mental health

This Hawaii veteran’s strength is breaking down barriers in powerlifting – and mental health

This Hawaii veteran's strength is breaking down barriers in powerlifting - and mental health
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) — Imagine rising from a squat with a barbell three times your body weight stretched across your back.

For Sierra Adams, it’s a mood booster.

“When you’re locked in your zone and you’re reading to get there and you know you know the weight on the bar…that’s your time to shine, it’s like the coolest feeling ever,” a she declared.

The 27-year-old is one of Hawaii’s strongest female weightlifters.

She is also an active duty staff sergeant in the Air Force.

The six-year-old veteran was named “Top Lifter” in the women’s 67.5-kilogram weight class at last November’s USAPL Makahiki Open after lifting a combined total of 953 pounds.

All that lifting helps her feel lighter.

“It empowers me,” she said. “It makes me feel like I can do just about anything.”

Deployed for seven months in Qatar – working nearly 13 hours a day, 6 days a week – Sierra turned to weightlifting as a way to cope.

And since then, training in the gym has helped her through the toughest battles – physically and mentally.

“For me, it’s liberating. There is a lot of stress that I accumulate. And when I go to the gym, it’s a great place for me to let him hang out,” she said.

Sierra said she has struggled with depression for more than 20 years. She was recently diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder and a hair-pulling disorder called trichotillomania.

Mental health resources
  • If you or someone you know is in crisis, call Suicide Lifeline on 988.
  • If you are a veteran in crisis, text 838255 or call 988 and press “1”. Click here for more mental health resources for veterans.
  • For local mental health care, call the Hawaii Crisis Line 24/7: Oahu residents call (808)832-3100. Neighboring islands call 1-800-753-6879.
  • For LGBTQ youth in need of support, call the Trevor Helpline at 1-866-488-7386) or text the word “Trevor” to 1-202-304-1200.

She says the gym is her refuge. And powerlifting? The passion of his life.

Science shows she’s onto something.

A 2018 study found that any form of resistance training can have positive effects on mental health, especially for people with depression or anxiety.

Another study found that strength training reduced anxiety by up to 20% in young adults. That’s because scientists say working out releases endorphins, giving you a burst of feel-good chemicals that boost your mood and lower cortisol.

But carrying the weight hasn’t always been easy.

Sierra said she suffered from “impostor syndrome” (feeling like a fraud despite her accomplishments) and a panic attack at the gym, briefly left her on the sidelines.

“I wish people would see me and like, Oh yeah, she kicks, she takes names, she’s confident, you know?” she explained. “And I felt like my vulnerability was completely exposed in that moment. People saw me at my worst.

But she persevered, boosting her confidence and inspiring others.

Sierra said she was starting to learn to love herself better.

“That’s the biggest lesson I’ve learned so far from treating myself like I would treat my friends or loved ones,” she said.

Experts say that while strength training can provide great mental health benefits, it’s still essential to seek professional help. Sierra couldn’t agree more.

“There is a huge stigma around mental health, especially in minority groups and among men,” she said.

“I’ve lost too many people to suicide in my life and, uh, if we can treat mental health like any other physical, uh, medical condition, I feel like the world would be a better place Treat it like a medical condition because ultimately it can be a life or death situation.

And Sierra is so attached to the power of weightlifting that she has now taken on a new role – Coach.

“I currently have three athletes,” she said. I can’t even describe what it’s like to coach someone and see them progress and develop their self-confidence and empowerment. And they accomplish whatever they want.

“I’m still working and I’m still, you know, trial and error with my training,” Sierra added.

But his athletes say it’s a perfect fit.

“She honestly encourages me to be the best version of myself inside and outside the gym,” said Rebecca Abeyratne, who recently became the first woman to represent UH-Manoa on the college podium at the USA powerlifting Collegiate Nationals in Texas.

Sierra says she finds joy in uplifting others, especially those struggling in silence, with a simple message:

“In no way shape or form. Are you alone in your journey. Remember to be patient with yourself. Don’t forget to give yourself the grace and also to love yourself as you love others.

And while Sierra says she’s grateful for the progress she’s made, she’s committed to achieving more PR (personal records) in the gym and in life, including continuing therapy.

Connect with more local experts and resources at this year’s Mental Health and Wellness Fair at Windward Community College on May 3. For more information, click here.

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