Girl Gains Empowers Female Athletes Despite SA’s Lack of Support

Allie Hillary (second from right) leads many Girl Gains lift sessions at the AWC, in spite of a lack of club recognition from the university. She and the club are determined to help the women of New Paltz lift in comfortable environments. Photo Courtesy Allie Hillary

Girl Gains Club is a new female-oriented lifting club at SUNY New Paltz with over 100 total members. Six months after its formation, it still hasn’t received recognition from the school, and thus lacks resources to fully realize its goal of helping and protecting the women at New Paltz. 

When Allie Hillary, an early childhood education major, first saw Girl Gains on Tik Tok in March of 2022 during her junior year, she instantly knew she wanted to be a part of it. Hillary saw an opportunity to adopt and spread a fitness and body-positive culture at SUNY New Paltz for women like herself. She immediately looked up Girl Gains and applied to start a New Paltz chapter excited by the potential.

A month later, Hillary found herself even more motivated to start Girl Gains. She had signed up to compete at the USA Powerlifting Ladies of Iron for New York. During the event, she was surrounded by like-minded women all striving to not only best their competitors, but their own selves as well. 

This revealed a stark contrast from her time preparing for the competition. While training at New Paltz, she found the only help she could receive when it came to lifting was not from other women, but from men. There was a complete lack of a female lifting community at the university and Hillary became extremely cognitive of the fact. “I was only able to find men who knew anything about lifting, form, and competitive powerlifting in general,” said Hillary. “Part of me thought, ‘being the only woman interested in powerlifting and not having the necessary information to do so sucks.’” Hillary became determined to replicate the same empowering environment she felt at the competition to help other women in New Paltz.    

Girl Gains was founded in 2020 at San Diego State University. Their goal was simple: “promote female weight lifting and empower women.” While simple, this mission statement means to encourage any female-identifying person to join, regardless of background or fitness level. Since then, the body-positive lifting club has expanded to over 60 colleges and universities across the U.S.. Through social media and word-of-mouth, Girl Gains has steadily increased its community, and now made its way to SUNY New Paltz.  

After getting approval, Hillary started an Instagram page dedicated to the New Paltz chapter, where she advertised openings for board members. She was approached by a number of enthusiastic applicants, all of whom shared her vision. But like any fitness journey, challenges quickly arose for the budding club. 

In order for a student club to be made official, it must be recognized by one of three student governments: Student Association, the Residence Hall Student Association, or the United Sorority and Fraternity Association. Girl Gains falls under the umbrella of the Student Association and would have to apply through them. Hillary quickly learned she had missed the application deadline to get approval for a new club, so she got in contact with then Student Association President, Jordan Hennix. The two coordinated to try and get recognition, despite missing the deadline. However, time ran out and the spring Student Association elections took place. Hennix’s presidency had concluded, and Hillary had to start from scratch.  

Enter fall semester 2022. Girl Gains was still unrecognized by the Student Association. They had no funding, club privileges or rights to reserve space. What they did have, on the other hand, was 118 interested members in their GroupMe chat, all of whom wanted to be part of an empowering female-oriented lifting club. So, despite lacking club recognition, Girl Gains continues to schedule meetups for its members, such as using outdoor spaces for fitness sessions or meeting at the Athletic and Wellness Center (AWC) as a group. But Hillary and the rest of the E-Board are still trying to get approved, citing the need for the club is imperative. 

Going to the gym and trying to keep a certain level of fitness is incredibly beneficial for everyone. The problem is, it’s not the most welcoming place either. Gym culture is typically seen as a male-dominated scene, where “gym bros” seek to improve their physical fitness and physiques. Backwards caps, shorts with 5” inseams, protein shakers — the look is instantly recognizable. Few and far between are the female lifters, who want to be there but often feel too uncomfortable to go. Ogling, mansplaining, harassment; these are all issues that women in gyms everywhere face, including, yes, SUNY New Paltz.

Girl Gains Vice President Ashley Sullivan, a second-year psychology major, tried to petition the school last year to reserve some time at the AWC for female-identifying students, but ultimately was rejected. Now, she hopes that Girl Gains is a viable alternative for women, so that they can work out in a safe environment and stay healthy.

In spite of all the setbacks, Girl Gains pushes on. Hillary believes their goal is the first priority. “We’ve just decided as a club that not being recognized by the school shouldn’t inhibit our ability to get our message out there on campus, and we want to motivate and empower all these female-identifying individuals on our campus.”