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Women of Steel

Three powerlifters pull a world competition to Richmond.


Beasley, 47, defies all the stereotypes of women weightlifters. She weighs only 130 pounds. Whenever she and her friends Judy Wood and Jill Meads (who are twins, both 45) compete in powerlifting meets, they always change into dresses before accepting their awards.

These three women are bringing the Amateur Athletic Union's World Powerlifting Championship to Richmond Oct. 26 and 27. The event is estimated to draw more than 300 athletes and 2,000 spectators. And outfits aren't the only things the organizers plan to change.

Beasley, Wood and Mead are the first women ever to direct and organize a powerlifting world championship. They've sunk $25,000 and countless hours into the event, which they say will be the best-organized in powerlifting's 40 years.

"All men hate change. Let's be honest," says Beasley, with a laugh. The women introduced online registration and computer scoring to the event, as well as on-site physical therapists, lecturers and gift bags for athletes. "We've learned how to do a lot," Wood says. "And still keep our nails painted," Beasley adds.

All three were taught lifting by Mike Craven at Mike's Olympic Gym, a boxy building crammed with trophies tucked behind the Lee-Davis High School football fields in Mechanicsville.

Beasley started nine years ago, after a short stint as a bodybuilder. Wood and Mead began strength-training to lose weight, but grew curious about the sport when they saw Beasley practicing.

Powerlifting isn't bodybuilding, Beasley emphasizes, nor is it like Olympic lifting when athletes hoist weights high over their heads. Competition consists of three lifts: the squat, the bench and the deadlift, in which the lifter grabs a bar on the floor and tries to stand erect. Some, like Beasley, compete "raw," without special clothing; others, like the twins, compete wearing tight singlets for support. It takes three men at least 15 minutes to squeeze one of them into the outfit — it's not exactly designed for women, they explain.

More than 80 percent of powerlifters are men, but it's growing in popularity with women, Beasley says. People of all ages compete, from 5-year-old children to men in their 70s. And there's a camaraderie among competitors that's rare in other sports. Wood says when she sees rivals get off the platform, even if "they just beat the snot out of me, you give them a hug anyway."

Beasley volunteered for the position of state chairwoman because no one else would, and she and her friends grew tired of always having to compete out of state. Wood became vice-chairwoman; Mead, treasurer. They were overjoyed when the AAU accepted their bid for the world championship, although they admit it's been frustrating trying to find sponsors and publicity for a little-known sport. Beasley says she went to gyms begging for old equipment, and Wood's husband Steve built platforms for the meet.

More than just pulling off the event successfully, the goal is to gain legitimacy for women in powerlifting, they say. "There's always those few who don't want the women in their sport," Wood says. "Well, we're here to stay." S

The AAU World Powerlifting Championship will be held at Deep Run High School Oct. 26-27. For more information, or to volunteer, call 233-9570.

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