CrossFit South Rockland

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Day #35 Star Ledger newspaper

This article was in the Star Ledger newspaper...just thought you might like it.
Eli Manning, need a lift? This young N.J. girl can help
Saturday, May 05, 2012, 9:47 AM

FAIR LAWN — The basement is cramped. The tiled ceiling is low and the carpet worn. The washer and dryer hum in the next room. The only natural light comes through a window near the ceiling. Walking across the room means walking along the walls to avoid all the weightlifting equipment.

This is where Naomi Kutin trains three times a week. 
Naomi is a world record holder in her weight class, squatting 215 pounds on her 95-pound frame. A simple spreadsheet taped to the wall tracks her progress.

Most weightlifting champions train in glitzier gyms. But Naomi trains here, in this Spartan setting — the basement of her parents’ home in Fair Lawn.
She has no choice.

The world’s strongest girl is too young to join a gym. Naomi is 10 years old, a fifth-grader at Yeshivat Noam, a Modern Orthodox Jewish day school in Paramus.

The world record she broke belonged to a woman old enough to be her mother — a 44-year–old German who squatted 209 pounds.

Naomi does not look the part. She is 4-foot-8 and not particularly muscular. She is thick through the middle with big thighs, but she has small forearms and wrists for a weightlifter. She is big for her age, but not off the growth charts.

She is not too big to crawl into her mother’s lap. She giggles, she jumps, she squeals, she plays. She can talk at speeds just past understandable and appears to have boundless energy. 

“I’m a little bouncing ball,” she says with more than a hint of pride. Yet there is a startling duality to her personality. When she readies to squat, bench or lift, she transforms. The boundless energy focuses like a beam. Her eyes widen, her breath quickens. “I think about nothing but the weight,” Naomi says. “I hear nothing.”
As she approaches the platform, Naomi lets out loud, staccato grunts, which can be somewhat alarming because they don’t sound like noises that should emanate from a 10-year-old girl. Too primal, too aggressive — like a wild dog. She says it psychs her up for the challenge ahead. And then something incredible happens. She lifts more than twice her body weight — 215 pounds. That’s like lifting Giants quarterback Eli Manning above her head.
“At that moment, I feel very strong,” Naomi says.
Sunday, at her most recent competition, ADAU Raw Power’s 33rd annual Power Day, Naomi set a national youth record in the single-lift deadlift. The deadlift requires standing up straight with the weight. The squat starts with the weight above the lifter’s shoulders and requires a squat before returning to an upright position.

Naomi’s record came at the very end of a very long day. The Kutins had left their home at 3 a.m. and driven more than four hours to Bigler, Pa. Idle chatter — the stuff spoken between friends who only see one another every few months — filled the room as men and women, some in their 70s, took turns lifting. But when it was announced Naomi was attempting a national record, the chatter ceased. The gymnasium at the Bigler YMCA grew quiet.
Naomi approached the platform. She let out several barks, psyching herself up. Her eyes rolled toward the top of her head and she deadlifted — 204 pounds.

“I can’t remember lifting it,” Naomi said. “I remember screaming and then I just felt tingling.”
Every muscle strained and her face turned a bright red. But she did it. The record was hers.
All other lifters had received polite applause — more encouragement than adulation — but Naomi’s lift had momentarily altered the atmosphere. Grown men who bench 500 pounds stood in awe of a little girl’s strength.

“She is really strong,” said Robby Wickham, one of Naomi’s youngest admirers. The 80-pound 8-year-old from Danville, Pa., had only seen Naomi on internet videos, which he watches regularly, trying to mimic her stance and technique. The chance to meet his role model was a thrill, he said.

Naomi’s notoriety has also brought unwelcome attention. Her parents, Ed and Neshama, have received withering criticism from strangers who have mistaken those internet videos for invitations to ridicule their parenting, their religion, their daughter.
Some have questioned whether this is a “proper” activity for a girl. Others ask if it is healthy for any prepubescent to lift.

Avery Faigenbaum, professor of exercise science at the College of New Jersey, said the notion that weightlifting is unsafe or could stunt growth is outdated medicine.
“Categorically, every one of those myths have been dispelled,” he said. “You cannot find a doctor who believes strength training is dangerous. The research says that strength training can be one of the safer activities for children.”

The key, Faigenbaum said, is proper progression, proper technique, and proper supervision. Without those, injury can occur. Children should not attempt to lift 200 pounds by themselves or on their first try, he said, but that is equally true for adults.
How she is able to do this is no more clear than how it is some children can throw 95 mph or 50-yard spirals. It’s a combination of work ethic, mental toughness and genes. Neshama, is 5-foot-6, lean and slender. Like her daughter, she has large, muscular thighs. Ed, who is not quite 5-foot-8, can bench about 350 pounds and deadlift nearly 600 pounds. Everything about Ed is thick — from his thighs to his chest to his mustache. Naomi had watched her dad lift in their basement and in April 2010 asked if she could give it a try.

“I thought at first she would have trouble,” Ed said. “She took to it extremely well. By the beginning of that summer, it was obvious she had some extraordinary capability.”
Sometimes that translates into the most ordinary of talents. At school, she is the girl others ask to carry their backpacks or open their water bottles.  “Even the teacher sometimes needs help,” Naomi says. Like all athletes, Naomi has good days and bad, hits and misses. World record holders fail sometimes, too.

At Sunday’s competition, she tried to break her own record, to deadlift 214 pounds. But it was too much for her. She missed her last bench press as well. “I was a little disappointed in myself today,” she said, a few hours after setting a national record. “On the one hand, I did not lift what I wanted. On the other, I still lifted a lot more than the other kids.”

How she handles disappointment, whether it motivates or discourages, will determine how long she will last in the sport. So far, her tenacity and maturity have impressed veterans as much as her brute strength. “She’s a very gifted young lady,” said Buggs Bayer, a national referee at the Power Day competition, whose job it is to ensure that lifters follow the rules and keep proper form. If they do not, the lift does not count. “She is one of a kind,” Bayer said. “I’ve been doing this 54 years and I can tell she will be around forever.”

The Kutins insist Naomi is free to quit whenever she likes. For now, she wants to keep pushing herself. When she grows up, she’d like to be “the awesomest personal trainer in the world,” she said. But her parents know the next few years will bring new interests: clothes, movies, boys, whatever.

“I think she’ll stay active,” Neshama said. “I think she’ll ride this as long as she can and when she is done, she is done.”

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