Petite powerlifter thrives on competition

Cheryl Anderson is just 5 feet tall and weighs 97 pounds, but she’s a powerlifting champion.

Anderson, 30, of St. Louis Park, near Minneapolis, lifted nearly 700 pounds combined to win her weight class in the women’s USA Powerlifting (USAPL) national championship in February, then went on to win the bronze medal – with a silver medal in the bench press – at the Women’s World Open Championships in Ylitornio, Finland, in May.

She talks about her life and sport:

Q: How does a 97-pound woman get into powerlifting?

A: It was a two-phase thing. Back in 1996, my husband was managing a gym…and told me that there was a local bench meet I should try. I thought it would be a fun experience (but) I had no clue what I was doing. I went up there wearing jeans, a T-shirt and gloves – which you don’t do in powerlifting. I took third place, lifting 95 pounds, weighing 91 pounds.

After taking some time off, phase two was looking at the actual sport and getting serious about all three lifts, not just the bench.

Cheryl Anderson attempts a power lift as Neal Anderson helps to spot her safety and progress. Anderson is 30 years old and weighs 97 pounds, and she has won some prestigious powerlifting medals.

Q: Medically, has anyone ever told you that a 97-pound woman should not be lifting 300-plus pounds?

A: I went to a chiropractor once. He didn’t know I was lifting over 300 pounds, and he told me to stop powerlifting. And, you know, there are some people who think you shouldn’t lift weights period – that it’s bad for you. But the chiropractor I see now said he definitely disagreed with that viewpoint. He said if you have a messed up back (weightlifting) can support that. The other guy said it would get worse, and went as far as to say that it could shorten your life.

On the comical side, my mom and dad’s initial reaction was “What are you doing?” Mom’s big thing was that I would break my back. But now they have an appreciation for all this. They’ve realized I won’t break my back.

Q: How long do you want to keep doing this?

Anderson helps her 7-year-old son, Glen, study for a spelling test. Glen, a first-grader, will travel with his parents to Finland to watch his mom compete against other world-class lifters.

A: As long as I can. At nationals, we met two women who … wow … one is 64, one is 51. I saw them lift and I just got chills up my spine. They didn’t let anything bother them. There they were up there, gray hair and smiling. I’d like to make this a lifelong sport. As long as I am able to do it, I’d like to be like them in every perspective. They know how to have fun.

Q: What is your son’s reaction to what you do?

A: He’s like, “Wow!” He wants to do this. He says stuff like, “Maybe I should do a meet this summer, Mommy. Can they allow that?” He’s deadlifted a few times. He seems inspired by it. He gets excited about it. And it’s amazing the understanding he has about it, too. He knows when I’m getting psyched up for a lift, he knows to just walk away. And I’ve never yelled at him or anything about it. He just knows to go and find something else to do. Sometimes I’ll tell him when I am about to try something I’ve never done before, and he’s like my little cheerleader.