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Catching Up With Cheryl Haworth, The Last American To Win An Olympic Medal In Weightlifting

By Brandon Penny | Nov. 24, 2015, 4:03 a.m. (ET)

Cheryl Haworth lifts during the womens +75 kg. class at the Sydney Convention and Exhibition Centre at Darling Harbour during the Sydney 2000 Olympic Games on Sept. 22, 2000 in Sydney.

HOUSTON – Cheryl Haworth does not consider herself a pioneer of women’s weightlifting, though most everyone else does.

Haworth was one of four Americans to compete in women’s weightlifting’s Olympic debut in 2000, and she was one of two to medal, earning bronze in the +75 kg. class at 17 years old in Sydney.

Before retiring in 2010, Haworth’s list of accomplishments included a bronze medal at the 2005 world championships, three Olympic appearances, a Pan American Games gold medal, three junior world titles and 11 national titles (the most by any U.S. woman). She is the last American, male or female, to medal at the Olympics and the last to medal at the world championships.

For those reasons and more, Haworth was inducted into the USA Weightlifting Hall of Fame Monday night at the IWF World Weightlifting Championships in Houston. Click here to watch the live stream of the world championships.

After her induction, the 32-year-old spoke to TeamUSA.org about her proudest moments, the state of U.S. weightlifting today and why she’s not ruling out a comeback.

What does it mean to be inducted into the USA Weightlifting Hall of Fame?

If you would have asked me last week what it meant to be inducted in the USA Weightlifting Hall of Fame, I think my answer would have been a little bit different than it is today, being at this competition with such an amazing and pioneering group of women and all of the established male weightlifters and coaches who supported them and decided collectively that women belong in this sport.

Karyn Marshall (the first U.S. women’s world champion), for example, I met her for the first time this weekend. Robin Byrd-Goad (the only athlete to compete in women’s worlds debut in 1987 and Olympic debut in 2000) is going to receive her honor this weekend. I’m terribly sad I’m going to miss it. Ursula Papandrea, one of the top female coaches that we have and also one of the true pioneers of this sport. Tara Nott Cunningham, for crying out loud, to be the first Olympic champion that females are ever going to have, that’s awe-inspiring.

I competed in the first Olympics women were allowed to compete in, but that would not have happened without the support and the drive of these other ladies.

What was it like competing in the first Olympics for women’s weightlifting?

It was absolutely incredible and I really relish the opportunity to promote the sport in the years leading up to that competition. For me, it felt like one of the first times that people realized, “Hey, women lift weights? What is that about?” Being on “The Tonight Show with Jay Leno” and the crazy media circuit that Cara Slaughter, Tara Nott Cunningham led leading up to it, it did women’s weightlifting a huge service and let the world at large know that it was a possibility, and I think that was the most fun part of it.

And, the Olympics – what can you say about the Olympics? The Opening Ceremony and being fortunate enough to get a medal – if I really sit and think about how incredible that moment in time was, it’s overwhelming.

What is your most memorable moment of your career?

Not necessarily a moment, but the favorite thing about my career is that I got to share the moments that I had with my family. The Olympics are my top moments as far as highlights go, but to be able to step off the platform – no matter how well or how poorly I competed – and have a good time in an awesome locale with my family and have their support no matter what, that was priceless.

I was so glad my family had an excuse, and I was the excuse, to just have a great time together and share special times of going to other competitions and giving them a reason to be proud. Those several moments are my favorite moments.

What is the biggest regret of your career?

I have a lot of regrets, for sure. I feel like there are moments where I could have worked harder and I think being a super competitive, driven athlete, it’s always going to feel that way. Physically, I would have taken better care of myself in regard to doing different supplemental training. I had a lot of injuries that really held me back.

For example, leading into Beijing, if I would have done 10 kilos less than my best, I would have gotten the silver medal at the Olympics and we would have had a different conversation right now. It was an injury that caused me to lose two solid years of training in that quadrennium. Taking better care of every joint in my body to sustain that longevity would have benefitted me.

As a weightlifter, I never lifted to my potential. It never got to a point where it was too heavy or where I just trained four years to get this one kilo. It was always something physical that limited me. That’s my biggest regret.

What has the sport of weightlifting given you?

The sport of weightlifting has given me a life. I literally have no idea what I would have done. Granted I was 13 years old when I started, but weightlifting has given me a purpose, it’s given me perspective. I’ve traveled to more than 17 countries, places that are very different from the United States of America. It’s given me wonderful perspective on life. I know what real pressure feels like. Having to lift a weight in order for one of my female teammates to make an Olympic team and getting stressed out about it and having to rise to the occasion and do it, and then going to college and having to finish a paper and seeing the pressure of that isn’t a big deal anymore.

It’s given me everything I have, and I have a lot to be thankful for. It’s also going to provide for my future. Competitions like this, reunions like this, seeing old coaches and teammates and friends makes me realize I need to be involved in the sport more.

Your American records still stand from 2003 (snatch) and 2005 (clean and jerk, total). When will they be broken?

You know, everyone says they want their records to be broken, and that’s true. I absolutely want our super heavyweight women to get on the stage and shatter records. But the other part of me wants to get back into shape really fast and break them right after they do (laughs). My best clean and jerk is 161; somebody clean and jerks 162, that’s awesome, but I’m going to get in the gym and work out and see if I can do 163.

Maybe I can hold the record for the longest record ever held, and then they can break it. That could satisfy me if I didn’t make a weightlifting comeback.

What will it take for the U.S. to return to the world championship and Olympic podiums?

I think more than any time in my experience, USA Weightlifting is asking themselves that question and getting input from a lot of different people and athletes and pockets of the United States where the formula works and the sport has grown so tremendously. I’m really excited we have the bodies. The more people that are interested in weightlifting, statistically the better our chances are to train someone who’s going to be a champion.

I think we’re on the right track. The dialogue is beginning and we’re getting people who love weightlifting involved. Not only is the United States the greatest country in the world, we have incredibly strong and talented athletes and there’s no reason we cant be on the top of the podium.

What are you up to now?

I live in Hong Kong with my wife. We met working for my alma mater, Savannah College of Art and Design, where I was an admission representative. It’s one of the largest and most prestigious art and design universities in the world.

I decided to focus on weightlifting, she continued to work at SCAD, absolutely loves it, got a great promotion. She’s executive director of admission at the campus we have in Hong Kong. She asked me if moving there would be something I would be willing to do with her and I said absolutely, without hesitation at all, so I happily moved there six months ago.

I am a weightlifting coach at Coastal Fitness Hong Kong. This particular gym is full of expats. Hong Kong was a British colony since like ’97, so it’s British folks, Australian, French – you name it. It’s a fun place to hang out. With open arms, they welcome you there. Anybody that wants to work with me, we’re going to start a barbell club. I’m having a wonderful time. I could always use more weightlifters.

How possible is a competitive comeback?

It is very possible. I don’t know how probable it is, but it’s very possible. Does this event inspire me? Yes. If anything, it inspires me to grow a few muscles where I’ve lost some muscles. So, if anything. I’ll definitely be getting into some kind of shape. I forget how it feels to walk around and feel strong, and that’s not how I feel right now, not in the presence of these athletes. So some weightlifting will be had and we’ll just play it by ear.