When Katherine Brown started lifting weights in 2015, she simply wanted to get into better shape. She had never touched a barbell in her life, and didn’t know if she could succeed in her newly chosen activity. If somebody would have asked her back then about breaking national records and winning world titles, she likely would have laughed. Those types of achievements were simply unfathomable to her.
But as she continued to lift, her outlook began to change. She lost dozens of pounds. She began to not only enter competitions, but place highly in them. And, eventually, she learned just how good she could be if she set her mind to achieving her maximum potential.
Brown’s ascent culminated in June, when she earned an individual title at the 2021 International Weightlifting Federation (IWF) World Masters Weightlifting Championships. The 46-year-old Washougal resident won the 45-49 age group in the 71-kilogram weight class, successfully snatching 71 kilograms (156.5 pounds) and lifting 96 kilograms 211.6 pounds) in the clean and jerk.
“For a good two years, that’s all I was thinking about — how do I win worlds, what do I need to do to win worlds? So, to actually come away and do it was just a phenomenal experience,” she said. “It was so personal for me. These last two years were a lot about sacrificing and putting in the work to get to where I want.”
Brown, who currently holds 11 Washington state and national Olympic weightlifting records, will now compete at the Pan American Weightlifting Championships in Orlando, Florida, in August. The event will conclude her quest to win all four of the major masters championships in a single year, an accomplishment known as a “grand slam.”
“I’m super stoked because the Pan-Americans is an in-person sanctioned meet, so I will get an attempt to break (the world) records,” she said. “I’m trying to be confident — I will set those world records. To look back at where I’ve come from and where I’m at today, I never, ever would’ve thought that was possible.”
Jared Leeper, Brown’s coach, called her a “superhero.”
“Her superpower is indomitable will. You can’t knock her down, and you can’t kill her, and that’s one thing that will always make a champion,” said Leeper, the founder of the BYB CrossFit facility in Tualatin, Oregon. “What makes her different from a lot of the high-performing folks I’ve had the pleasure of being around is that she’s the most sincere, caring and giving person you’d ever meet. She’d be the last one to bring up any accolades or anything like that. She’s more involved with somebody else’s success than her success any day of the week and twice on Sundays.”
Brown’s weightlifting journey began in 2015, when she joined BYB CrossFit at the behest of a friend.
“When I moved back to the Northwest, I was pretty unhealthy,” she said. “I was tipping the scale at about 230 pounds and I was sick all the time, and a friend of mine talked me into trying CrossFit, and I quickly fell in love with it. I never lifted a weight above my head before then. I remember the day I walked in, (people) were doing a snatch and I was going, ‘Oh, you don’t expect me to do that, do you?’ I really quickly fell in love with CrossFit, but I realized my strengths were on the (lifting) side of things.”
She chose Olympic powerlifting over other types of lifting because she discovered that it is “more technical in nature.”
Now down to 150 pounds, Brown said she loves what weightlifting brings to her life.
“I have a full-time desk job, so (weightlifting) is also a big stress-reliever for me,” Brown said. “It gives me an outlet and enables me to focus on me, my time and constant improvement. You have good days and bad days, but there’s always something to work on and to get better at. I absolutely love that.”
She worked diligently with Leeper to add technique to her raw strength, then entered the competitive scene. But she “bombed out” and finished last in her first world championship event in Barcelona, Spain, in 2018.
Leeper said he and Brown felt “pretty beat up” about the 2018 loss.
“She comes off the stage and I give her a hug,” Leeper said. “We’re both teared up about it. About 60 seconds go by, and she just looks at me with the utmost confidence I’ve ever seen from anybody, and says, ‘I’m going to come back so much stronger. I’m never going to let this happen again.’ She owned it completely. She was driven.”
Brown made good on her promise a year later, taking fourth place in her division at the 2019 world championships in Canada.
“I was marginally better, but I knew (I was capable of) more,” she said. “Not too long before the pandemic, my husband built a platform in our garage, so during the pandemic I didn’t miss a hitch with my training. My coach moved to Texas and I became a remote athlete, which was fine because I was training out of my garage. I had a mix of going to Tualatin when I could and training out of my garage, and it worked out really well.”
The IWF canceled the world championships in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but brought it back in 2021 in a virtual format. Brown performed her qualifying lifts at the Tualatin facility in front of enthusiastic supporters.
“I was actually moving up an age group, and I was looking at the rankings, and I was like, ‘Wow, I have a legitimate shot at it this,'” she said. “Based on the qualifying totals, I stood out on top. But that meant I had to execute it. I knew that it wasn’t going to be a cakewalk and that I still had to go and do my thing.”
Having earned USA Weightlifting level-one teaching credentials in 2019, Brown now coaches other weightlifters. She took two of her students, Rylie Jords and Jordynn Sauer, to compete at the 2021 National Youth Championships in Detroit, Michigan, in late June.
Watching her students grow and excel has been inspiring, Brown said.
“I think I found that I actually like the coaching aspect more than competing,” she said. “I really have enjoyed coaching these youths and being a part of their journey and an example and role model for them. It’s been an incredible experience for me.”