It’s a warm start to what promises to be a steamy June day, but the barbell feels cool in my hands as I grasp the iron. The sun heats up the hot-pink cape draped over my back and glints off my silver-sequined hot pants, refracting beads of light on an audience of a couple hundred spectators and three judges sitting in front of me.
I ignore the bent sequins pinching my inner thighs, and the fact that the bar holds just over 241 pounds — not a lifetime personal best, but a weighty PR since a back injury four years earlier. I ignore the fact that the bar in my hands holds 60 pounds more than my attempt last year at this same event: Pull for Pride, a nationwide athletic fundraising series.
My mind is on my feet, ready to push the platform away, but my heart is on my wrists: Temporary tattoos spell out, in rainbow colors, “LOVE” and “TOGETHER.” I set my shoulders and take a bracing breath. Stand up, I tell myself, even as I’m unsure I can.
For decades, endurance athletes of all kinds have run, walked, swum, hiked, and danced for causes as varied as cancer research and parkland stewardship. The barrier to entry is low — pay the entry fee, rally your community to raise money for a cause you care about, and show up the day of to put one foot in front of the other.
It’s individuals literally moving forward in an effort to move their communities forward. A beautiful concept.
Pull for Pride was born in 2017, the brainchild of Shannon Kim Wagner, the New York City trainer who founded the Women’s Strength Coalition, a nonprofit dedicated to building stronger communities by increasing access to strength training. Wagner was inspired by powerlifting, a strength sport that challenges participants to take three attempts to lift their heaviest weights in the squat, bench, and deadlift.
Pull for Pride narrowed the focus to a single move: the deadlift, which involves the straightforward act of picking a weight up off the floor and setting it back down. Multiple events nationwide — all taking place in June, recognized as Pride Month across the United States — would benefit vulnerable LGBTQ youths, many of whom fall victim to homelessness.
This concept, too, was beautiful to me: Lift a heavy weight and lift up someone who needs a hand. Hold a heavy weight in your hands and rise in solidarity with young people carrying the weight of the world on their backs. Stand tall and proud — no sloppy postures in deadlifting! — with the people in your own backyard.
In 2017, participants in four cities — Brooklyn, N.Y.; Minneapolis; San Francisco; and Washington, D.C. — raised more than $30,000. In 2018, athletes in seven cities raised more than $120,000. Each venue’s donations go directly to a local group. The awareness-building around an often-ignored issue, however, defies city limits and manmade borders. Both years, I’ve been part of the team that helped organize and fundraise in Minneapolis.
I share this not to toot my own horn, and not to make a political statement. We each have causes we support and different talents we can use to support them. The world today is full of need, but thankfully it’s also full of opportunity.
Whether I’m moving my community forward in a 5K or lifting my neighbors up via Pull for Pride, I’ve been lucky in finding a handful of ways to be of service. Selfishly, I admit my service serves me, too, by connecting me to people near and far.
Love. Together. As I begin to stand up, sequins biting my haunches, my heart belongs to my community, to those who have gathered to cheer for me. I push my limits for myself as well as for those hidden from my view, whose stories go unheard by those of us who have had the privilege of always knowing there’s a roof over our heads, of being loved and accepted as we are by our families, friends, and neighbors.
I push my feet into the platform, rooting them down into the earth. I feel the weight in my hands, and about halfway up remember it’s the heaviest I’ve lifted in a long while. It feels hard, but not impossible, in part because I’m strong, but also because I’m not alone. Cheers erupt as I lock out at the top of my deadlift, a smile breaking over my face. I know I’ve got it — that we’ve got it.
Love, together. Strength for all.