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When you think of a powerlifter, you might not typically think of a teenage girl. But Brianna Yoho is not typical. She is a high school powerlifter who has arranged a fundraising event to celebrate her 16th birthday, and she is giving half of the proceeds to the Lung Transplant Foundation.
“I wanted to do the fundraiser as a birthday present to myself,” she says of her upcoming powerlifting meet on March 14 in Newport, N.C. Since she couldn’t do something with her family, most of whom live in Michigan, she wanted to do something to honor them.
Brianna, who lives in Swansboro, N.C., will give half of the money she raises to the Lung Transplant Foundation and half to the American Heart Association: Brianna’s grandmother received a life-saving double lung transplant 13 years ago and both of her grandfathers died of heart attacks. Brianna describes her grandmother, who now travels frequently and lives a full life, as a “miracle” because she flat-lined over and over and wasn’t expected to ever make it out of a nursing home before her surgery
In addition to supplying her with inspiration, Brianna’s family also encourages her. All of her family and friends have been supportive about her powerlifting and about participating in the upcoming meet, which is the fourth one in which she’s competed.
Brianna researched charities online before deciding to support the Lung Transplant Foundation. “I have so much admiration for what the [Foundation does],” she says. “I was attracted to the Lung Transplant Foundation the most because all the people there have undergone their own transplants.”
Brianna’s trainer and mentor, Gillian Ward, has been an inspiration and helped her along the way. When Brianna approached her with the idea for a fundraiser, it was Gillian who thought that rather than hosting the small, unofficial meet Brianna was thinking of, they could collect proceeds from the already scheduled Southern Powerlifting Federation meet the gym would be hosting the following month. The upcoming meet would already have more attention drawn to it than a smaller one.
But long before the idea of the meet developed it was Gillian – and Brianna’s father, who has been by her side every step of the way – who were the reasons Brianna got into powerlifting. Brianna’s father joined their gym, Crystal Coast Strength and Conditioning, in June 2014 and started having the family go once a week. One day, Brianna stayed after a conditioning class to observe her father’s strength class and, afterward, Gillian showed her the proper way to squat (one of the three key positions for powerlifting.) By August, she was a full member of the gym, practicing powerlifting on a regular basis and enjoying its benefits.
Getting stronger is certainly a huge benefit Brianna gets from powerlifting, but she also enjoys the new perspective it has given her. Unlike high school, which can be filled with drama and pettiness, the gym is a place where qualities of strength and hard work are admired.
“It’s very empowering seeing the women at the gym,” Brianna says. “The women are beautiful, not masculine and scary. They’re very graceful.”
As great of an addition as powerlifting has been to Brianna’s life, what’s on deck for the future? In addition to continuing the sport, Brianna says next year she wants to arrange another meet just for charity outside of the Southern Powerlifting Federation. While the meet may not initially attract as many people as the well-known Federation meets, “my hopes are that it will grow each year,” she says.
By Laura P. Smith