"The accomplishments, no matter how big or small, are fulfilling to me."
Name: Conswella "Sway" Bennett
Pronouns: She, her
Pull for Pride location: Atlanta, GA
Favorite song to listen to while training: Nikki Minaj "Win Again" and "Want Some More" Sia "The Greatest" and "I'm Alive"
Favorite post-training meal: Farmburger burger and onion rings or sushi tempura shrimp
How do you identify? Tell us a little about yourself:
I identify as a lesbian. I'm an African American lesbian originally from Mississippi.
I was raised as a Jehovah's Witness and left home in early 20s after coming out and leaving the organization. I was a reporter and freelance writer for about 7 years. Now, I'm a special education teacher at an elementary school.
What does Pull for Pride mean to you and what's motivating you to participate?
Pull for Pride is another opportunity for straight allies and LGBTQ participants to showcase their strength and to raise money for a good cause. It's also an opportunity to give back to our community. It's an opportunity to promote powerlifting, especially in the LGBTQ community and also as a woman of color. Pull for Pride is a chance to have fun deadlifting while helping homeless LGBTQ youth. I could have possibly been one of those homeless youth if I'd come out earlier.
These young people had the courage to come out and be their authentic self, with the result of losing everything. That was one of the main reasons I wanted to participate this year to raise money for Lost & Found Youth.
When did you begin barbell training?
I began barbell training about 3 years ago seriously after meeting Lis Saunders.
Powerlifting, and possibly competing, had always been something I wanted to do and never really had the opportunity. Occasionally, I'd do an online search to see if there were PL gyms or coaches close to me. That's when I came across Lis. Her new gym was opening, and I emailed asking if I was too old to start. She emailed me back assuring me that I wasn't too old.
I started training in July and did my first competition in December. I was hooked. I was inspired because I wanted to see how strong I could get and to defy some people's negative views that women shouldn't get too muscular or who believed that women are weaker.
What do you find fulfilling about training?
Each time I step into the gym I have to get out of my head. I have to get into the right mindset to believe that the I can pull or lift the weigh. The accomplishments, no matter how big or small, are fulfilling to me. I love looking back to when I started to now and seeing how far I have come. I continually surprise myself and Lis, my coach/trainer (and now my friend), continues to push and inspire me.
What do you find challenging?
For me, staying consistent at times is a challenge. My work schedule can get in the way of training. A major challenge for me is managing my eating and avoiding junk food, especially now that I'd like to lose weight and lean out. As a woman over 40, things happen slower and not as fast as I'd like. Also, staying patient with myself and not succumbing to negative self talk.
What message or advice do you have for folks who might want to start strength training but aren't sure how or where to begin?
If anyone has an interest in strength training, my advice is to look for a gym or a coach and ask questions. Do research and then just go for it. If its something that you are interested in, give it a try. A good coach or someone already in PL can provide expertise and support needed.
If you are trans and/or queer, do you have any words of encouragement or insights for other trans and queer folks for navigating gym environments and approaching training?
Again, I'd say research and see if there are gyms and/or coaches who are queer/trans accommodating. In Atlanta, we recently started an LGBT powerlifting group. We are beginner friendly and always looking for others in the LGBT community who want to get into strength training. The key is to find a space where you go to do work and get strong, and everyone else is focusing on that, and not on someone's sexuality or identity.
Do you have any advice or encouragements for cisgender and straight allies who want to help make the gym a more welcoming space for trans and queer folks?
There are some gyms who are welcoming to the queer community, but there is still some work to do and a need for improvement. Not everyone feels comfortable going to a gym, a place that some people find vulnerable already. While some gyms are welcoming, sometimes it's patrons of the gyms that can make the space unwelcoming. This is where gym owners and employees need to make sure climates are welcoming of everyone and discrimination won't be accepted or allowed.
Do you have a strength role model(s) in your life (this could be strength training or strength in other ways)?
One of my favorite strength role models I had when I was younger, and someone I still admire, is Lenda Murray (although she is a bodybuilder). Another is Kim Walford and my coach Lis Saunders.
Anything else you want to add?
I have enjoyed strength training. The soreness pays off and is worth it in the end. Each time I have competed, I have surprised myself with my accomplishments.