Section: Features

Women at Kenyon find power in weightlifting at the KAC

After two months away from campus, the Kenyon Athletic Center (KAC) may feel distant. When imagining the facility — specifically the matted area of Patterson Fitness Center — one is likely to picture it filled with male athletes. However, there is another group longing for the weight racks: female students who work out independent of a sports team.

Angie Perkins ’21, Yiyi Ma ’20 and Elizabeth Iduma ’20 each began exercising seriously in high school.

For Ma, the decision to start lifting was a major lifestyle change. “I was always picked last on all of the team sports when I was young, and I was really sick of it,” she said. As she built up her physical strength and became more familiar with various workouts, she discovered a passion for weightlifting. Though initially quite skinny, “as I got more proficient with lifting, and as I started eating more, [I got] stronger,” Ma said. “I started looking forward to going to the gym a lot more, because it was cathartic.” She found that lifting gave her both a release and confidence boost that, as a teenager, were incredibly rewarding.

Perkins and Iduma both found working out alone to be a natural transition from their participation in sports. Iduma explained that when she stopped playing soccer, she found that she enjoyed exercising alone more than “working out with middle-aged women all the time.” Perkins used weightlifting to continue physically challenging herself when a severe concussion forced her to stop running track. Though she misses team sports, she says that being able to lift gives her a sense of control.

Perkins and Ma agree that lifting weights in the KAC was quite daunting when they first came to Kenyon. “It really, really stressed me out freshman year,” Perkins said. “I really didn’t like it. I would learn basically when all the teams had practices and then I would go the opposite time as that.”

Ma agreed that working out at Kenyon can be intimidating. “In general, I think gyms are a really unhealthy place mentally for a lot of people,” she said. “When I first started going to the gym, I was really insecure of myself.” To this day, she sometimes struggles with a competitive mentality when she is exercising in a shared space, explaining that it can be hard not to think about how much she is lifting in comparison to the person next to her.

Perkins also said that the Fitness Center can be stressful because of how exposed one feels. Aside from the desire to avoid certain people on campus, Perkins, who has gained a reputation for her rigorous and unorthodox workouts, is always taken aback when people approach her outside of the KAC. “People used to come and find me out reading and [say] ‘Hey, I’ve seen you in the KAC,’” she said. She added that she has often danced during workouts, something that has drawn particular comments.

Iduma does not mind the visibility she experiences in the Fitness Center. “I think a lot of people feel like when they’re getting stared at, they’re being judged, but I honestly have never met a single person who’s judging someone else in the weight room,” she said. “I always assume whenever someone looks at me in the weight room, it’s because they’re like, ‘Damn, that’s awesome,’ because that’s the only reason I ever stare at people in the weight room,” she explained.

Another element of Iduma and Perkins’ visibility may be their gender. “In the actual lifting area, it’s almost always guys,” Perkins said. “Early in the morning, there will be girls too, which always makes me really happy.” While working out publicly is empowering for Iduma, she noted that the lack of women in the weightlifting area might be a deterrent to newcomers. “There’s definitely a much smaller percentage of women in the actual weight area of the room and even less who are like big lifting, so it can be intimidating, especially when sports teams are there,” she said.

Ma encourages people who are considering weightlifting to try it despite the KAC’s daunting atmosphere. “Everyone that is big started out somewhere,” she said. “When I first started lifting, I couldn’t pick up any of the weights. I had to ask people to pick them up for me.”

Perkins added that she is always eager for friends to join her at the KAC during low-density hours so she can help them use the equipment properly and get comfortable with weight training. “I would love it if more people … actually felt confident lifting instead of just doing like elliptical stuff and then [saying they wished they could do more],” she said. “I feel like that [lack of confidence] is the biggest reason most people don’t do it.” 

Staying in shape right now is proving a challenge for students who relied on the KAC to lift weights. Iduma said she has turned to other forms of exercise. “I go back and forth on finding motivation to run because I do think that running is actually very bad for your body, and so I get a little paranoid,” she said. “[But if] I don’t run,  then I feel like trash because I literally don’t walk more than 10 feet in a day.”

Ma keeps up weight training using random items around the house. “I found a 20-pound weighted vest and some ankle weights, so I did 100 jump squats,” she said. She noted that even without equipment, there are ways to stay in shape. “I realized that if you do something enough, like you will get sore.”

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