The tale of Rory van Ulft, the seven-year-old competitive weight-lifter, puts me in mind of Samuel Johnson’s famous quip about a dog walking on its hind legs: “It’s not done well; but you are surprised to find it done at all.” According to one gushing profile, “Rory, who is just four feet tall, started training just after her fifth birthday after she was scouted at a gymnastics class. Fast forward to last week and she was crowned USA weightlifting under-11 and under-13s Youth National Champion in the 30kg weight class. She is the youngest US youth national champion in history and is the best pound-for-pound under-11s lifter in the US.”
She has an Instagram account, managed by her parents [ Cavan and Lindsay] where the videos of her incredible feats are shared. Take a look at one such clip and prepare to get stunned….“I like getting stronger. Being stronger lets me do more and get better at everything I try. I don’t think about what came before, or what will come after. I don’t think about anything. I just clear my mind and do it,” she [said]….“Based on her current Sinclair total, Rory is not only the strongest seven-year-old in the world. She is likely also the strongest seven-year-old girl or boy who has ever lived, for whom there are verifiable competition results,” Rory’s dad told LadBible….
What do you think of this amazing girl?
I think, like the twin boys of “The Biking Vogels,” Abbie Sunderland, tiny gymnasts and skaters, child actors dragged to auditions and all the other children manipulated, exploited and ultimately endangered or harmed by their parents, Rory needs some responsible adult to step in and rescue her.
A seven-year old doesn’t have the capacity to consent to being subjected to such extreme training, and when, as is overwhelmingly likely, she suffers from serious physical maladies because she was pushed into lifting heavy weights before her bones were ready for it, it will be too late.
I was shocked to find that there were weight-lifting competitions for children this young. But Rory is one of dozens of Canadian preteens in the sport, which has no official lower age limit in either the Canada or the U.S. During the 2018-19 season, Canada had at least 63 Olympic-style weightlifters between the ages of seven and 13 registered for competition, and the U.S had more than 400. The argument given for allowing this is that there is no data showing conclusively that toddlers lifting weighs is harmful. Most doctors, however, reason that it is, and caution against it.
Perusing sites like that of the the Mayo Clinic and St. Louis Children’s Hospital, I see remarkable consistency in the advice about children lifting weights:
- Children under seven should not lift weights at all.
- Strength training can be good, but powerlifting and training to maximize lifts is dangerous.
- “Studies have suggested that weight training might harm a child’s growth, lead to injuries or not increase muscle strength.”
- “In general, children and adolescents should use submaximal loads to develop form and technique in a variety of exercises. The American Academy of Pediatrics does not endorse using continuous maximal lifts for youth strength training.1 Single maximal lifts are not recommended until skeletal maturity is attained.”
Ethically, however, the main point is: why take the chance? What’s the rush? There are not sufficient numbers of child weightlifters to effectively study the effects of the activity, and children Rory’s age cannot meaningfully consent to the risks. Weight-lifting is approved and with proper technique regarded as safe for boys and girls once they enter puberty, if that’s an activity they want to engage in, rather than a regimen imposed on them by parents seeking vicarious thrills and publicity.