INTERVIEW: Local Weightlifter Grace Georg Talks Heavy Stuff

Too often in American culture, women are looked down on for not only their physical form but also for their perceived weakness. Yet there are women out there who can lift the equivalent of a piano from a squat position. Several of those lifters live in our home town of Corvallis, so we sat down to talk to one. 

TCA: Hi, I’m Sally Lehman and I’m with The Advocate. Recently, Willamette Week did an article about Christina Malone, a Portland area competitive powerlifter who can “squat” 455 pounds – the equivalent of an adult lion or a full size piano. So we got to thinking, I wonder if there’s anyone here in Corvallis that is a female powerlifter. And we found Grace Georg. Hi, Grace. Thank you for being here.  

Georg: Hi, of course, thank you for having me.  

TCA: So you’re a high school student. What year are you in?  

Georg: I’m a senior at Corvallis High School this year.  

TCA: Are there other high school power lifters or weightlifters that you interact with?  

Georg: So my gym specifically focuses on Olympic weightlifting, more so than powerlifting. And I do have a couple of high school age teammates.  

TCA: Is the goal to eventually go to the Olympics?  

Georg: For me personally, I feel like the Olympics might be a little out of reach. I would say that’s the ultimate goal. But for my more attainable goals, I’d really like to potentially win junior nationals and then maybe even move on to Junior Pan AMS.  

TCA: So how much can you lift?  

Georg: So, my best lift ever is a 320 pound back squat. Oh, my best lift in competition is an 85 kilogram clean and jerk at 81 kg of body weight, and I want to say that was about roughly 190 pounds.  

TCA: That is very, very impressive. So what made you choose weightlifting?  

Georg: I actually came to weightlifting from volleyball. I’d been playing for about six years, and I was at a point where I was really miserable playing volleyball. I didn’t feel like I had a community with my teammates and coaches, and I was really just in the weight room in high school one day – all of the freshman year gym classes require you to do 30 minutes in the weight room at the end of the day. And I was really enjoying it. I was finding a lot of fulfillment in lifting, and my mom went to look and see if there was anywhere where I could pursue that. And she came up on Iron Beaver Weightlifting. And at that point, neither her nor I really even knew what Olympic weightlifting was. If you’d asked me what a snatch or clean and jerk was, I would not have been able to tell you. But we met the coach. He had me just perform a few basic exercises to see if he wanted to try and train me in the sport, and he decided to take me on as an athlete. And I’m really glad he did, because I want to say it was a little over six months later, I qualified for my first U.S. nationals.  

TCA: Well, that’s great. Congratulations. What is a clean and jerk? 

Georg: So let’s see, how do I explain this short of getting up and demonstrating? So a clean and jerk is actually two separate lifts, but when we compete, we perform them as one. So a clean is taking the bar from the ground to your shoulders, catching it in a squat and standing up with it. And then once you’ve stood up with your clean from your shoulders, you go into the jerk, which is from shoulders to overhead position.  

TCA: Wow. And you can do that with that much weight. That is remarkable. So this differs from powerlifting?  

Georg: Yes. They’re actually different sports. [Powerlifters] compete in back squat, deadlift, and bench press, and we compete the name of the sport – Olympic weightlifting is derived from the two Olympic lifts, which is what we compete in. That said, I do a lot of power lifting as cross training, specifically back squats and deadlifts.  

TCA: So Christina Malone has had some negative comments and part of the article that originally spawned this interview were about those comments about her physicality. Have you encountered that as well?  

Georg: So before I start, I’d like to say that as a standard-sized person, it is not my place to speak on behalf of plus size athletes. That said, I have definitely struggled a lot with body image and body dysmorphia. And growing up, I had internalized a lot of fat phobia under the guise of health consciousness. Coming into weightlifting, honestly helped that a lot, but I definitely noticed that as I grew as an athlete, as a weightlifter. My body was changing in order to be able to meet these new goals that I was pushing towards, and a lot of the changes I was seeing were not ones that would fit with a traditional idea of a perfect body. As a weightlifter, my muscles are not incredibly toned or defined, and I have found that a lot of the time people tend to look at me and maybe not assume that I’m an athlete. Or not assume that I’m an elite athlete, especially because of the way I look, so I would not say that I have faced those struggles to the same extent that she has, but I completely understand where she’s coming from.  

TCA: So basically, it comes down to people being unaware of the difference between BMI and fat percentages.  

Georg: Yes, absolutely, because for me, I found, for example, I have really big arms. I have really big legs. I would not be able to do what I do without having really big arms and legs. But a lot of the time, I’m looked at as being overweight or being bigger than average, because by looking at me, you wouldn’t guess that that extra size is muscle until you saw me with two hundred pounds over my head, right? 

TCA: Yeah, which is something. And it’s hard to tell people that. It’s hard to say, hey, you know what, I could lift you over my head, so leave me alone. I have been told a little bit about bulking and cutting. What is that? 

Georg: So, as an Olympic weightlifter, we tend to mostly only bulk or cut in preparation for competitions. That’s not necessarily true. One hundred percent of the time my experience is if I am doing one or the other, it’s for a competition. I generally don’t like to put my body through those things unnecessarily, because a lot of the time cuts can be kind of intense.  

TCA: So what is cutting? 

Georg: Because Olympic weightlifting is a weight class sport, when we reach the national level or even the state level [and] when we sign up for competitions, we have to sign up as a specific body weight. And when it gets time to do that competition and we weigh in, if we don’t make that body weight that we signed up as, we don’t get to compete,  

TCA: It’s kind of what the people do in wrestling then, where you have to compete within a certain parameter of how much you weigh in order to do that.   

Georg: It’s very similar to wrestling. So I’ve been lucky in that I have been able to kind of move up and down between weight classes pretty freely, but I definitely have done cuts. I would say you can cut safely. I did it before my first ever youth nationals, I was signed up to lift as an 81 kilo, and I was at least five pounds over. I went the two weeks preceding the meet, really limiting my calorie intake and also making an effort to incorporate significantly more cardio into my workout regimen. And that, I would say, is a relatively healthy cut. I don’t believe that that was damaging in any way. But for weightlifters who are at an international level, who are part of Team USA, who are training for [world level events], will sometimes be forced to make cuts like water cuts, which I have done once – they’re really unpleasant. And a water cut is essentially just drinking as much water as humanly possible up until about a day before the meet, then completely restricting your water intake. So you pass all of the liquid in your body. And that along with sauna suits and treadmill suits, I would count those is as damaging  

TCA: Both mentally and physically. Sounds like it would be really hard. Okay, so you must be interested in other things. Do you have other hobbies, other interests?  

Georg: Yeah, I do. So outside of weightlifting, I’ve been into photography, and I do a lot of sort of mixed media arts. I’ve never been incredibly skilled in one traditional art form or another, so I like to kind of combine them. I also ride my bike; I have a very bike friendly family, my dad runs a local bike shop, so I ride my bike most places. And also, I am an activist. I’ve been the vice president of my school’s Sexuality and Gender Alliance since my freshman year of high school, and my goal is to get on a prelaw track in college and become a lawyer.  

TCA: That’s a great goal. I think that we need more people doing that for the right reasons. So where are you going to be going to school?   

Georg: I am enrolled in community college where I am going to take all of my 101’s, 110’s. Just get them out of the way for a much lower price tag and a much smaller teacher to class ratio. And then I’m going to transfer to UO.  

TCA: So five years from now, we can expect you to be at OU. And do they have weightlifting options for scholarships at the universities nearby?  

Georg: So actually, that has been a struggle for me personally. Weightlifting is not a scholarship sport for the most part [which is] surprising because it’s an Olympic sport. You would expect that to be incorporated into most college athletics. But it’s really not. There are about, I could be wrong, I didn’t fact check this, but I want to say they’re only about four or five scholarship schools in the country, four of which are in the Deep South. So UO does have a really good affiliated weightlifting team, but unfortunately it does not make me eligible for any scholarships.  

TCA: Would it be different if you were male?  

Georg: I don’t think so, it’s a matter of not having the sport at all.  

TCA: And do you want to eventually go to the Olympics? I mean, is that the dream? Should we be looking for you in four years?   

Georg: I wouldn’t get your hopes up. The people who are currently at an Olympic level in my weight class are lifting significantly heavier weights than I am. So I would say the Olympics are really not feasible for me right now. But I do think that I have more attainable options.  

TCA: Do you still play volleyball?  

Georg: I do not. I quit very shortly after transitioning to weightlifting. And I think it was the right decision for me, both mentally and physically, I mentioned being an activist and vice president of my school’s Sexuality and Gender Alliance? The entire time I played volleyball, it was a really toxic dynamic between me and the other players. There was a lot of homophobia there.  

TCA: I’m a parent myself, so I [would’ve] hoped that my children would be better than that. And some kids are. Some kids just aren’t. But it seems that you have a family and an environment that is supporting you through that as well.  

Georg: I do. I do. And I’m really lucky to have that. But weightlifting has been absolutely fantastic in that regard. And also in terms of body positivity. When I played volleyball, I. Really, I’d only play volleyball for six years, it’s not like I had ever trained my body to look a certain way, and yet just genetically, I didn’t look like other volleyball players ever. I walked into my very first weightlifting meet with my mom when I was just like a little baby weightlifter, and we walked in and all of the other women looked like me. And my mom looks at me and she whispers, “You found the clan of the big legged women.” And I loved that because that was like the first time that I really looked like the people that I was doing this with.  

TCA: It sounds like your mom is pretty amazing. That’s all the questions I have. Is there anything you want to add?  

Georg: I don’t think so. [Just that] weightlifting has just been incredibly positive for me all around.   

TCA: Thank you so much for your time, keep lifting, and I hope that you get to where you want with your goals.  

Georg: Thanks so much.  

By Sally K Lehman