It was only five short months ago that Emma Rothlisberger, SJND ‘23, picked up weightlifting on the recommendation of a friend. With a predisposition for athletics and a natural strength, Emma quickly found gratification and delight in the sport. A video shows her lifting a sizable load over her head, her face all concentration, control, and poise.
“The satisfaction that you feel when you make a lift, especially if you missed it a few times, is so gratifying,” she said. “Every day I want to push for a new [personal reference ] and go up another kilo. It's good because I've always been really competitive, especially with myself.”
In the chaos of the pandemic and the shift to online learning, weightlifting has provided discipline and focus. Emma practices Olympic-style weightlifting, and, in the short time she has trained, now lifts half her body weight, with hopes to continue increasing that amount.
“I feel like I annoy people when I talk about it because I'm always thinking about it, all zoned out,” she said. “My dad will be like, ‘What are you thinking about?’ I'm thinking about my lifts. All the time before I go to sleep, I’ll think about it. When I wake up, that's what I think about during the day. It's crazy; it consumes my brain.”
Emma will go to the gym twice a week, and there are days, she said, when she is the only female in the room. Though weightlifting is often perceived as a male-dominated sport, she maintained that it’s all about perception.
“I'll admit, I thought it was a male activity, too,” Emma said. “But I think part of that is just from society, and that's what society perceives it as. There's this stereotype that women who weightlift are going to be bulky and they're going to look manly, which is not true at all.”
According to Emma, weightlifting requires a good deal of mental fortitude — but not just for the lifts. It is, sometimes, a battle for the mindset.
“I find myself thinking that I'm not going to succeed because I'm a girl in such a male-dominated place,” she said.
Despite the lack of those who look like her, Emma has not lacked community, finding support from her coach, who champions women in the sport, fellow lifters, and even her family, who came around after some doubts.
“Nobody really ego lifts,” she said. “Everybody is there for the same thing: To improve their technique, be stronger, and lift everybody else up. It's a really good community. Everybody's super encouraging. Even somebody who lifts 200 pounds is still helping me and cheering me on even though they can literally whip it like nothing.”
Perhaps the most valuable thing she has gained is a new sense of confidence and direction. Though she said that she had always had some inkling of what she’d do in college, weightlifting has provided more clarity.
“Last year, I was a different person,” Emma said. “The quarantine has definitely changed me and given me more time to reflect on myself. It's made me way stronger, physically and mentally. I think it's taught me a lot about myself, and how I can literally do anything. It's made me realize that literally, anything is possible for me.