Written By: Karissa Kruszewski
Since being asked to write a blog, I have had thousands upon thousands of ideas fly across my mind. I would catch myself writing about one topic and integrating another topic or two. After a few ideas, thoughts, and rough drafts, I decided to write about inspiring and motivating female athletes to embrace their bodies in the weight room & during dryland.
I finished the book Strong Like Her by Haley Shapley (highly, highly, highly, recommend for everyone to read!). Shapley writes, “Women knew they had to show that they were capable within a framework of femininity or they might never get another chance to prove how strong they really are.” Throughout the book, she talks about the glass ceilings that many women before us broke through so that we, female athletes, can compete, be in a weight room, and even run… Yes! The idea of running was banned for women not even 60 years ago. How insane is that to comprehend.
Actor dancer, Patina Miller stated, “being strong is not just a physical thing for me; it’s being able to walk out into the world unapologetically.” With so many strong women coming before us, we must honor them by becoming the strongest best versions of ourselves. The change that occurs when a female knows she can do 3 sets of 10 pull ups or squat 2x their body weight, not only strengthens their bodies, but it strengthens her mind. As one gets stronger physically, one grows stronger mentally.
As a new coaching staff, Jordan and I strive to inspire our women to challenge themselves, break barriers, and overcome obstacles they did not believe they could. We want to redefine the meaning of strong. Jordan has run multiple marathons, has finished an Ironman, and is a Peloton fiend. I love the weight room and trying new things. This past year I have learned how to snowboard, recreated a home gym within my apartment, became Yoga Sculpt certified, and am dabbling in acrobatics.
We strive to redefine what strong is to our women’s team. Meg Gallagher, Powerlifter, said it best, “I try to never forget that the reason I’m in the gym is because I love my body and I want it to be stronger.” “Bulking” up or “putting” on muscle, as a female athlete, is not a bad thing. That is something that should be embraced and encouraged! “Any muscle, well developed is beautiful; muscular lines are lines of beauty everywhere.”
Shapley wrote, “It wasn’t until I realized how powerful I felt slinging around a barbell that I began to let go of my preconceived ideas about my body’s appearance.” WHAT A POWERFUL STATEMENT. I know that I can 100% relate to this line. Being able to lift my body weight + more is invigorating and addicting. All of our physical challenges also make us mentally stronger.
A female athlete is just as powerful and resilient as a male athlete. We, as coaches, must continue to remind and challenge female athletes. We, as coaches, must be an example for female athletes.
I will leave everyone with one final quote from Strong Like Her because I am a huge fan of the saying “get comfortable being uncomfortable.”
“But we can train our brains to get comfortable with being uncomfortable and one of the best ways to do that is to challenge our physical limits. When you don’t think you can take one more step = and somehow, you do – that’s when you’re really working on all aspects of becoming stronger,” Haley Shapley.
Shapley, H., & Holland, S. (2020). Strong like her: A celebration of rule breakers, history makers, and unstoppable athletes. New York, NY: Gallery Books.
Karissa Kruszewski joined the UCLA swim and dive program as an assistant coach before the 2019-20 season. Kruszewski most recently served as assistant coach and recruiting coordinator for men's and women's swimming and diving at UNLV. Kruszewski (pronounced kroo-Shef-skee) helped the Bruins to a standout campaign in 2019-20, her first year on staff. The Bruins posted a 7-3 record in dual meets, placed fourth at the Pac-12 Championships (the program's best finish since 2014), and qualified five student-athletes for NCAA Championships before the season was cut short by COVID-19. Prior to arriving at UCLA, she spent three seasons at UNLV (2016-17, 2017-18, 2018-19), working primarily with middle distance and distance swimmers. As the recruiting coordinator for the program, she was responsible for building each of UNLV's recruit classes while planning and managing all recruiting visits. Kruszewski also collaborated with the head coach to design and implement training programs for both the men's and women's squads. In both 2017-18 and 2018-19, she helped produce the Freshman of the Meet at UNLV's league championships, as Brad Gonzales accomplished the feat in 2018 after winning a WAC Championship in the 1650 free while Carissa Armijo was honored after finishing second in the 500 free at the 2019 Mountain West Championships. The Rebels broke three school records during Kruszewki's tenure. Prior to joining the staff at UNLV, Kruszewski spent one year (2015-16) as the assistant coach, recruiting coordinator, and academic supervisor at Cal State East Bay. That year, the Pioneers set four school records, notched 17 NCAA B Cuts, and placed six student-athletes on the All-PCSC Team. Cal State East Bay would go on to finish second at the 2016 PCSC Championships. She started her coaching career as the head coach for the girl's program at Oregon High School in Oregon, Wis. and for the men's program at Stoughton High School in Stoughton, Wis. from 2013-15. Kruszewski was a three-year letterwinner at the University of Wisconsin, earning Big Ten Academic All-Conference honors in all six of her semesters. She began her collegiate career at UC Irvine in 2008 where she was named a Scholar-Athlete. The Murrieta, Calif. native earned her bachelor's degree in sociology from Wisconsin in 2013, and received a certificate in organizational leadership and communication from UC Irvine in 2016. She is currently pursuing an M.S. in organizational change leadership from the University of Wisconsin, Platteville.