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Olympic Weightlifter Katherine Nye Is Strong in Every Way

By 2018, the sport was taking her much further than gymnastics ever did. Kate traveled to the junior world championships in Tashkent, Uzbekistan, coming in second overall and setting a junior world record. Next came the Pan American Championships in Guatemala City, Guatemala, where she won gold; junior worlds in Suva, Fiji (another win), and the Pan American Games in Lima, Peru, where she came in third.

Her Olympic dream was back — just “ignited in a different form.”

In just a few short years, Kate had gone from being a level 9 gymnast to one of the top weightlifters in the sport, with Tokyo on the horizon. But around this time, Nye realized something was wrong. She couldn’t sleep, or she’d sleep all day. She couldn’t control her moods. Sometimes she didn’t like weightlifting at all. Soon, a doctor diagnosed her with bipolar disorder.

“I immediately had a picture in my head of what a bipolar person looks like, and the word ‘crazy’ popped into my mind,” she said. “It’s probably one of the more misunderstood mental disorders.” Right away, Kate found that she had a lot to overcome on top of the disorder itself — her self-stigma, for one. And her pride. “I was too proud to get help for far too long,” she said in an Instagram post. “I felt weak for thinking I needed help.” Around the same time, she struggled with changes in her body as she went up a weight class. “I really liked how I looked in the lighter weight classes, so seeing myself change so much in a short span of time was definitely difficult,” she said.

Recently, Kate got a tattoo that symbolizes her struggle with mental illness — a wilting, black-and-white rose on her upper arm. The rose “shows how great and beautiful and happy things can be as a bipolar person,” she said. “But also how dark it can get.” It took time, but she was able to get the help she needed, and to overcome her preconceptions about the disorder. Now, she asks others to do the same. “I want people to not think ‘crazy’ when they think of bipolar,” she said. “Any person with a mental disorder deserves the respect and understanding that anyone else would get.”

The journey toward body acceptance, meanwhile, mirrors what Kate says is “a societal shift in how women view exercise.” At the moment, women are dominating in weightlifting in the United States, and the sport is “exploding.” Women’s weightlifting wasn’t even an Olympic event until 2000. Now, she says, attitudes about how women should exercise and what they should look like are changing. “Women are being more and more encouraged to lift weights and be strong and independent,” she said.

Adapting this mentality for herself was a struggle. “I had to learn to be okay with being bigger than I was comfortable with,” she said in an Instagram post. At the same time, the journey has helped her develop a new mindset that she hopes other women and girls will adopt — seeing her body as a tool and admiring it for all that it does for her, day in and day out. “Your body is just what you live in and how you use it,” she said. “It’s not something to just be looked at. I think that’s really important to remember.”

Next comes her biggest test: Tokyo.

In May, Kate officially made the U.S. Olympic women’s weightlifting team. It’s been a difficult year for Kate — she suffered mentally during the pandemic, and recently came back from a small injury that kept her out of the sport for an entire month. She also switched coaches this spring in an effort to intensify her training, and is doing “the most intense training I’ve ever had,” eight times a week.

Still, she’s confident that she’ll emerge stronger than ever before. Kate hopes to make it on the podium at the Olympics, but is looking out for her competitors, especially from China and Ecuador — their best lifter just beat her at Pan Ams.

After that, she looks forward to getting more tattoos. “I’ve always wanted a lot of tattoos,” she said. The rose was the first step toward having a full sleeve. The next one will be the Olympic rings.

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