She’s supposedly the world’s strongest girl, a weightlifter who broke a powerlifting record at a remarkably young age, and who still holds three records in her masculine sport.
“I love being strong, it’s empowering, ” says Naomi (Nahama) Kutin in Jessie Auritt’s fly-on-the-wall documentary, Supergirl, which will be broadcast on the PBS network on Monday, December 18 at 1o p.m. (check local listings).
Kutin, an American media sensation, is an unusual girl in every sense of the word.
Now 16, she catapulted to fame at the age of 10, when she lifted 215 pounds and weighed only 97 pounds. And, as a practicing modern Orthodox Jew, she lives in a traditional and somewhat cloistered community that generally frowns upon women in athletics.
As Supergirl suggests, Kutin is the exception to the rule due to her supportive parents. Her father, Ed, her coach, has been a powerlifter for more than 30 years. Her mother, Neshama, her chief cheerleader, is a health coach.
Supergirl, filmed over a period of three years, is an empathetic portrait of a driven young woman who struggles to excel and continue her winning streak in the face of tough competition from much older and far more experienced rivals.
Kutin, having established records in the squat, bench press and deadlift, is supremely dedicated. Under the supervision of her father, who introduced her to powerlifting, she hews to a rigorous training regimen in the basement of their home in New Jersey. As she approaches the weightlifting bar, she grunts, groans and shouts, psyching herself up for the task at hand. As she lifts the weight, her face grimacing and blushing, Ed and Neshama watch their accomplished daughter with pride.
Kutin ventured into this demanding sport when she was eight and made astonishing progress. “I was astounded at how fast she advanced,” says Ed, a muscular fellow who wears a black yarmulke. “She was strong,” says Neshama, a Christian convert to Judaism. “Really strong. I was shocked.”
Her younger brother, Ari, admires her as well. No sibling rivalry in this close-kinit family.
As Supergirl unfolds, it becomes clear that Kutin is a perfectionist. “Aaah! What’s wrong with me,” she moans after failing to lift a weight. “Don’t be a drama queen,” Ed counters.
As she inevitably gains weight, Kutin strives mightily to stay within her 97-pound class. It’s a challenge she will not be able to overcome.
The film makes a sharp U-turn when Kutin, accompanied by her mother, shops for a Bat Mitzvah dress in a department store. It then segues to family drive to Florida for a competition. She cries after failing to set a world record, but she makes up for it by lifting a 265-pound weight.
Pounded by constant headaches following this event, Kutin sees a neurologist, who advises her to take a break from weightlifting. It’s a moment of crisis. Kutin fears she’ll have to give up her cherished sport. She recovers, but proceeds to pull a muscle.
In the next few scenes, she enters a competition in Virginia, where she elicits the admiration of more seasoned performers, and participates in an eighth grade graduation ceremony at her parochial school in New Jersey.
All in all, Supergirl is a rounded portrait of a talented, ambitious and gutsy athlete who has yet to fulfill her full potential as a powerlifter.