By: Renee Mathis

The strength community is small but vibrant, spanning a surprisingly wide cross-section of society. That’s part of what makes our community unique – it’s a rare example of meritocracy in a world that favors the favored. After all, one has to earn strength; it cannot be bought nor given. This simple fact tightly bonds those of us who have shared a common struggle under the bar. It’s easy to forget that, for those on the outside, what we do can seem strange, reckless, and even flippant. Thus novice trainees face a challenge beyond just learning the technique of lifting. They also face the challenge of forging their own path in health and fitness, often defying the beliefs and common wisdom of their doctors, friends, and local fitness community. Renee Mathis reflects on tackling this challenge during her linear progression.

“Nobody else does this.”

My thoughts on this Monday were not exactly leaning toward the positive. Who did I think I was to do something as crazy as lifting a barbell loaded with heavy weights? The usual voices started to pipe up: “You’re too fat, too old, too out of shape. This will be hot, difficult, and uncomfortable. Isn’t your back a little sore? You know you’re going to hurt yourself. After all… nobody else does this.”

I train twice a week at my neighborhood YMCA and once a week with SSC Andy Baker. I admit it: My name is Renee and I’m a social lifter. The worst part of training at the Y is that I don’t have anyone to talk to. Nobody says “Good job!” or, Andy’s favorite: “Smoked it!” At this Y, if you want a buddy to work out with, you need to join the Silver Sneakers. They seem to be having a great time and always end up in the lobby drinking coffee after their class. But as for me, the grandma who lifts? Nobody else does this.

So here I was, determined to tell the voices to take a hike. I may not be athletic but I AM an athlete. I have goals and I train. I may not be in great shape (yet) but I’m better than I used to be. My love for baking presents an ongoing battle, but I’m thinner than I used to be as well. That sore back? I’d love to tell that physical therapist who told me never to lift a barbell again that I “smoked” a deadlift of 280 lbs last week.

I was just about finished with my session when I spotted a familiar face, a man about my age who always has a smile on his face. We struck up a conversation. We shared a few training comments and then I told him I had registered for my first meet.

“Well then you’ve already got your trophy!” he replied.

“No, I don’t think you heard me correctly. It’s not until next month.”

“Oh no! If you’ve decided to put yourself out there and give it your best, then you’re a winner. After all, not everybody does this.”

He had a point there.


Renee Mathis lives and trains in Houston, TX where she teaches writing and literature. She and her husband love to travel and visit their 5 kids and 7 grandkids. She makes a mean chocolate chip cookie.


Renee also writes for the Circe Institute. You can read some of her articles here.


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