”

She said, “My body is powerful, and it maybe is muscular, and it maybe looks one way or another, but it’s mine, and so therefore it’s as feminine as I want it to be, it’s as masculine as I want it to be.”

Olson weightlifts for herself, but she also finds some joy in proving anyone who doesn’t believe in her wrong.

“People…tell me women shouldn’t be doing this, you shouldn’t be training this hard, what if you get muscular what if you get big, what if you drop a bar on your head,” she said. “And to be able to go in there and do that, that satisfaction, that gets me going so hard, that motivates me so much, to be like, ‘fuck you guys, like, I’ll do it if I want and maybe I’ll fail and that’s fine too, but I’m gonna do it anyways.’”

As fit as Olson is, she is currently not a team athlete. Though her last dalliance into competitive sports was trap shooting in high school, she is the Grinnell women’s volleyball team manager, a paid position she has held for the last three years. Her job evolves to fit the needs of the coach and team. From running basic drills to assisting with non-recruiting paperwork, she has a hand in a lot of the team’s day-to-day.

“The team’s all my best friends, so I have that certain level of insight into their minds in terms of the team and also outside, so it’s pretty interesting,” she said.

Olson’s friend Nora Hill ’19, a member of the team, brought her into the world of Grinnell volleyball. The two became fast friends, and once Hill introduced Olson to the rest of the team, she made the decision to become the team’s manager.

Olson brings her weightlifting passion to the team as well by helping with lifts and communicating it’s okay to struggle with learning difficult lifting exercises.

While Olson is not currently competing within the field of weightlifting, it is something she has thought about pursuing after college, along with rock climbing, Strongman and CrossFit as a few other fitness venues. Down the line, she sees herself potentially turning to teaching or coaching “to give back to an activity that has given a lot to me.”

Emma Olson started weightlifting in high school, she cites the activity as transformative to her respect for her body and peace of mind. Photo by Reina Shahi.
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