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Heavy lifting
By Ann Coppola, News Reporter
Published: 10/29/2007

Weightlifter Being a woman working in corrections takes strength. So does pulling a Ford F-150 truck. Rarely do you find those two feats in the same person, until you walk into one South Carolina prison.

Warden Cecilia Reynolds is a 52-year-old champion weightlifter and an all-around barrier-buster. The 22-year corrections veteran started as a corrections officer and worked her way up through the ranks to become the warden of Kershaw Correctional Institution last year. Unlike the years of dedication and hard work it took her to get there, you could say she ‘stumbled’ across weightlifting by accident.

“I slipped and fell one day at work,” Reynolds says, “and I injured my knee. To rebuild the muscles around it, I started weightlifting. Once I did, I found out I was very strong.”

Surprised by her own strength, Reynolds thought she would try her hand at bench pressing.

“I started bench pressing and did quite well,” she recalls. “My physical therapist thought I would do really well in a strongman contest, so I began training under him.”

A ‘strongman,’ or strength athlete, is an individual who competes in events ranging from lifting rocks to towing 18-wheelers. North American Strongman, Inc. (NAS) is the governing body for the continent’s amateur strongmen, women, and teens. The organization has run more than 180 contests in the last four years. In 2002, Reynolds entered the South Carolina NAS Strongman Cup Challenge.

“In that contest, I pulled a Ford F-150 truck 80 feet in 20.6 seconds,” Reynolds says. “I’m not sure why I can remember that! I also did a deadlift of 185 pounds for 30 reps.”

The traditional event often seen in the Olympics, the deadlift requires a competitor to raise a barbell from the ground to a standing position. Then the athlete must return the bar to the ground under control without dropping it. Reynolds held on to the bar, and held on for the victory.

“I won the women’s open championship,” she says, “so then I became the strongest woman in South Carolina.”

Winning that title made her number one in the state and at home. Her husband, a vocational trainer at Kershaw, is also involved in the sport, and their 26-year-old son has started doing strongman competitions.

“My husband is a strongman, but he’s not a champion,” Reynolds says with a laugh. The awards-gap is something that Reynolds doesn’t bring up too often at the dinner table.

“Only when I have to,” she admits.

Becoming the South Carolina Strongwoman was just the beginning. When she became Kershaw’s warden a year ago, she opened a wellness center for employees.

“I train the employees here in weightlifting,” she says. “I also teach a spinning class for them, which is on the stationary bikes.”

Reynolds has 300 employees at Kershaw, and while her staff is about half men and half women, she remembers what it was like when things weren’t as even.

“I started out as a corrections officer when it was almost unheard of for a woman to work down inside of a prison,” she explains. “Women mostly were working in places where they would have very little contact with inmates. Other than visitation rooms, more often than not females were put to work at the front desk or front gate answering phones, or on a tower somewhere outside the prison.”

“Now, a woman can do, and does, everything,” she adds. “It’s great.”

For the last couple of years, she’s also been organizing competitions in South Carolina for NAS. The next one is for law enforcement, military, and firefighters. The November 17, Battle of the Badges II in Blythewood, SC will benefit the Special Olympics. So far, 18 people are signed up to compete, including two women.

“We women are wiggling our way into the male-dominated areas,” Reynolds says, “and I would love to let that be known.”

Related Resources:

See photos of Warden Reynolds in action

Quick facts on weightlifting

To register for or contribute to the Battle of the Badges, email Warden Reynolds


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