Name: Kathy Kazmierski
Location: Philadelphia, PA
What does being a Girl Gone Strong mean to you?
To me, being a girl gone strong means caring more about what my body and mind are capable of doing, rather than what my body looks like.
Also caring about how I treat others, and the impact I make in this life.
I want to commit my time to being strong, working hard, and being kind.
How did you get introduced to strength training, and how long have you been training?
I love lifting weights, and have been doing so since I was in my early twenties; I actually took weight lifting as a gym class at Penn State. Most of my lifting life, I would split up body-building style weight-lifting mixed with some running or spinning, but the weight room was my favorite. At 41, I hurt my ankle though boot camp style training, and subsequently discovered powerlifting (I can just stand in one place and squat something down or pick something up??); I was in love.
I searched out a coach to teach me proper form and technique, and found a great one in Katie Feeley. After a few months, she talked to me about competing. I originally didn’t want to, as I was scared competition would take the fun out of lifting, but actually, it made it exciting and motivating!
What does a sample workout look like for you?
Powerliftnig style training – two squat days, one deadlift day and one bench day. Plus sometimes an upper body “bro” bodybuilding day.
Squats. Oh, and skull crushers.
Most memorable PR:
My first push-pull competition, less than a year into powerlifting when I pulled 259.
Top 5 songs on your training playlist:
Top 3 things you must have with you at the gym or in your gym bag:
Do you prefer to train alone or with others? Why?
Alone. I have a stressful job, so the gym has always been my sanctuary. I can focus on me. I believe this is the reason my I rarely lack motivation; lifting is as much for my mind as it is for my body.
Your next training goal:
Deadlift 300, squat 245 in 2016
Best compliment you’ve received lately:
A client just told me that he thanks God that I chose the profession I did because I helped keep his dog alive.
Most recent compliment you gave someone else:
I try to compliment all of the amazing strong women I follow on Instagram daily.
Most embarrassing gym moment:
I don’t embarrass easily.
Pancakes with maple syrup from The Griddle Café in LA, with a side of real sugar Mexican Coke
Favorite way to treat yourself:
Buy a nice handbag (then), or new gym clothes (now).
“Maybe the weight is a gift; that I had to see what I could lift.”
It’s a song lyric by Nada Surf; I have the first part tattooed on my forearm.
The Catcher In The Rye
What inspires and motivates you?
Other strong women. Women lifting up and supporting each other.
What do you do?
I am a veterinary oncologist at Veterinary Specialty and Emergency Center in Philadelphia.
What else do you do?
Travel! Madeira is my favorite place on earth. And I love to cruise. And watch the Philadelphia Flyers. And bake! I'm a baker, and my husband thinks it's my best trait! Ha!
What does a typical day look like for you, from waking up to bedtime?
I train in the morning four days a week for about two hours, usually Sunday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday. Working, sleeping, watching sports, lots of eating, chilling with my husband and playing with my two Boston Terriers takes up the rest of the time.
What are you most grateful for?
My ability to be positive.
What life accomplishment are you most proud of?
Becoming a veterinarian, then becoming a veterinary oncologist.
Three words that best describe you:
Optimistic, grateful, strong
Tell us about a time when you overcame fear or self-doubt, and what you learned from it.
I used to be terrified of squats. One day, with my coach, I actually failed a squat in the rack. I burst into tears of joy. Knowing that I could fail and not die was very liberating, and a big turning point in my squat training. The unknown is always most scary.
What’s the coolest “side effect” you’ve noticed from strength training?
I’m finally wearing workout leggings or capris. Embracing the “bigness” of my legs because it means they are strong.
How has lifting weights changed your life?
I am a big procrastinator, but I rarely lack motivation to train. Training to get strong or hit a number makes getting to the gym a pleasure, not a chore. I try to have the “be more, not less” attitude throughout all aspects of my life.
On October 17th, 2015 I competed in the USAPL raw nationals powerlifting championships, about 18 months after discovering Powerlifting at 41 years of age. Ten days later, I had two biopsies performed on my right breast, due to abnormal tissue found on a routine mammogram.
I’ve been relatively healthy my whole life, so I was shocked to learn of the abnormality in my breast, since I have no family history. After the mammogram, followed by two biopsies that revealed an extensive amount of pre-cancerous tissue, I found myself seated across from an oncology surgeon. As we discussed mastectomy, I broke down and wondered, “How long will I have to be out of the gym?”
Long story short, on December 10th, I had a simple unilateral mastectomy of my right breast.
On January 1, 2016, I welcomed the new year with 3 sets of 10 back squats at 145 pounds, just three weeks post-op. I wanted to do more, but my coach talked me down. “Remember, you have to ease back into it!” It was an amazing session!
Then, on January 5th, 2016, less than four weeks after the surgery, I was able to back squat 195 pounds — twice!
I really feared it would take so much longer to be strong again. I believe that the biggest reason that I did so well is because I’m strong. Being fit and strong going in allowed me to have a much easier recovery experience. My surgeon and my physical therapist were both very supportive, and really put themselves in my shoes. (I'm getting emotional typing this!) My physical therapist, Tony had a big hand in helping me get back at it, and encouraged me to take my recovery into my own hands.
I share all this because I want to assure women athletes that there are stories of positive recovery experiences out there regarding mastectomy, not just the horror stories that are so easy to find online. As I prepared for my surgery, I searched and searched for stories of athletes and active women who had undergone a mastectomy. I didn't know what to expect, or how long it would take to get my strength back and get back to doing what I love. With only one exception, the stories I found made it seem like I should just forget about continuing with powerlifting post-surgery—but I remained optimistic.
Now I know that it is possible, and it made a world of difference to work with a surgeons, physical therapists, and coaches who understood the quality of life I aspired to have post-surgery and knew how to help me get there. If you're going through something similar, consider mine one of the positive stories. And if you also have a positive story to share, for other women athletes in this situation, share it! The world needs your story!
Oh, and as it turns out, I had 8mm of invasive cancer growing in that right breast, so I’m grateful that I had the strength to make the decision quickly to remove it.
What do you want to say to other women who might be nervous to start strength training?
It's unbelievable how empowering lifting weights can be. That strength leaks into all aspects of your life. Plus, you can eat more! Turn your body into a furnace while you’re sitting around!
Follow Kathy on Instagram.
Note from GGS: This spotlight is about Kathy's personal experience with cancer and recovering from her mastectomy. Please always consult your doctor about your personal nutrition and exercise regimen.
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