The Examiner

Pleasantville Girl Tests Herself With Some Heavy Lifting

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Pleasantville’s Olivia Barnett recently participated in her first national weightlifting championship, placing fourth.
Pleasantville’s Olivia Barnett recently participated in her first national weightlifting championship, placing fourth.

Olivia Barnett is a petite 12-year-old, but don’t let this pint-size Pleasantville girl fool you.

Barnett placed fourth in the USA National Weightlifting Championship in Minnesota last month, despite being the lightest competitor out of 14 girls in her weight class.

During the competition that had her hoisting barbells of up to 81 pounds, the 70-pound preteen demonstrated two different weightlifting techniques – the snatch, which is picking up the bar and lifting it over her head in one motion, and the clean and jerk, in which she lifts the weight to a middle height and pauses before lifting it over her head.

Barnett, who was just 11 years old at the time of the competition, said that even though she beat her personal records for both events, she still wishes she could have placed higher.

“I liked the performance I did, but I would have liked to place on the podium, at least third [place],” she said.

Barnett began weightlifting with trainer Steve Swistak at Downstate Barbell and CrossFit in Briarcliff Manor about six months ago. She had been taking CrossFit classes at the facility with her mom since she was nine years old and decided to venture into weightlifting because she enjoyed using handheld weights during her CrossFit lessons.

Swistak said Barnett’s training began by having her lift PVC pipes in order to perfect proper weightlifting technique and form, then progressed to heavier loads. During her short time participating in the sport, she has taken part in two certified local competitions.

Because so few children are involved in competitive weightlifting, Swistak said there are numerous misconceptions about children who lift weights. Many people erroneously believe that lifting at a young age may stunt growth, said Swistak, who is 6-foot-4 and has been lifting weights since childhood. He added that weightlifting is beneficial for Barnett as the strength she acquires during her training can translate into stronger performance in other sports that she participates in, such as lacrosse, soccer and gymnastics.

Perhaps one of the widest held falsehoods is that a person who is small can’t be strong, Swistak said.

“The size of you doesn’t mean that you’re going to be any stronger,” he said.

Fresh off her first appearance at a national tournament, Barnett is looking forward to future competition. She hopes to compete at the national level again in Austin, Tex., next year and is aiming to break national records for lifting in her weight class. In the meantime, her success has been inspiring other children, including Swistak’s son and daughter, seven and nine years old, respectively, to take up weightlifting.

“What she’s been (doing) is really an inspiration to a lot of kids,” Swistak said.

Barnett said all of her friends have been supportive of her, with her best friend watching the online stream of her performance in the recent national championship. She said while some people may question girls’ physical strength, she doesn’t take that sentiment to heart and plans to continue weightlifting as long as it makes her happy.

“It doesn’t really matter. You just do what you want to do and try your best in everything,” said Barnett.


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