USA-W weightlifting fans will want to familiarize themselves with the name Danielle Hudes. A lifter on the rise, she was the 2015 American Open champ in the 69kg class and this past May, she took second place at Nationals.
But a look into Danielle’s life before weightlifting tells a different story- not one of instant success, but rather, one of struggle.
Though it seems inconceivable when looking at Danielle’s muscular build today, at age 15 she was diagnosed with anorexia. Over the next three years, she sought treatment and experienced periods of hospitalization.
For Danielle, anorexia was a coping mechanism to deal with borderline personality disorder (BPD), which she was diagnosed with at aged 20. The National Institute of Mental Health explains that people who suffer with the condition have “problems with regulating emotions and thoughts [and often engage in] impulsive and reckless behavior.” As a result, many with the disorder develop co-disorders as a means of dealing with the emotional highs and lows of BPD and “depression, anxiety disorders, substance abuse, and eating disorders” are common. In Danielle’s case, her anorexia developed because it allowed her to maintain some control in her life when she otherwise was unsure, as she says, with “what to do with everything going on in [her] head.” Danielle attempted to manage her feelings and her thoughts by controlling her eating.
Once out of the hospital, Danielle began to focus on building a life for herself. She came across a Craigslist ad for a gym that needed a CrossFit coach. Intrigued, she applied for the job and signed up for her CF Level 1 before ever even trying CrossFit. Looking back with a laugh, she notes that it’s fortunate she is still coaching professionally as the Level 1 course is an expensive first introduction to the sport.
A gymnast since she was young, Danielle excelled at CrossFit and like any perfectionist, she concentrated on improving weaknesses. Over time, this morphed into her focusing more and more on the barbell. She became enamored with the mental challenge of weightlifting, likening the emotional ups and downs of the sport to those of life. Having been through so much already, she felt the urge to meet this challenge head on and after completing a cycle of lifting, she signed up for her first meet.
At that meet, she qualified for the 2014 American Open, though Danielle downplays this achievement arguing that the qualifying totals at that time were not as high as they are today. However, like so many other difficulties she has experienced in life, she was disappointed when an unexpected snowstorm hit Dallas and her plane was unable to land. Despite not being able to compete, she returned to the gym fueled to continue her training and turned her focus to local events.
It was at a local event that she met her current coach, Michael McKenna, USA-W National Level Coach (L2). and owner of McKenna’s Gym in Stewartstown, PA. After watching her session, he approached her to explain that she was beginning her pull too early and subsequently, spent an hour and a half instructing her. McKenna remembers meeting her, sharing, “I remember it. I saw someone who wanted to lift, who was smart, and who seemed to have potential.”
Danielle too, recognized McKenna’s coaching abilities, and decided to follow his programming. Under McKenna’s coaching, Danielle qualified for the 2014 National Championships where she snatched 72kg and clean and jerked 91kg in the 69kg class. Just two years later, at this year’s National championships, she showed incredible improvement, snatching 90kg and clean and jerking 116kg to earn a silver medal.
Danielle attributes much of her success in weightlifting to her coaches. For two years, she has worked with McKenna through virtual coaching. He programs her training sessions after viewing videos she sends to him via the internet and provides feedback on her lifts. Likewise, she recently moved to Seattle to live with her girlfriend, Laura Mohler (also a National level lifter, 53kg class) and Laura’s coach, Rachel Churchward, serves as an onsite coach for Danielle. The combination of working with both McKenna and Churchward has helped Danielle to develop as an athlete.
This has enhanced her coaching skills as well. As a CrossFit coach at The LAB in Seattle, Danielle must figure out ways to make sense of the lifts in order to teach members at the box. She explains, “I need to understand why we drive with the legs instead of just pulling [with the arms so that I can] make sense of that for other people.” This understanding of the technical components of the snatch and the clean and jerk has, in turn, improved her own performance on her lifts.
But perhaps most importantly, Danielle has developed mental strength through adversity. Danielle feels that she has endured so much in life that anything she faces in weightlifting pales in comparison. She explains that weightlifting and therapy are very much the same for her, stating, “You have to face yourself in such a real way all the time when you are weightlifting. You have to sit with yourself through the times when you feel you should be doing so much better. In therapy, I learned to accept where I am in life and in weightlifting I’ve learned to accept where I am in lifting and those rebound off one another. Where I’ve been… It helps make the struggle of weightlifting so much easier. I’ve been through so much worse.”
Because of this, she does not fear missing lifts and causing injury as some weightlifters do. In fact, she does not fear anything, but failure. “I’m not afraid that I’m going to miss and drop it on my head,” she says referring to her lifts, but rather, “I worry about not doing them well.”
Once she established herself as a highly ranked athlete in her class by winning the 2015 American Open, she began to feel more pressure to perform at her best. In some ways, she found it easier to be an unknown lifter in her first few national events when she was inexperienced. Now, she claims, “If I’m missing lifts in the gym or the warm up [for a competition] it freaks me out more than if I was in the middle [of the rankings in the 69kg weight class].”
In the weeks leading up to the 2016 USA-W Nationals, Danielle and McKenna frequently discussed her feelings, and he helped her to focus on what is within her control- remembering each step of the lift and zeroing in on cues that help her perform them successfully. Now, Danielle says, “I think about those things instead of ‘Don’t miss it behind you’. Instead, I think, ‘Really punch it up’ and then I get it overhead.”
She feels more confident now, stating, “The difference from when I started is so great. I know I can do what I set out to do.”
And what Danielle has “set out to do” is become so good that she is challenging top lifters. She doesn’t want “to win because someone else bombed out” or “make the Pan Am team because people resigned.” She wants to achieve those things because she, herself, is a force to be reckoned with.
Winning the 2015 American Open, Danielle says, “was such a high moment. It just made such a difference for me- going out and realizing I could put up numbers.” Because of that, and because of the silver medal she earned at the 2015 Nationals, Danielle sees training as her number one priority. Next, she intends to make the USA-W University World Team and it’s clear she is well on her way to becoming an elite member of USA-W.
McKenna agrees, “Danielle’s dealing with her BPD and anorexia is how she became psychologically strong. She understands how to confront that moment; she understands how to work through the process. She understands that it will take time, and the setbacks suck, but you can overcome them. And that’s where her strength is. She’s embracing her self, becoming self aware, and the fear of the bar, the worry of the failure, matters less than her will to be a champion.”
He continues, “She’s ready for the lights, the anxiety, the loneliness, the cheers. It’s somehow all the same; it’s the world. She’s embraced the world, and she’s making her mark in it. She will be able to say, ‘I am Danielle Hudes. This is all of me, and this is all there is. And I am a champion.'”
Follow Danielle on Instagram: @daniellehudes
Danielle is an Earth Fed Muscle athlete. For 5% off protein and supplements, enter code “BARBELLPRESS” at checkout.
Photo Credit: SickAngles