“A smile that illuminates the room”
Text: David Colón Arroyo
Photos: Cara Heads and Deborah Hudson
As soon as she entered the warm-up area of the Pan American U17 Championship in Guayaquil, Ecuador, the space was invaded by a strange brightness that only a broad and beautiful smile can produce. It was Cara Heads Slaughter, former member of the National and Olympic USA Team who is now coach to several athletes who have competed internationally, extending a fruitful career in weightlifting that Cara started almost 30 years ago.
WW: Tell me about your first experience in sports and in weightlifting.
CHS: “I was born in California and I participated in a several competitive sports in school including track and field as a thrower and basketball. Because of the training that goes in athletics, lifting weights came almost naturally and I started to get good at it.”
WW: What really got you into weightlifting?
CHS: “Early in my weightlifting career I earned a spot on the USA Junior National team that competed at the 1997 Junior World Championships in Cape Town, where I won a bronze medal. That experience got me so motivated that I decided to compete in weightlifting full-time.”
WW: Can you mention any other important competition experience in your career?
CHS: “My most memorable performances were winning the silver medal at the 1999 Pan American Games and finishing just off the podium at the 1998 World Championships in Lahti, Finland due to bodyweight. And of course, being a member of the USA Olympic Team at the 2000 Sydney Games was certainly a high point in my career as I am sure it was for all of us who had the honor to participate in the first women’s weightlifting event at the Olympic Games.”
WW: Which teammates do you remember from those days?
CHS: “I competed many times on USA National teams that included three-time Olympian and medalist Cheryl Haworth, world champion Robin (Byrd) Goad, Olympic Champion Tara (Knot) Cunningham, and Junior World Champion Oscar Chaplin III.”
WW: What are you doing right now, anything besides weightlifting?
CHS: “During my years as an athlete, I earned a bachelor’s and master’s degrees in Sociology. Today, I’m the Founder and Owner of CH Fitness and Performance and Head Coach of its weightlifting club, CHFP Weightlifting. CH Fitness and Performance has over 100 members and CHFP Weightlifting has over 40 competitive athletes of all ages, from Youth to Masters. Aside from my business, I was honored to be selected among the first group of international women coaches certified as IWF Coach Course Instructors and I am currently participating the International Coach Enrichment Certificate Program sponsored by the IOC and the Olympic Solidarity Commission.”
WW: What are you doing here in Guayaquil?
CHS: “I am here as coach of Team USA member Avery Owens who just became Youth Pan Am Champion in the 81kg category.”
WW: What is your impression of the sport of weightlifting that you have seen throughout your career?
CHS: “The sport of weightlifting is more popular today than ever before in its history, for certain in the United States. Internationally, I am pleased to see an increasing number of women participate in leadership positions as international coaches, officials, administrators and leaders in general. It’s both exciting and inspiring.”
At the end of this interview I was amazed to notice that although Cara Heads Slaughter was leaving the competition arena, the place stayed strangely illuminated as if her bright smile was there to stay.