Reflections from Muslim Women Learn to Lift, by Sayeeda Chowdhury

Why did I begin to lift?

I’ve told the story many times, but there are many layers to it.

The decision was personal, emotional, mental, and everything in between. I was grieving a loss in my family. I was stressing over being in medical school. I was falling into periods of anxiety and depression.

To top it off, I was surrounded by a political landscape that was fostering hate and violence toward Muslim-Americans, heightened by the 2016 election cycle.

I was overwhelmed.

A medical school classmate, Lucy Rose, introduced me to powerlifting, and it shifted something in me. As I felt the weight of the barbell on my back and every time I got back up, I remembered the power I possessed. My ability to deal with things changed. Everything changed.

I was reclaiming my body, my presence, and my voice. I was working to build myself up again, both physically and mentally.

Lucy knew and shared my passion for social justice, so she entered me into Women’s Strength Coalition’s first event, Lift for Planned Parenthood. I never knew the world of powerlifting and now found a community within it that embraced the same values as me.

I saw incredibly strong and compassionate women who lifted for themselves and cared about others. I fell in love with the sport and the community I was entering. When Women’s Strength Coalition team members, Shannon Kim Wagner and Araliya Senerat, approached me about being a part of the team, I enthusiastically said yes!

I wanted others to discover the strength of their bodies, minds, and presence.

At Women’s Strength Coalition, we believe in strength for all. We work to build stronger communities through increased access to strength training. Although I met incredible women through our work, I still wished I saw more Muslim women in the sport. I dreamed of teaching more women and gender non-conforming folks from all backgrounds, to learn to lift in a comfortable and supportive environment that I was fortunate to have.

Thus, my dream: Learn to Lift, an initiative that envisioned classes to increase representation and participation in strength training.

At the beginning of 2019, momentum within Women’s Strength Coalition picked up after we confirmed a physical space for our headquarters: Strength For All. With our new home, we now had a place to hold our classes.

I did not have to look far for instructors. I have come to know so many powerlifters who want to teach and give back.  We put up our first-class registration and sold out in six hours.

I was overwhelmed again. But this time, I was crying happy tears.

Fast forward a bit to March 16th, a few hours after the news about the New Zealand tragedy broke. The massacre was perpetrated by a white supremacist terrorist, who took the lives of many Muslims congregating for Friday prayers.

I saw the news and was paralyzed with sadness and fear. My social media was filled with people reacting to this event with grief, anger, frustration, defeat, and so much more.

I realized I would be leading the program Muslim Women Learn to Lift the next day. I didn’t know what to expect. My intention for the program was always to create a safe, supportive space for all people to learn about strength training. What better time than right now?

The day was beautiful.

Witnessing other Muslim women lifting, smiling, and seeing their strength was everything to me.

At the end of the class, the new lifters shared their experiences about the day. They described what it was like to discover their own strength, to learn about their own power.

This was the mission coming to life. Strength for All.

When we needed it the most, we had a space to come together and recognize the strength we already possessed.

I was reminded of why I was moved to make this happen, and why I will continue to do more for every person, group, and/or community, of all intersecting identities.


There is so much hate and violence in the world. But we can counter by highlighting the good, the beautiful, and the strong.

You can support Strength For All NYC’s mission by contributing to our Patreon page. Learn to Lift Classes cost just $5, and you can contribute as little as $5 per month.

Sayeeda Chowdhury is the Community Outreach Director for Strength For All, and an Advisory Board Member of Women’s Strength Coalition.