By Lisa Gregoire
Photos by LVD Media

Jennifer Evans knows all about heavy lifting.

A respected author, scholar, Carleton University history professor, graduate adviser—she’s all that.

But in early March, just before the coronavirus pandemic hit Canada and shut everything down, Evans also nabbed masters class gold and bronze medals at Winnipeg’s National Powerlifting Championships, earning her a spot on Canada’s powerlifting team for the world championships.

Prof. Jennifer Evans prepares to lift

Prof. Jennifer Evans prepares to lift

The May 2020 Worlds in the Czech Republic got postponed, of course, and an upcoming North American championship in October, in Puerto Rico, is also up in the air. So like thousands of athletes around the world, Evans is at home, trying to stay in competition shape with no competition in sight.

“A lot of the smaller gyms like mine rented out equipment to their members, so I actually have a squat rack and I built a weightlifting platform in my basement,” she said.

“With powerlifting, it’s not about machines. It’s back-to basics barbells and weights, so I just train at home.”

Powerlifting and Olympic weightlifting are different. Instead of the clean-and-jerk and snatch lifts you see in Olympic-style contests, powerlifting is raw strength—dead lift, squat and bench press.

In Winnipeg, Evans earned a bench press gold medal and a bronze in the three-lift category—the total of your best squat, bench and dead lifts. That’s because Evans can bench press close to her own weight and deadlift double that. When flexed, her upper arms have a circumference of 14 inches (35.5 centimetres). She is a machine.

Which is surprising because she only started powerlifting about four years ago after chatting at the gym with powerlifting medalist Phoebe Mannell, a Carleton graduate student in History.

Professor Jennifer Evans

Trainer Was Former Student

Incredibly, history as fulcrum didn’t end there. When Evans started training at JustLift, a gym owned by national weightlifting and powerlifting coach, Greg Chin, she discovered Chin is a Carleton grad (BA/2008) and former student of hers.

“I said to him: ‘I hope you did OK.’ Because he is my coach and he could give me awful things to do if he was angry,” said Evans, laughing. Chin had taken Evans’ course on 20th Century Germany. “He said yes, he did well.”

Carleton History Professor Wins Medals at Powerlifting NationalsEvans, whose interest in Germany began during a year-long exchange there in high school, still teaches that undergrad course, as well as a graduate seminar in theory and method. A social historian, her interests lie in alternative stories often absent from textbooks—the evolution of sexuality and gender, for instance, and how people have used photography to understand themselves and their culture.

And while she is an accomplished academic and teacher, that doesn’t matter when she’s poised over a loaded barbell with fellow lifters—EMTs, tradespeople, cooks and school teachers. No one cares what you do for a living, only whether you can lift that thing. And if you can’t, they’ll help you learn how.

“It’s an incredible example of regional diversity and the friendships that come together between people who would otherwise never have anything to do with one another,” she said.

“It’s a very giving, supportive community.”

Evans has always been an athlete. In her teens, she was a competitive swimmer. But powerlifting and swimming are quite different, especially when viewed through a body image lens.

Professor Jennifer Evans

Positive Body Image

“When I was a swimmer, I was fat-callipered and measured and weighed in front of the team. I was 125 pounds and was told I was too big. The messages were so different then. These sports of powerlifting and weightlifting are so positive, for women especially,” she said.

Which is why she brought her daughter Gillian to Chin’s gym at age 11. Now a teenager with Chin as her coach, Gillian is earning her own podium hardware in weightlifting.

Positive Body Image“It’s not about trying to be tiny and trying to lose weight. It’s about maximizing strength and so, for a 15-year-old who lives in this world, that’s such an important message.”

Evans turns 50 this year and with age come changes to the body. She’s been sidelined by injuries and draws upon strength inside and out to balance training and recovery. But with women lifting into their 60s and 70s, there’s no shortage of inspiration.

Chin, who describes Evans as an iconoclast, says she stays in the game because she sets goals and pushes herself, but doesn’t punish herself.

“What I saw in Jen, when I started working with her, was tenacity, like this really good mix of serious determination, but at the same time, she’s good at not being too serious.”

Evans is now focused on writing a book about the role of social media in preserving memories of the Holocaust, a heavy topic to be sure. But when she needs a break, she cinches a belt around her waist, heads down to her basement and does a different kind of heavy lifting.

LVD Media and its parent company, LVD Fitness, were founded and are run by Carleton graduates Mallory Rowan and Josh Reyes.

Carleton History Professor Wins Medals at Powerlifting Nationals

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Tuesday, May 19, 2020 in , ,
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