Aigner Settles (left) and Sofia Barnett (right) powerlifting for their high school teams.
By Sofia Barnett
I didn’t understand the toxicity of high school sports until I had to lose 11 pounds in 36 hours for varsity powerlifting.
On weigh-in day, I rose before the sun. Having completely deprived myself of food the day before, I immediately sank back down as fireworks of red, blue, and green interrupted my blurred vision—my body’s way of warning me that I needed help. I put on five sweat- shirts and six pairs of sweatpants, hot-flashing already as I struggled to tie my sneakers. Still, I made it to my high school track just before the first wave of runners started their early morning jogs.
Twenty sprints, 100 meters, 16-second average. Ready, go.
My heavy exhalation lingered in clouds of vapor in the cold December air. I wasn’t sweating enough. The chill was preventing me from expelling every remaining drop of water my body had clung to. It became too much. I threw up on the side of the track just as the sun began to rise: a ceremony honoring the fact that my stomach had forced out the last of its contents.
For thousands of student athletes nationwide, the demands of weight-cut culture are a tragic reality. In order to compete, lifters and wrestlers must make a designated weight class, often by gaining or losing weight rapidly, forcing them to choose between their health and their athletic performance. With added pressures from coaches and teammates, it’s not an easy choice to make. At what point does an athlete say no?
As weight-cut culture continues to grow, the increasing number of athletes resorting to physical harm in order to make weight is not only normalized, but praised within the sports community. During my time as a powerlifter, I have heard locker-room horror stories of coaches buying students laxatives, glorifying eating disorders and unjustly punishing athletes who were unlucky enough to miss weight by even the slightest fraction of a pound.
As teenagers, we are highly susceptible to internalizing the beliefs we are exposed to, whether good or bad. Young athletes, told often of the virtues of rapid weight fluctuation, start to believe that the harm they are causing their bodies is just another inconvenience they have to overcome rather than a potentially life-threatening compulsion.
We are minors. This isn’t the Olympics, it’s high-school competition. The only thing at stake here is a cheap, bulk-produced aluminum medal that will eventually end up collecting dust in a grandmother’s moldy basement—well, that and our health. The detrimental impacts of weight-cut culture—immune system deterioration, development of unhealthy habits, and life-long trauma—far outweigh any momentary competitive advantage.
That boy spitting ounces of saliva into a jug on meet day deserves better. That girl sticking two fingers down her throat because she accidentally forgot she couldn’t have breakfast deserves better. My teammates, my competitors, and I deserve better.