Brendan Yu
Curry Coastal Pilot

At 3 a.m., when most people are asleep, Brookings-resident Kaila Yeager is already up and going through her daily reps. And following a two-hour workout, she cleans up and heads to her day job as unit secretary at Curry County Health.

“Most of the time I’ve forgotten that I’ve woken up that early by the time I get to work,” Yeager said. “(Powerlifting) just (makes) me feel good because there’s a lot of people who (don’t) have an outlet, and that’s my outlet. For stress, or if I had a bad day at work or a bad day with just home life, the gym is what makes me feel better.”

As long as she can remember, working out has always been a part of her life. As a child, circuit training in the gym with her father and siblings was a regular family affair.

Those workouts fueled a love of fitness that stuck with her into adulthood, and eventually parlayed into an enterprise in the bodybuilding world.

That venture however, was a short-lived. While performing at her first and only bodybuilding competition, Yeager found herself in a condition that belied the mass of muscle on her body — a common side-effect of shedding as much body fat as possible. In her own words, a strong breeze probably would have knocked her over.

Moreover, prior to the show she suffered a seizure that nearly kept her from competing — one that took her a year to recover. Deciding that the stress her body endured was too much, Yeager looked for an alternative sport on which to focus.

“I decided to move away from that and go more toward powerlifting because my body felt so weak during that show,” Yeager said.

Applying herself to powerlifting with the same gusto she did toward bodybuilding, Yeager took first place in a United States Powerlifting Association tournament in Grants Pass in August.

“I enjoy it more; there’s something that’s really enticing about picking up 340 pounds off the floor. There’s a lot of men who can’t do that,” she said. “I’m this little 5-foot-4 girl that most people don’t expect that kind of thing from, and I can accomplish that. It’s really gratifying.”

However, the best part of the tournament wasn’t taking first place, but the camaraderie she experienced from meeting fellow powerlifters.

“I was just really, really excited. I’ve never been around so many other people (who) enjoyed the same thing, here I’m kind of the only girl in the gym who does the powerlifting, literally the only one,” she said. “It’s almost that you’re that weird girl off in the corner that no one talks to, which it’s fine. But when I went there, there was so many of the same kind of people like me, and we were all instantly friends because we all knew what we do, and it was just really enjoyable to be around them.”

According to Yeager, many women often shy away from weights out of a fear of looking “more manly.”

“I’ve actually had people tell me that I do look like a man, or that if I go any further I will look like a man,” she said. “I consider it very much a putdown, I can be strong and still look very much look like a woman. I don’t think people quite understand how much work it takes to put on muscle, especially for a female. Touching a dumbbell isn’t going to make you explode into hercules. It’s really good for your joints, it keeps you healthy.”

Additionally, she notes that many women abstain from powerlifting because they believe it’s for men only, or that it’s something they are not capable of doing.

“To think that this is something that just men can do, I think is really, they’re cutting themselves off from a lot that they can accomplish,” Yaeger said. “I think woman put a lot of limits on themselves because they’re under the impression that we can only do certain things. Like women can’t do pull ups so that’s why I’m not good at them. It’s not true, you can do it if you work at it. Same goes for powerlifting.”

As for herself Yeager credits her parents with giving her the mentality to tackle whatever comes her way.

“My dad has three children, two females, and he raised strong women. My mom was a very, very strong women, and we just have this different mindset,” Yaeger said. “We were raised with (the) mindset that you can accomplish anything you set your mind to, and that’s always been a big deal, especially for me at the gym.

“We weren’t ever trained to have these, I guess, societal limits that a lot of people put on women. We were trained without that, and even beyond that, such as education — I’m the only person in my family who went to college and so, we were just, we were motivated to do more than what society expects of women.”

Right now, she is currently looking forward to her next competition in March, which will also take place in Grants Pass. Meanwhile, Yeager says there’s plenty of room for another women to take up weights in the gym.

“I would say, just start. Walk in there, pick up a bar, and give it a try.