Pittsburgh native Brandi Darby made history at USA Weightlifting’s American Open Series 2 in Valley Forge, PA. At 36-years-old, she became the first legally blind lifter in recent history to win any medal at a national level weightlifting competition, earning a silver and two bronze medals in the women’s over 35 category. Darby competed in the 90kg weight class. Her best lifts were a 65kg Snatch and a 70kg Clean and Jerk, bringing her total to 135kg (third place).
Despite this accomplishment, Brandi says she’s never aspired to win medals in the sport, but rather be an example to others who may be hesitant to try weightlifting because of a disability.
“There are a lot of us who don’t have the confidence to try this or any sport because the challenges seem bigger than the possibilities,” Darby told USA Weightlifting.
Like many of today’s weightlifting stars, Darby found the Olympic lifts through CrossFit. “We had a love hate relationship,” she said of the CrossFit classes she took while in college. “One day I came in and saw an 800m run on the board and died a little inside.” With a disdain for running, she signed up for the Olympic lifting classes instead. “It was love at first lift,” Darby said. “They sat down between lifts and the volume increased with every set. It was like the Disney World of fitness.”
With a newfound love of weightlifting, Darby says her first challenge was to find a coach that didn’t feel burdened by her disability. “My vision will never change, but I do have control over how I’ll be treated,” she said.
Darby eventually began training with Coach Tom Duer at the Pittsburgh Fitness Project Barbell, a USAW member club. “Now that I’m with a coach who isn’t deterred by my vision, I worry more about environmental things. Will I be able to see the judges and their cues? Will the lights on stage be in my eyes and distract me? What stair, cords or apparatuses might I trip over because of my lack of depth perception?”
Despite her apprehension, Darby began competing at local weightlifting competitions in February of 2018, eventually qualifying for her first national competition, the American Open Series 2, where she became the first blind weightlifter to medal at a USA Weightlifting sanctioned event.
“I want to thank USAW for cultivating a culture of inclusion for people with disabilities like mine,” she said. I’ve tried a lot of sports in my life, this is the only one I didn’t quit for lack of support.”
Art Ehman was the last blind lifter to achieve similar success, placing at Junior National Championships in the open division in the 1950's.
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