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Fashlete™ of the Month

The Pursuit of Strength : Olympic Athlete Cara Heads Slaughter

January 2014

Name: Cara Heads Slaughter
Age: 36
Occupation: Owner of CH Fitness and Performance

I met Cara last July at the Reebok CrossFit Games. She is bright, friendly, energetic, strong and beautiful... and this is the impression you will get within the first 5 seconds of meeting her. There is nothing I love more than speaking with women who are as passionate about lifting and strength as Cara. To some this may seem like a dull topic, meathead kind of stuff. But it is so much more. We're not just gabbing about our workouts, how much weight, how many reps, bla bla bla.  We are talking about the pursuit of strength on a broad and massive scale. It is technical, it is physical, it is mental, it can even be spiritual. You know what I mean.

Come to find out, Cara isn't just any ol' weightlifting enthusiast. Cara Heads Slaughter is a US Olympic Weightlifter with an 18 year Olympic weightlifting career under her belt. She has earned 8 national championship titles, set 2 American records, and represented  the U.S. at 5 world championships. Cara was also part of the 2000 Olympic Team in Sydney. In short, this woman is the real deal.

Cara is also the founder of CH Fitness & Performance which specializes in creating optimum fitness, enhancing athletic performance, and providing Olympic weightlifting instruction and coaching. Being an athlete and being a coach are two very different pursuits. I don't think that all great athletes make great coaches, or vice versa. Cara is an exception to this rule which makes her a rare gem. The athlete is dedicated to the pursuit of his or her own success, while the coach is dedicated to the pursuit of the success of others. I was excited to interview Cara and get her perspective from both angles. I still have so many more questions for Cara, but I think this is a good start. Check out our interview and if you want to get to know this incredible woman even better I encourage you to visit her Facebook page or website. Even better? Meet her in person at a 2 Day Weightlifting Mini Camp. More info after the interview...

Cara, how did you transition from competitive athlete to coach?

My transition from competitive athlete to coach was gradual. I started coaching back in 1997, but at that time I had no intention of making that my full-time occupation, or business for that matter. I just did it to help out the kids. After I retired from elite level competition in 2008 (my final competition was the 2008 Olympic Trials) I went back to coaching for fun and coached strength and conditioning at two junior colleges in southern California. In 2010, I made the decision to run a full-time fitness and sport performance company, and that’s when CH Fitness and Performance was born.

What was your favorite thing about competing?

What I enjoyed most about competing was feeling strong after training hard and being prepared to compete.  I was eager to compete most of the time because I was prepared most of the time. I would also say I enjoyed the friendships I developed in the sport as well. 

What is your favorite thing about coaching?

As far as coaching, I enjoy watching athletes work hard, and I appreciate the moment when they believe they can finally lift a weight that they’ve never lifted before and they finally do it – priceless.

Can you talk a little about the growth of Olympic Weightlifting in general? What type of impact has CrossFit had on the Olympic Weightlifting world, and vice versa?

My experience of the sport growing up involved a lot of educating and explaining about what Olympic lifting is. Today, there is much less need for that and I strongly believe it is because of CrossFit. I’m excited that more people are learning about the sport of Olympic weightlifting here in the US and participating in it. I enjoy working with CrossFit athletes. They are extraordinarily motivated to learn how to do the lifts more efficiently- as part of their training and in preparation for competition. It’s exciting to work with people who are passionate about what I’ve been passionate about most of my life.

What are your thoughts on people using the snatch and clean and jerk as part of their daily fitness routine? 

When taught properly, I absolutely think people should incorporate the Olympic weightlifting movements into their fitness routine. The issue isn’t whether or not people should use the lifts as part of their daily fitness routine; the issue is ensuring they have been coached properly on how to perform the lifts and how to incorporate them safely into their fitness routine. In other words, should they be doing a segment of the lifts, lifts from the blocks or power movements for example? I place the responsibility on coaches to make sure people learn how to do the lifts safely and correctly and that the right information is being taught.

What is life outside the gym like for you?

When I’m not in the gym coaching athletes or working out myself, I’m programming or learning how to run my full-time coaching business, better. I enjoy catching up with friends and family members, pretending I can sing, taking dance classes and reading. If I can be in the company of my husband, family or good friends, I’m usually very content.

Tell me something about yourself that is not part of your athlete bio... something "un-Googleable". You are a phenomenal athlete and talented coach, but who are you outside the gym walls and how have all the hours with the barbell shaped you mentally, spiritually, etc.

Passion: What you may not know about me, is that I am a cheerleader at heart; someone that genuinely wants to see people succeed in life. I consider it a privilege to get to help people train and reach their personal weightlifting or fitness goals, because it almost always means they had to overcome significant challenges to do it. Challenges are full of lessons and I value the lessons that can be learned from the discipline of Olympic weightlifting, or any true discipline for that matter. It takes courage to try a new technique, enter your first competition, or endure when your training doesn’t seem to be producing the expected results. I love coaching people through these kinds of circumstances.  I’m a very passionate person in general, but I am especially passionate about helping people pursue their goals and helping them be as successful as they want to be.

Purpose: I believe we all have a purpose. My personal experience with that is that when I’m operating in my purpose, I have the ability, energy, creativity, and resilience to excel in unique ways. It’s the only reason I started an Olympic weightlifting coaching business, during  a recession, to teach lifts that nobody really knew about. It was kind of crazy idea when you think about it. Much like my training history, I had to relocate from California to Virginia to make it work just right. The chances of it being a success were very much in line with the chances of making an Olympic Team - slim. I certainly was not a business woman, but I knew I was passionate about the Olympic lifts and I experienced a “quiet knowing” that this could work. You gotta believe in spite of the circumstances sometimes. You have to SEE it! Without a vision the people will perish. (Proverbs 29:18) If you can’t see it and it isn’t calling you, it ain’t it (I learned that from the 10 things I thought I wanted to do before I did this☺). Get to the thing that calls you out of your sleep and do that. That’s the life I try to live and create now. I’m getting pumped just thinking about it! 

Faith: Results are great. In Olympic weightlifting or any new activity, those first few PRs are guaranteed simply because a neural adaptation to the movement (with practice) is taking place. When athletes arrive at a place of uncertainty (and eventually they will), because the same approach, thought pattern, narrative, or habits don’t yield the results they used to, I can relate because I have been there and I am confident they can get through it with patience, discipline and faith of their own.  Those valleys in performance can be frustrating and disappointing, but the trick is to make them work for you – it is always a choice to decide whether you are setting up camp in that valley or just passing through. 

As an athlete, 10,000 plus hours under the barbell is one place where I learned how to have faith. If you know you are passing through, act like it! This reminds me of a little kid in the back of a car on a long family vacation. We can all hear the kid say, “are we there yet?” That kid may not want to be in the car, but they are asking with the expectation and hope that they are close to the end of the trip. I would speak to my situation and about my situation as if I was close to my goal, every day. 

I wish I could say I was fearless as an athlete, but I wasn’t. I had courage until I had faith, or maybe I had enough faith to provide me sufficient courage. Each national championship I won had its own challenges leading up to the competition. Every year I made a World Team, I worked to overcome my own limitations and just worked to become better. I believed I was capable of more on the platform – I mean truly believed it even when my numbers were dropping. Every Olympic Games (I made one Olympic Team and was an alternate for two others) required that I make major life sacrifices to position myself to try to earn a spot on those teams. I left my family & friends (several times), lived places I was not comfortable in, struggled with paying the bills, etc. It is difficult to sacrifice if you don’t believe “it” will be all that you desire it to be. If you have any inkling it can be what you see in your mind and truly believe in your heart, go with that. I learned that you’ll have the rest when you need it.  I call that my “mustard seed faith”. (Mathew 17:20) I still use it now.☺

What I've learned through my dialogue with Cara is that being a competitor at the highest level, being an Olympian, is about so much more than the competition itself. Cara is a woman whose life mission and belief system has been shaped by her experience as a competitor.  Now as a coach, she is able to share her knowledge which includes not only the technical aspect of the sport, but the mental aspect of training and how it can challenge you to be your best inside and outside the gym walls.

I am very proud to welcome Cara to the Fashletics family as our January Fashlete of the Month. Talk about starting the year off right! Cara is receiving the I Choose Strength necklace as a gift from Fashletics. We hope she will wear it with pride and it will serve as a reminder of the choices she has made and the lives she has changed. Thank you Cara!

 Olympic Weightlifting Mini Camp with Olympians Cara Heads Slaughter and Cheryl Haworth

CH Fitness & Performance - Arlington, VA

Saturday, January 18th at 9:00 am - Sunday, January 19th at 6:30 PM

Click here to register.

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    Sarah Wilson
  • CrossFitWeightliftingWomen's Fitness

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