• Rory van Ulft is a weightlifting champ who can deadlift three times her body weight. 
  • Her parents said she started training to get better at gymnastics, and now wants to be an Olympian. 
  • Evidence suggests that done correctly, weightlifting is safe and beneficial even for young girls. 

In 2019, weightlifter Rory Van Ulft traveled from her home in Ottowa to compete in her first weightlifting national championship, less than a year after she started training.

After completing a 50 pound clean and jerk and a 38 pound snatch at competition, the 6-year-old athlete went to Disneyland — her parents had signed her up to compete in part because the theme park was nearby.

Two years later, Rory has won multiple youth Olympic weightlifting championships, and can lift more than many adults, able to clean and jerk more than 100 pounds (1.5 times her bodyweight). She’s also an exceptional powerlifter, deadlifting 200 pounds and squatting 160. 

But Rory and her family didn’t start out to set records. Her parents, Lindsay and Cavan, had never even watched weightlifting on TV before Rory got involved, they told Insider. She started the sport to complement gymnastics training.

It wasn’t until Rory attracted crowds of awestruck adults at the gym that Cavan checked her lifting numbers, and found she ranked among the top 10 in North America for her class.

When COVID-19 lockdowns hit Canada, the family had to move Rory’s training to their basement, which meant buying new weights to keep up with her growing strength.

“I didn’t think we’d need a lot of equipment because she’s small. But, she’d lift everything we had,” Cavan said. 

Sean Scally

Weightlifting builds confidence for all ages

Within weightlifting communities, Rory has been wholeheartedly supported, her parents said. But online, where videos of her occasionally go viral, the family has to fend off accusations that the sport is unsafe, though research suggests the contrary. 

“I took the first thousand comments about how I was a terrible mother a little personally,” Lindsay said. “But I look at my kid and how amazing, inspiring, and confident she is.”

Lindsay says Rory developed confidence and poise from weight training, beyond what other sports (including gymnastics) typically offer.

“What I want people to take away from this is how good strength sports are for your daughter.  I get the evidence every day, ” she said. 

During the Tokyo Olympics, Rory stayed up late to see the weightlifters. Watching a training partner compete on the international stage, the young athlete said wanted to do the same. Rory’s parents said they’re happy to support her Olympic ambitions. Until then, they’re taking things one lift at a time. 

“Rory can do weightlifting as long as she wants. If she wants to quit, she …….


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