I'm a Female Powerlifter. Women's Sports Are for Females | Opinion

"A woman is like a tea bag," Eleanor Roosevelt was known to say. "You can't tell how strong she is until you put her in hot water."

Women are strong in a multitude of ways. As anyone who has experienced the "hot water" of motherhood, miscarriage and/or a bad relationship can confirm, it takes a lot grit to be a woman. Like far too many other women, I'm also a survivor of domestic abuse. It's taken me years to work through the fear and panic attacks.

But one of the ways I've overcome my past and cultivated strength is by becoming an amateur powerlifter. I found the sport in my early 30s, and I've never been so strong, inside or out. When I push my body to lift over 300 pounds, I feel nearly invincible. My mind sharpens; my struggles fade away.

As a former toy tractor-loving, champion go-kart-racing tomboy, I can attest that girls don't need to play with dolls or fit into other gender stereotypes to grow into a real woman. One of my favorite sayings in powerlifting circles is "There is a beast inside of every woman that unleashes when you place a barbell in her hands."

Tough as we are, though, men and women are undeniably different. It's obvious in sports. You don't need a Ph.D. in health and human performance to see that men, on average, have a competitive advantage. Elite high school male athletes frequently outperform female Olympians. It is because of these differences that girls and women deserve the opportunity to compete, bond, train, suffer and enjoy victory (never mind showering and changing) without the presence of male bodies in their competitions or locker rooms.

After gender activists demanded that a biological man be allowed to compete against women and jeopardized one of my powerlifting competitions with a disruptive protest, I realized I couldn't stay silent. This male had dominated a women's competition just weeks prior, while taking a women's state record. How could allowing a biological man to compete against women be fair or inclusive when it excludes women from their own record books?

Females are being displaced by males in athletic competitions across this nation and around the world. Biological males have punched women out, collected their medals and pushed them off victory podiums. The only women I know who are challenging this injustice through legal means are female student-athletes and their mothers.

Gym at Johns Hopkins University
Gym at Johns Hopkins University JHU Sheridan Libraries/Gado/Getty Images

This led me to launch Save Women's Sports, a diverse coalition that seeks to preserve biology-based eligibility standards for participation in women's sports. I'm something of an accidental activist—a mom and amateur athlete who cares about the future of women's opportunities. You don't need to be religious or politically active to believe that women's sports should only be for adult biological females.

Unfortunately, when I calmly and kindly state my point of view—informed both by personal experience and science—I'm harassed, threatened and slammed as a bigot. I've received gruesome death threats. I'm called all kinds of unprintable things. I'm subjected to the same kind of bullying that transgender activists say they are seeking to avoid.

But biology isn't bigotry—a point that some mainstream journalists seem to miss entirely. I was disappointed to read a recent, glowing Sports Illustrated profile piece that—without any apparent hesitation—celebrated an Idaho biological male athlete who insists that he must be allowed to race against collegiate women. What about all the women he beats—almost every single time he races? Do their stories matter?

People experiencing gender dysphoria certainly deserve compassion and kindness. But a biological male's beliefs about his identity do not entitle that person to women's sports medals. When we pretend that only the struggles and challenges of transgender athletes matter, we are silencing women and girls.

Many women are afraid to speak up. They risk losing sponsorships, relationships and jobs. But courage begets courage. That's why I invite current and former female NCAA and professional athletes to stand up, speak up and sign their support for women's sports.

Speaking up for women's sports might get you in some hot water. But like First Lady Roosevelt quipped, that is when we'll show our strength. Together, we can save women's sports.

Beth Stelzer is a Minnesota powerlifter and the founder of Save Women's Sports.

The views expressed in this article are the writer's own.