Muscle Is Athletic and Academic

“Sixteen years after my surgeries, I was able to integrate my identities, that of the athlete and the academic.”

Katie Rose Hejtmanek

Activities: Weight lifting and Track

Social Media: ig – @maxesandprs

Career: Anthropologist

It was Katie’s hard work in the gym that initially caught my attention. Although I know it was longer, it seemed like I literally watched her body transform over a matter of months. That is why I approached her for an interview. I believed she had a story behind all the hard work and determination, and boy was I right.

In this interview, she talks about athletic accomplishments achieved as a teenager, and the challenges she faced after an unexpected injury. She shares the avenue she was encouraged to take to overcome loss and how that avenue brought her back to that loss, nearly two decades later, allowing her to integrate who she was, with who she had become. To say that I am impressed with everything Katie has accomplished would be and understatement. I hope after reading this interview, you understand why.

Q:  Tell me about where you grew up and your childhood?

I grew up in Colorado and Wyoming, both places were very remote, so  I refer to the areas as, “the frontier.’   Riding horses, watching the northern lights, exploring caves and  mountains with my two siblings, was a big part of my childhood. I was very active. My father was an athlete in college and  later became a coach and PE teacher. He was very sporty and he encouraged my older brother and me to be athletic as well. In fact, on holidays because he had keys to the schools we would usually go to church then go to the gym to play – shoot hoops, use the gymnastics equipment, and run around the gym.

Q:  Did you play a sport?

I did various organized sports. I started with dance at 3 years old and then tried gymnastics, swimming, softball, basketball, soccer, volleyball, track and field. I settled on track and field and by 14 and 15, I was the state champion for various indoor and outdoor track and field events Then I got injured at 17 and had my first back surgery while I was still in high school.  

Q:  Can you tell me about the injury and the impact it had on your life at 17?

 I had been seeing a physical therapist since the age of 15 due to low back pain and recurring leg numbness. At 17, I hit a hurdle during a race, and my coach had to carry me off the track. I was taken to the hospital and told recovery would require I lay flat on my back for two weeks. The race occurred in May, I struggled with recovery until August, but due to a combination of injuries I had acquired over the years through gymnastics and track, I ended up having surgery. Then at 19 I had to go back in for a second surgery to have vertebrae in my lower back fused. I had to live at home and couldn’t do anything but walk for one hour each day. I wore this giant brace for my legs and back. The entire situation was tough and I had an identity crisis. Prior to the acute injury during my race, I was a successful athlete, with plans of running at the collegiate level, and suddenly my life changed. I was stuck on my back for weeks, had to have two back surgeries before I was 20, and was only allowed to walk one hour each day. I was no longer able to be who I grew up believing I was, an athlete. At that point in my life, I had a coach and mentor who encouraged me to channel all of my athletic energy into academics. I did, and ended up earning a PhD in Anthropology.

Q:  How did you get into weightlifting?

I am a Cultural Anthropologist, I noticed a shift in the participation of more women in strength sports. So I started a research project on strength sports a few years ago. I investigated CrossFit, weightlifting, powerlifting, and Strongman competitions. I enjoyed weightlifting the most so through the research project, I got more involved. In fact, during my research I had the opportunity to go to  India and Australia and  I found my coach from my research investigations in Australia. 

Q:  How often do you train? 

I train the Olympic lifts: snatch and clean and jerk, 4 days a week. I also do accessory work and conditioning or “cardio” on those days. One day a week I just do conditioning to help with my blood flow and breathing, and I also spend more time stretching that day as well.

Q:  Do you compete? If so, are there levels of competition and how far have you gone?

I do compete. I started with my coach in February 2019 and since that time I have competed 4 times. This includes a local meet, 2 national meets, and 1 international masters meet. I am over 35 so I am automatically in the Masters division but I also like to compete with “open” lifters because I feel they push me.

Q:  You stated earlier you were an Anthropologist, please expand what it is you actually do?

I am a professor of Anthropology. I have a PhD in Cultural Anthropology and have written a book and many articles on my research. I used to study psychiatry and young people/children. Now I study CrossFit and strength sports. 

Q:  How do you find time to train with your job? 

It is part of my life. I consider it “practice” rather than working out, and I enjoy the process, so  I make it a priority. My workouts are not guilt inspired or out of obligation. I train because I enjoy the process and I want to improve. I make it  about the process AND the goals. 

Q:  How has weightlifting changed your life physically and mentally?

I feel whole again both physically and mentally. I felt like I had missed out on something that was really important to me after my acute injury and surgeries. Now, being able to dedicate my leisure time to my sport  and my academic research to athletics, fitness, and physical culture…I feel like I am in my rightful place. I have even started running again. Sixteen years after my surgeries, I was able to integrate my identities, that of the athlete and the academic.

I am still learning about all the trauma the injuries and surgeries caused. The inappropriate movements I was doing to compensate for pain, and the way my body adapted, to keep me safe and mobile for as long as it could, until it couldn’t. There are still residual effects that I am working through, because the ways I adapted have manifested in my body. However, as  I have been learning more about weightlifting, I have started to break some of those old habits. With wonderful coaches and movement specialists, I am stronger and faster than I have ever been.

Q:  What is your overall diet like?

I count macros, without really thinking about it. I make sure I have enough protein, fat, and carbs to sustain my activity level. Being  involved in a weight-class sport means I have to train and weigh in at particular weight to complete. I enjoy fasting for overall benefits to the body. As an academic and professor, I spent a lot of time researching best practices and I like to try various things to see how they work. I am committed to being strong so I eat for that.  When my diet isn’t good, I physically feel bad – I don’t sleep well, I am bloated, I am lethargic.  So I am dedicated to my sport and to feeling my best. 

Q: Has your diet changed much since you started competing?

Yes, because I need to be able to train and to know how much I weigh. I have learned how to manipulate my weight and diet to build muscle, feel, and be strong. 

Q:  How does society receive you? Your appearance/muscularity?

I just wrote a piece on this. I get comments on my muscles every day. I was getting groceries the other day and the man checking me out at the register said, “I know what you do in your free time.” It is always something, but I am also told, “you still look like a woman” so I haven’t transgressed that boundary. Women will comment that they love my arms or shoulders and they wish their’s looked that way. So my physique is an anomaly and people feel compelled to comment. https://www.indent.in/present-continuous/2019/11/13/men-think Here is the piece I just wrote and had published.

Q:  Do you think it’s important for young girls to play sports? If so, why?

Absolutely! Playing sports teaches them that they can use their bodies for things other than being the object of desire. It helps them build confidence in their capacities. It is important to learn how to win and lose, and to know how to treat your competitors with respect. It is important for them to challenge themselves, to be dedicated and train. If they see others doing it, whether teammates or other individuals, they will get encouragement and support. There are so many benefits to being in sports that I think everyone should try, if for no other reason than to be physical. 

Q:  Why did you agree to be a part of MCBMI?

I wanted to be a part of MCBMI, because I think the work you are doing is really important to raise consciousness about the diversity of bodies and ways of being in the world. Thank you for letting me be a part of it.