Cassi and HunterRichmond Balance, Väsen Brewing Company and host of volunteers made it possible

As a recent transplant to Richmond, when Cassi Niemann learned of the Women’s Strength Coalition’s mission and their national LGBTQ fundraising efforts through “Pull for Pride,” she immediately knew she wanted to bring the program to her new city. Her first step was to approach Hunter Rhoades, the owner of Richmond Balance, where Cassi trains her clients, and inquire if he would support the efforts. Hunter’s response was an immediate yes. Over the past year, Hunter and Cassi had been working together to create an inclusive and welcoming space within the brick walls of Richmond Balance. Providing people of all ages, genders and capabilities access to a safe space to learn how to get stronger, live longer and start a healthy fitness journey.

With this partnership, it was within a short period of time that they recruited over 50 participants who jumped at the chance to deadlift heavy weight and raise funds for Diversity Richmond and Side By Side. Thanks to the framework set up by the Women’s Strength Coalition, Richmond was now one of seven cities across the country to participate in this event during the month of June.

While we all know that eating healthy and exercise is necessary, visiting a gym is something many of us still shy away from. Or more specifically, entering the barbell area of the gym can seem intimidating to most. Perhaps it’s because it doesn’t seem accessible to everyone or because doing something new and different is daunting. Both Cassi and the Women’s Strength Coalition are aware of this and together with Richmond Balance; it is their goal is to help open the door to everyone. They stand behind the mission of the WSC, which is “Building stronger communities through increased access to strength training and to create a world where everyone has the equal opportunities to express their voice and power.”

To add to that, Cassi says “I want Richmond to be an inclusive and welcoming city that presents itself as strong, both as a community and as individuals. Everyone can be a strength athlete and there should be affirming spaces that allow that for all people.”

In the process of developing this event, Cassi and Hunter reached out to surrounding gyms, fellow strength coaches and local businesses for support and participation. Each contestant paid a registration fee and then was encouraged to enlist friends to pledge financial support as they promised to lift hundreds of pounds.

Tony Giardano, co-founder and Brew Master of Väsen Brewing Company in Scott’s Addition was delighted to donate his brewhouse for the event. Awaken Massage and CrossFit Full Circle both stepped up as local sponsors as well. Thanks to volunteer and local strength coach, Gabby Brost, there were over 40 local businesses who donated raffle prizes, gift cards and funds to help make Pull for Pride a success.

“There were no awards, gender categories, or required attire,” Cassi said. This was unlike any other lifting event and several of the contestants competed with themselves to beat previous deadlift records or enjoyed their first lift in public. Jay Alexander topped the day’s record, amazingly lifting 635 pounds. The Women’s Strength Coalition set out with a modest goal to raise $30,000, and in the end, they brought in $115,000 from the seven different cities. Richmond contributed over $8,000 of that total and as one of the newer cities to be added to the list, Cassi and her team feel pretty satisfied with that.

“We loved it. It was awesome to see so many people doing something they never thought they could do, in front of a supportive audience. I loved getting to know my new city and helping to raise the LGBTQ community’s awareness of welcoming, inclusive spaces in many different gyms - already within their reach. We are definitely hosting the event again next year.”

Watch a video recap of the event here:, produced by Johnny Villani and all photography was by Sarah Kane ( For more information visit or contact Cassi and Hunter at