THE POWER WITHIN
by Kelsey Harper
Shaken by loss, Christina Rollins found a path out of anguish through powerlifting. The sport, and community she has found within, have helped empower a mindset grounded by a strong sense of self. As a visual and vocal advocate for diminished voices, Christina represents a movement.
“Powerlifting is a very unique sport,” she begins. “What I'm learning with the more people whom I make friends with is that the vast majority of us came to [powerlifting] either during a sense of loss or a significantly challenging period in our lives.”
“I think that's part of what it takes to commit to this work because it is such a challenging sport."
Built for challenge, Christina was at the lowest point in her life when the beauty, skill, and strength required to lift incredibly heavy weights paved the way for deep emotional recovery. After losing her mother and best friend in 2018, Christina had nowhere else to turn.
“For those of us who are going through something that is so emotionally heavy, there is something so incredibly therapeutic about the bar that it's hard to articulate in words,” she explains.
“When my mom passed, I was in a very, very sad and dark place. I would have to remind myself in the morning; take a deep breath, put one foot in front of the other because I didn't want to get out of bed.”
“When I felt like I couldn't breathe because my mother wasn't here anymore, and the world was moving around like nothing was happening and nothing made sense, I knew that I could go to the bar - I could go underneath the barbell. If I can squat all this weight and rack it, I could get up and go to work.”
Much more profound than a metaphor, the specific, physical, and technical aspects of powerlifting allowed Christina to apply a level of discipline and focus that became a vehicle for coping with the real world again.
“If I could deadlift and train myself to do this correctly; if I could work on form, if I could put my focus into something that was so physically taxing and so mentally engaging, for the two hours that I was in the gym, I wasn't crying," she shares. "I wasn't feeling this deep sense of loss."
“And for the better part of eight months, that is what got me through.”
“The days that I wasn't in the gym, I was finding ways to avoid my grief, to be quite honest – which isn't healthy, but it's what I needed to do to survive.”
“Some people are just quite healthy about it, and they work through it; I was not in that place.”
“I went to what felt right for me, which was fitness and powerlifting,” Christina continues. “And for the first six months, it was the coping mechanism that I needed. It allowed me to interact with people and be social and make new friends in a way that I don't know that I would have been able to do without this as a catalyst.”
As a lifelong athlete, Christina honors her mother, who was also active throughout her life, by wearing a gold necklace and 45-pound plate pendant that is custom engraved with the birthday that they share. Touching this symbol and thinking about her mother is part of Christina's pre-lift routine.
“It is in these little bits of almost moving mediation that I connect with my mother and connect to myself. I think that is part of what has helped me to heal.”
Losing her mother meant losing her family, so powerlifting saved Christina's life - it helped manifest and honed a long-standing mindset that was challenged but ultimately held true.
“I don't live my life in a victim mindset,” she explains. “I move in a way that experiences are meant to teach me something.”
“You will come out with so much growth in who you are as a person that you won't be thankful for it because that person was a huge influence and a huge changing force in your life, but this is part of the process of making you who you are. And that is beautiful.”
Either Christina was destined to find powerlifting, or powerlifting was destined to find her. The inherent challenges of the sport, both physical and cultural, connect in a way that creates positive friction which, in turn, produces positive energy well beyond the gym.
“I am strong. I can do hard things,” she asserts. “And I see a direct correlation between the difficult things in my life.”
“I will have difficult and challenging personal conversations with people who are close to me now, and I just take a deep breath and go, ‘Just say the things.’ The only thing I have to do is be honest and loving in the way that I deliver it.”
“I stick up for myself, and I call people on things in a way that isn't defamatory or accusing, but informative and lets them know I have this boundary, and others also have this boundary, so be very considerate and thoughtful with the things that are leaving your lips. And I think my life is better for that.”
There is a confidence in Christina’s presence that comes from authentically advocating for herself without guilt. Her compassion for others begins in the mirror.
“I feel like it all comes down to solidifying my sense of self.”
“You could say powerlifting empowered me, but really powerlifting was the catalyst for developing a strong sense of self and the ability to find the confidence and self-love that I needed to stand firm in who I am.”
Christina’s powerlifting journey began in the Pacific Northwest with Fear Her Fight Athletics (FHF), a community organization and lifestyle brand ‘igniting and reinforcing intersectional feminism in the strength space.’ Her connection to the sport rests on the refreshing community FHF founder Maria Cristal Rodriguez created. Since moving to Southern California, Christina has been able to find equally supportive friends and community; however, this is not the norm.
“Powerlifting overall, is a very white sport, very male. Not a lot of spaces for folks like me,” she explains. “There are not a lot of black female powerlifters; there just aren't. So, social media has allowed me to connect with a lot of the girls who are black women powerlifters nationwide and a couple international.”
Through her strength and that of the community Christina has intentionally cultivated, she welcomes the role of the challenger, the disruptor.
“I'm not afraid to be a disruptor. If you want to make meaningful, lasting change, you cannot be afraid to get in and disrupt the status quo,” she says.
To agitate in a way that is protective while also being accepted has become natural to Christina’s way of life and inner peace – through sport, through her profession, among her friends and community, and in the way that she unapologetically accepts herself. The path isn’t always easy or popular, but it’s the only one she knows.
“I guess you could say I enjoy being the odd man out,” she explains. “I remember my mom said to me, ‘You know kid, if I want to get you to do something, all I have to do is tell you that you can't do it.’"
Now more than ever, for Christina, anything is possible.
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