Often called “the strongest woman in the United States,” Cheryl Haworth is a competitive weight lifter who emerged in the late 1990s as a popular icon for women in sports. While still a teenager, she became national champion, junior world champion, and an Olympic medalist.
Cheryl Ann Haworth was born in Savannah on April 18, 1983, the middle daughter of Sheila and Robert Haworth. Her father, a businessman, and her mother, a nurse, were both athletes and encouraged their daughters to play sports. Haworth, however, was sickly and thin as a toddler and suffered from allergies, ear infections, bronchitis, and pneumonia. After having her tonsils and adenoids removed at age six, she gained weight, and family members and playmates began to notice her unusual strength. She became interested in weight lifting as a way to improve in softball. Haworth was only thirteen when her father took her to the Anderson/Cohen Weightlifting Center in Savannah. The coaches were astonished when she power-cleaned 110 pounds with ease—never had they seen such potential in a female lifter.
Encouraged by her parents and her mentor and coach Michael Cohen, Haworth was soon training two and a half hours a day, five times a week, and competing regularly. By 1998 she was a national champion, the nation’s leading female weight lifter, and the youngest lifter (at fifteen) ever to hold senior American records. She qualified for the 1998 world championship team but was too young to compete.
For Haworth 1999 was a banner year, with another national title, a gold medal in the Pan American Games, a silver medal in the junior world championships, and a fourth place finish at the world championships in Athens, Greece, with a 253-pound snatch and a 303-pound clean-and-jerk lift. At the 2000 Sydney Olympic Games, where women competed in weight lifting for the first time, Haworth had a perfect day with a 275-pound snatch and a 319-pound clean-and-jerk lift at a body weight of 300 pounds, setting five American records and capturing the bronze medal. Further recognition came with several magazine feature stories, a 2001 Women of Courage Award from the National Organization for Women, and a cameo in Howard Schatz’s book Athlete (2002).
Haworth has continued her winning ways, collecting eleven national titles as of 2015, a bronze medal at the 2001 Goodwill Games, and two junior world championships. She still holds the national snatch and clean-and-jerk records in her class and, after finishing fourth at the 2002 world championships in Warsaw, Poland, was the highest-ranking American weight lifter, male or female. Haworth competed in the Olympic Games in 2004 in Athens, Greece, and in 2008 in Beijing, China, but did not win medals at either event. She retired in 2010.
Haworth’s appeal, however, extends beyond the sport of weight lifting. A versatile athlete, she can run forty yards in 5.5 seconds, jump 30-inch vertical leaps, and perform front, back, and sideway splits. She is also a talented artist. She graduated from the Savannah Arts Academy in 2001, and in 2006 she earned a degree in historic preservation at the Savannah College of Art and Design. Much like legendary Georgia strongman Paul Anderson, with whom she is sometimes compared, Haworth has been an innovator. She seems destined to serve as an enduring role model for women in sports.
In Janaury 2009 the first annual Cheryl Haworth Classic, a weightlifting competition, was held in Savannah. Haworth was inducted into the USA Weightlifting Hall of Fame in 2015, and she currently lives with her wife in Hong Kong.