As Angela Karr approached the bar, she felt the eyes of the judges and audience on her.
In her first Olympic lifting competition, the mom of six, grandmother,
nurse, and member of Team Some Assembly Required, bent over the bar to screw in her right hand as time ticked down on the judge’s clock.
“My heart was pounding,” she said. “It took several seconds for me to screw in my hand to the bar and the whole time I was worrying that the judges would think ‘Oh, this poor cripple girl, let’s give her three white lights.’ I didn’t want them to pity me.”
Born without her right hand, Angela grew up adapting to whatever sport or activity she wanted to participate in — playing on the monkey bars, jumping rope, tying her shoes, even starting an IV when she worked as a nurse.
“Growing up, my mom and dad had an old-school way of thinking,” she said. “I had to figure it out myself.”
It wasn’t until she was in her 40s and tried CrossFit that she found a movement she couldn’t adapt — the snatch.
Working with a Hanger Clinic prosthetist, Angela developed an arm with the wrist mobility necessary to make the lift, but it requires her to be attached to the bar.
“It’s scary because I can’t bail,” she said. “I’m stuck to the bar.”
But the time she put in with her coaches at Practice CrossFit and the modifications she made with her prosthetist paid off.
“Everyone’s equal on the platform,” Angela said. “You’ve either done the work or you haven’t. There’s nowhere to hide.”
With her arm screwed to the bar, Angela made her lift — a 57-pound snatch — and earned her three white lights.
Getting comfortable with uncomfortable
Ten years ago, Josh Bunch spotted Angela walking on the treadmill.
“We’d just opened Practice CrossFit and she acted like she ignored the crazy, but I saw her looking,” he said. “Before long, she came over to the dark side.”
Josh said he never had any concerns or reservations coaching Angela.
“Adapting to the uncomfortable moments in life means you first must be willing to experience them and most people aren’t,” he said. “But not Karr. She’s timid at times, over-critical, but she finds something deep down that makes her want to be better.”
Josh said that he doesn’t see Angela as a “special” case. Instead, he says, everyone has their own baggage — whether it be bad knees, poor shoulder mobility, or missing an arm — that he and the other coaches help them push through.
That meant helping Angela find a way to perform the Olympic lifts — the snatch and clean and jerk — which popular in many CrossFit workouts.
“For cleans, she goes naked as she can, securing the bar with her nub for the clean, and fearlessly nailing a jerk with barely anything in contact with the barbell,” he said. “It’s awesome.”
Because of the wide grip required, the snatch proved more difficult. But Angela and her coaches found a way.
“I think she enjoys the mindfulness of a barbell, the way it makes you think and disappear into its lessons,” Josh said. “It took some time to figure out how best to progress, but she never quit.”
The snatch arm
Maybe it was coincidence, or maybe it was fate; but the answer to Angela’s snatching problems came from another member of Practice CrossFit, Michelle Poeppelman, who just happened to be a prosthetist for Hanger Clinic.
“When I met Angela she wanted to be able to do a pull-up,” Michelle said. “I hadn’t made any CrossFit-specific hands before. It was very challenging, but very rewarding to have a patient who is so motivated.”
Michelle said she first created a prosthetic with a hook on it to help Angela perform a pull-up. Then, she asked about snatching.
“Our motto at Hanger is ‘Empowering human potential’ and I had to really think what can I do to help her accomplish these goals,” Michelle said. “I’ve seen firsthand how being able to do these movements helped Angela’s confidence.”
Because of her CrossFit background, Michelle said she knew how important it was for Angela to have a mobile wrist that could swivel with the barbell.
After months of refining the arm with her coaches and prosthetist, Angela finally had her arm.
“This was my first time having a wrist,” Angela said. “It’s like if Helen Keller could see, she would be like ‘Oh my god!’ That’s what it was like. I’m so lucky.”
Angela says she’s uncomfortable being called an inspiration. And to her six children, she’s just “mom.”
But CrossFit and weightlifting have given her something even more: a confidence that is hard to achieve in the confines of motherhood.
Still, she admits, she carries that “mom guilt” with her every time she walks into the gym.
“We walk in with that guilt. Do the kids have what they need? Are they doing their homework?” she said. “I have six kids, two dogs, two cats. I’m constantly at the grocery store. And, my god, the laundry. Sometimes I look around and wonder if I live in a laundry mat.
“But the gym is my time. Every mom needs that time.”
Angela says that it helps that her husband and children are behind her and support her training and she says that she’s a more relaxed mom because of it. She hopes to compete again in the spring.
“This is where my heart is,” she said. “Maybe I’ll be one of the few. Maybe I’ll be one of the few moms who sets aside time for herself to do this.
By sharing her story, Angela said she hopes other moms will choose strong — however they define it.
“I love Olympic lifting. It makes me feel whole. It makes me feel like a badass. I love feeling strong.”
Do you know a strong mom that should be featured by MamaLifts? Are you that strong mom? Email email@example.com and tell us about the strong mom in your life.