This is the first of a 3-part, interview-style series on women in strength sports featuring three of our nations top female athletes: Whitney Darchuk-Parenteau (CrossFit Regionals Athlete), Lana Price-Wright (Powerlifter), and Rachel Siemens (Olympic Weightlifter). All three of these ladies have accomplished incredible feats in their sport, and in life, and each of them offers a unique perspective on the issues of body image and strength as they relate to women.
Whitney is said by some to have “the brightest smile in CrossFit” and although she is a fierce and intense competitor, you would never know it by her kind demeanor in conversation. Lana offers a unique perspective on body image and strength issues, as she discovered powerlifting along her journey toward weight loss in which she has lost over 70 lbs; she is now training to be a life coach and inspires others daily with her brilliant personality and experience. Rachel is a young entrepreneur who trained as a circus contortionist before discovering weighlifting; she challenges women and men to be better through her words (in person and in a spirited blog) and actions (as a coach, athlete, and (extra)ordinary human being). Feel Whitney’s optimism, Lana’s pride, and Rachel’s candor in the responses that follow.
Q: Can you please explain some of your greatest accomplishments?
Whitney: Going from just being your average person in these sports and looking up to those who were competitive to now competing at that level myself! (Whitney placed 8th in the CrossFit West Regional this year, and attended weightlifting nationals in Mississauga, Ontario.)
Lana: My first greatest accomplishment was being brave enough to start. It took two years for me to join a CrossFit gym then powerlifting followed shortly after.
My Greatest accomplishment in powerlifting so far was hitting a national qualifying total for the open 84+kg this past February and getting the opportunity to compete amongst the best athletes in Canada in Newfoundland.
Rachel: I competed at CrossFit Games for Team Taranis in 2011 where we took 3rd place and in 2012 where we finished in 36th place. I received a bronze medal at Canadian Weightlifting Championships in 2012, 2013, and 2014, and placed 4th in 2015. I am the owner of Siemens Weightlifting and Head Coach of Vic City Weightlifting. I have my Bachelors of Science (with Honours) in Kinesiology.
Q: How has your involvement in your sport affected your perception of yourself and others’ perceptions of you?
Whitney: To be truthfully honest, I now am not one bit concerned about how I look. What I mean is that the sport of CrossFit has driven me to a point where I gauge myself not by how I look, but how I perform and feel. I am 100% focused on performance results, and my body is going to develop however it needs as I work toward those goals. My priority is to get stronger, faster, and fitter. Nothings more exciting then hitting that big number on a lift, running a new 1-mile PR, and killing your old benchmark score.
Those who understand what I do, and even those who do not really get it, have a good perception of me (judging from messages and comments I get from people). It is beyond humbling! To be able to know you are inspiring others along your journey is special.
Lana: Since I started powerlifting my confidence has changed drastically. I had never participated in a sport that made me feel so comfortable in my own skin. I found something I am good at…the people I surround myself with saw this in me before I did, they’ve noticed I’m more confident; I am more comfortable and happy – I am on the outside who I always was on the inside but was afraid to show.
However, people who don’t know me still have perceptions of who I am. And I struggle with this daily. They don’t see the work I put in at the gym, or how I count my macros everyday and they will judge me based on how I look. It’s a big struggle but daily my mental game is getting better, and I’m almost at the point where I am able to brush off the rude comments or the suggestions of weight loss. Because I know I am mentally, and probably physically, stronger than them.
Rachel: I’ve realized I’m more of a feminist than I thought! And that I am capable of more than I thought in sport. I grew up focusing more on the arts than on sport. Perceiving myself as an athlete has been a challenging task; I still see my self as more of a performer and artist (Rachel used to train as a contortionist in the circus).
To be honest, I don’t exactly know how people perceive me. I’ve never asked.
As a coach and as an athlete, people have started to see me as a role model. I find this shocking because most of the time I feel like I’m floundering along blindly. Obviously I strive to have a positive impact on the community and I care about my athletes, but in the end I am just being my self and people are going to perceive that in various ways.
Q: What is your opinion on the statement, “strong is the new skinny”?
Whitney: I am not the person to judge anyone on whether they are strong or skinny. I just strongly believe as long as someone is making healthy choices they can look however they like. I think it is important for females to be comfortable in there own bodies, but also feel they should be making healthy choices. I do believe strong is beautiful, and it makes me smile to see females now starting to realize this and wanting to be more of this type, and not be concerned about looking like your typical runway model. In my sports strong is the runway model!
Lana: I think it’s a powerful statement to help empower women and change their belief that they should be skinny and fit a certain mould; on the other hand, it cuts down people’s goals if they want to be skinny over strong. We need to lift each other up instead of saying one is better than the other. What if they were both equal and we were just as accepting of other peoples goals even if they are 100% different than our own? However, we have to realize that ‘strong’ has many definitions, whether it be CrossFit, powerlifting, strongwoman, running, Zumba, bodybuilding, water aerobics, etc. – I’m all about finding your passion; if you love running, do it! It’s definitely not for me but it still makes you strong. If you love water aerobics, crush it! Being in the water is also my jam! And that makes you strong! I think we could be more accepting of all fitness and sport. Some people think because they don’t lift weight they aren’t strong. Which is 100% not true. Even if your goal is to be skinny, so what if you don’t want defined muscles, or ripped abs that’s not for everyone, you are still strong for making the decision to set a goal for yourself and push until you hit it.
Rachel: I strongly dislike it.
First, it is replacing one body image (‘skinny’ runway model) with another (‘strong’ 6-pack and bicep veins) that is equally as unattainable.
Sport, especially weightlifting, has nothing to do with how you look. Yes, we can argue that most human motivation boils down to sex, but idolizing an impossible body image leads to nothing but trouble.
Weightlifting is about lifting weights. Being strong is about being strong, physically and psychologically. What you look like has nothing to do with these things. A strong mind and a strong body don’t care how you look.
‘Strong is the new skinny’ is a crutch for people who may have some underlying negativity. A crutch is fine, but it means there’s some healing to be done.
Q: What advice would you give to a woman (young or old) struggling with body image?
Whitney: I think body image has very little to do with how we actually look; it’s how we think and feel about how we look. You need to change the way you think, and worry more about how you feel. Be proud of what your body can do and smile about it!
Lana: Keep moving forward. Try, try, and try again. Even if your diets and workouts fail, keep trying new things until you find your passion – something you love doing and that makes you feel good. Talk to people who are on the same journey as you. Most importantly, surround yourself with people who believe and encourage you. I’ve tried every diet, cardio, regular gym, Zumba, and swimming before I found something that worked for me. But please if you remember anything: never give up on yourself. It is in you.
Rachel: If you don’t like something, change it.
Not only do I mean hit the weights, but you have to change the way you think as well. Start to pay attention to how you talk to yourself. Most of the things we think about ourselves would destroy another person if we said it to them – so why do we do it to ourselves?
Last summer I was shopping for sports bra’s at Lululemon. The mirrors in those change rooms are overwhelming! Everything I tried on made me think, ‘You look fat in this. You’re gross. This doesn’t make you look skinny so you can’t buy it’… Then I paused and listened to myself. This was a life-changing moment for me. From then on, I just started listening to my own self-talk. I didn’t try to change it, I just became aware. Step by step I modified what I said. I think today, a year later, I might be able to walk into a Lululemon and buy any sports bra and rock it inside my head.
I’d also like to add in here that yes, this is an issue that MANY women deal with, but men have body image issues too. Men need to make the same changes women do. They have their own set of unrealistic ideologies to try and live up to, and its just as unfair.
Q: What do you want the future of your sport to look like?
Whitney: I would like to see things continue to grow as they are, and continue to change lives. I hope that more and more of those who have never walked through the doors of a facility that provides these sports and services do so before they give an opinion on how they feel about it. The CrossFit community is something special and I hope more and more people will take the chance in experiencing this. The staff of these places are special and want nothing more than to help people become the best version of themselves.
Lana: Aside from it being a sport with financial backing so the top end athletes don’t have to front the bill to compete in something they love, I would love for all strength sports to continue to grow, but keep the close-knit community and camaraderie which really makes the sport so welcoming for new comers.
Rachel: I just want people to do their thing! If you’re a girl and you want to wear pink wrist wraps and a pink sparkly singlet – do it! If you want to rock a Kailie Humphries hairstyle – go for it!
I would love for women to achieve the same majestic status that men get when they win a medal. I would love to see a female coach on a Canadian weightlifting team.
Q: What advice would you give to a woman (young or old) interested in your sport?
Whitney: Contact a gym that offers the type of training you are looking for and get started. Why wait! Do something positive and healthy for yourself. CrossFit has a community like nothing else out there. I highly recommend giving it a go. Good chances are, you will never look back.
Lana: TRY! Don’t wait. Don’t say you have to lose weight first (That was me. It took two years for me to try CrossFit). Find a local club that can help you with technique so you don’t injure yourself. If there isn’t one in your area, try and do a drop in at a gym that has it so you can work with a coach (who specializes in powerlifting—not a regular personal trainer) so they can explain technique, and the rules of lifting if you want to compete. But I honestly think the most important part of finding a club is the community aspect you will get out of it.
Rachel: DO IT! I’ve never seen a girl start lifting weights who didn’t love it. Find a coach in your hometown and learn the skills, then get going!
Although these three women: Whitney, Lana, and Rachel have had completely different life experiences and compete in distinct sports, one thing pervades all of their words: passion! Find what drives you, and do it every day. When you spend time doing things you love (and that make you feel STRONG!) you will not be able to help but love the vessel that allows you to exercise your zeal. And even when the journey gets tough (as it inevitably will), remember Lana’s words: “Never give up on yourself. It is in you.”
Coming soon: two more blog posts including interview responses from powerlifters: Rhaea Stinn and Amy Smith, weightlifter: Taylor Findlay, CrossFitter: Alex Parker, strongwoman: Tracey Halladay, and strongwoman/powerlifter: Taunia Stevens.
Be sure to follow these inspirational women (and @idealisticisabel) on Instagram: @whitneydarchukparenteau, @pricewright, and @siemensweightlifting
Photo Credit (Left to Right): Whitney Darchuk-Parenteau – the CrossFit Games; Lana-Price-Wright – Harnek Singh Rai; Rachel Siemens – Rob Macklem
Written by Rachel Siemens: