Editor’s Note: This is the first in a series of five features about female student-athletes and alums of Niles West highlighting their journeys as female athletes.
Women in the weight room? Or just a group of Fabletic-wearing teenagers, binging ab workouts and lingering around treadmills? While men are focused on piling plates onto the bar, women tend to stay away from the heavy-weight lifting. Or, stayed away? With weight training being advertised more than ever, women have stopped clinging to cardio, and have started to move into the racks.
Senior Kathy Marma is no exception to this trend. Marma began her athletic career in middle school, specifically in seventh grade. After spending time trying to find a sport that was a good fit for her, Marma finally found her passion — cheerleading. With every new skill, there was a harder skill to try, always keeping Marma challenged. Because of its difficulty, Marma decided to stick with the sport, leading her to continue her career throughout high school.
Often a completely overlooked activity, cheerleading has a lot more to it than what meets the eye. Being just as competitive as any registered sport at West, cheerleading begins their preparation in May. After a handful of brutal summer camps and practices, the cheerleaders begin football season… then basketball season… then competition season… and then it starts all over again. This year-round sport never stops.
Though Marma has always been involved in the sports world, it wasn’t until junior year that she realized she has a talent for more than just cheer. When it was time for max testing in gym, Marma shocked everyone, including herself. She squatted 245 lbs, which is almost double the average of a woman in her weight class. If this seems impressive to you, it will be comforting to know Marma increased her score to a 265 3-rep max squat this year. With almost no preparation for this accomplishment, it is very empowering. A cheerleader, squatting more than half of the football team? Now that’s impressive.
“The stereotype of being some ‘weak cheerleader’ doesn’t affect my performance whatsoever. I’m an athlete just like everyone else in the weight room. I come in and do what I need to do to better myself in my sport, that’s all,” Marma said.
Head strength coach Fernando Perez is a big part of Kathy’s success story. After noticing Marma being able to move heavy weights easily, he decided to approach her, giving her the challenge. After a few attempts, he witnessed Marma break the record, twice. Perez feels as if the main difference between men and women in the weight room is simply the fact that for women, technique comes first, whereas for men, technique comes second to physical strength. With Marma’s technique being spot on, Perez knew she was ready for the big league weight.
“The weight room is one of the few places where gender, religion, race, body weight, so on and so forth don’t matter. The only limitation is in your mind. The weights never care about race, religion, gender or athletic ability, which makes it a great equalizer. 45 lbs are 45 lbs to everyone. Once you have started a goal, stay with it. You will be surprised at what you can do, just like Kathy,” Perez said.
Teammate Adina Soica is inspired by Kathy’s hard work and dedication to not only the sport but everything she does. Soica feels as if girls get stereotyped in the weight room, especially cheerleaders. While she comments that many people view the squad as a bunch of girls just shaking their pom-poms, she also realizes that it is important to strive to erase stereotypes and that it starts with people like Marma.
“Kathy is a very dedicated person, and she always gives 110 percent in all that she does. I was extremely proud of Kathy when she broke the record, and many girls should be inspired by her. No one should ever tell themselves that they can’t do something because deep down, we all have the power and strength to do anything that we set our minds to,” Socia said.
It’s important to realize that it doesn’t require natural talent to excel in the area of sports, especially weight lifting. When looking at success stories similar to Marma’s, many overlook the fact that strength is a quality that is constantly worked on. It all starts with a positive mindset and having the will to work for what you want.
“Don’t feel discouraged in the weight room. Everyone is there for the same reason, and that is to improve. As far as body types go, I think the only way for someone to feel better about their body is to be in the weight room as much as possible. The stronger you are, the better you’ll feel,” Marma advises.
Contributions made to this story by George Panoutsos and Sammy Butera.