Athlete’s Corner – Sharon Moss, Strongwoman

Meet Sharon. Our Summer Athlete’s Corner Feature!

@dont_eat_the_weights

Sharon Moss is an Ohio amateur strongwoman who has placed in national and international competitions. Weightlifting has been an intense personal journey for her.

Sharon Moss
Photography by Michele Burmaster.

Tell us about how you got into your sport.

Short answer: On a dare.

I was a big, strong, active kid– I grew up at the Jersey shore, spending my summers swimming in the ocean and my winters playing basketball. My first jobs out of college were all in nonprofits and community organizations— which for me meant a culture of long hours and putting everyone else first. Years passed, but it seemed like a blink before I couldn’t keep up with my friends. I couldn’t walk two city blocks without falling behind or having to stop.

Two friends who were in a similar spot invited me to go in on group personal training once a week with them. I started out in this little local gym, doing functional fitness/circuit training. Seeing my friends and the cheerful, supportive staff kept me coming back each week. Over a year, I started to outlift my friends and eye the free weights in the back of the gym. I picked up some extra sessions alone with the trainer to learn my way around the barbells.

Growing up I would always stop and watch World’s Strongest Man when I would flip by it on ESPN– who wouldn’t at least pause when they saw 400lb guys dragging planes around? I saw a flyer for a local strongman/women show– no planes, but a truck pull and things called logs and stones? Was I crazy? I got up the nerve to bring it up to my trainer– in a very shy, roundabout way. He told a bunch of the other staff- and every time I came in the gym, it was, “Hi, Sharon! So you’re doing this show, right?” I was hemming and hawing about it one time to the owner and she just looked at me and said, “I dare you.” My inner 8-year old took over and I was like, “Well, fine!” and I entered.

I showed up the day of the competition, looked around like a deer in headlights. Events were set up in this Main Street, USA setting– the center of a small Ohio town, out on the asphalt in the sun in July. Some other competitors saw the look on my face and took me under their wing— and got me through the day. These folks are still part of my training team, more than six years later. This was a small, local show, maybe 7 women and 20 men. I got to pull a pickup truck, I put a 120lb log over my head, I flipped a 300lb tire. I was sweaty, sticky, hungry, exhausted, and had never felt so powerful in my life. I was hooked. I haven’t looked back since.

How has your sport changed your life?

I have this core nugget of confidence— this inner place of competence about physical activity that no one can take from me. And it bleeds over into everything I do. If I am feeling out of my element, anxious, or afraid to try something new– whether it’s an aerial yoga class or asking my boss for a raise– I can close my eyes and return to that space, draw strength from where I feel powerful.

I cultivated the conviction that I belong in athletics of all kinds. I own that space now— I belong. The biggest thing I see in women new to strength training, especially plus-sized women, is we won’t know our own strength. We don’t know that we belong— we are built for this. Strip off all the pressure to be small, to shrink, to hold back to hold in. You can’t squat your heaviest if you’re sucking in your gut. You can’t put heavy weight overhead if you’re worried about your shirt coming up and your belly showing. You have to make the ugly faces and the weird noises— the effort has to be writ across your whole being. You have to break through all the layers, all the voices that have piled up over the years telling you to hold back, be small, be careful, you’ll hurt someone, the fear that someone is watching and judging. It takes time, and work. It’s not just a switch you flip. I bounce back from failure easier now. I get up and keep going, one foot after the other after a setback. I’ve burst into tears in the middle of a set. I’ve cried in the bathroom. I’ve yelled at my training partner. I’ve gotten frustrated, packed up, went and cried in my car in the parking lot, then turned my butt around and finished my workout.

How does participating in this sport make you feel about your body?

I feel like a secret superhero. I don’t know what other people see when they look at me— fat girl, fit girl, powerful girl— I can’t control what they see. I see the muscles just under the surface that pop through when I’m moving something heavy. The power, speed, and grace with which I can move my 300lb frame around amazes me, whether it’s hoisting a 200lb log over my head, kayaking, or running after my dog. I love what I see when I look at myself. I don’t try to hide anymore– I wear clothes, makeup, and hairstyles for personal expression, not to minimize. I love what this body can do— I want to keep pushing it, loving it, supporting it, playing with it. What can I do? What can I be? My answer to, “Hey, Sharon do you want to try…” is always “Yes!”.

Where do you think this sport is going for women?

When I started competing, there weren’t that many women competing locally. Our classes would get combined or we’d drive 2-3 hours just to have couple other women to compete with. In 2014, our sanctioning body, Strongman Corporation, added all the women’s classes to the Arnold Amateur Strongman/Strongwoman World Championships– there had been other big events and World Championships like World’s Strongest Woman, held around the world, but they weren’t consistent– this was a big step towards evening the playing field.

Photography by Strongman Rage Photography.

Since then, a women’s Professional Class has been introduced. The elite women are smashing world records left and right and the sky’s the limit right now. The open and novice classes are growing, too. This March I competed with 41 other women– in classes from novice, to teen, to open, to masters, in one of the largest all-women’s shows, Maidens of Might, in Morgantown, WV. I was both competitor and coach that day, and I am still riding the high from all the positive energy. The demand is here for more newbie and women focused competitions and trainings– teams and networks of women lifters are popping up everywhere. The tide is rising.

Who is your inspiration?

Olympic weightlifter Cheryl Haworth– she was the first woman who looked like me– had a body like me, that I saw moving weight powerfully. World Record holding (and I think most-winning strongwoman in the history of history) Kristin Rhodes is my favorite strongwoman. She’s been grinding away at this sport since 2006, winning national and world championships left and right, and still keeps getting stronger.

What do you want to say to women who may not yet have the confidence to follow their dreams?

It’s a process. There’s not a magic day where you wake up and, boom, the Confidence Fairy visited and all your problems are solved. But if you keep getting up, showing up, going at it, you’ll find this place that lives just beyond what you thought was possible and you will do more than you ever thought you could.

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