Seven members of the Northeastern University women’s powerlifting club will showcase their strength, determination, and no-quit attitude at a global competition in Belarus from July 11 to July 17.
Organized by the International Powerlifting Federation, the inaugural University Powerlifting World Cup will convene more than 50 female lifters from 22 colleges and universities in 11 countries, including Russia, Finland, and Australia.
Based on past performances, five Northeastern lifters are seeded at the top of their respective weight classes, making the Huskies the odds-on favorite to win the team-based competition. The club earned automatic entry into the meet after winning the 2016 USA Powerlifting Collegiate National Championship in April.
“I’m really excited to see [some competitors] break some records,” says Binglei Zhou, SSH’18, a second-year powerlifter who is aiming to win the 185-pound and up weight class. “This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and I’m looking forward to representing the U.S.”
Zhou, who holds the country’s collegiate deadlifting record for pulling 464 pounds, is hoping to pull a whopping 485 pounds in Belarus. But neither her success nor that of her teammates should come as a surprise. Founded in 2009, the women’s powerlifting program at Northeastern is something of a strength training factory, producing scores of formidable athletes every year. The club’s lifters train under the watchful eye of Michael Zawilinski, the leader of Team USA’s powerlifting program, and have developed a tight bond not often found in individual sports.
“You need to get your head in the game and focus. If you bomb out, it’s often more of a mental issue than a strength issue.
— Binglei Zhou
“I wouldn’t be as successful without the support of my teammates and my training partners,” says Kelsey McCarthy, BHS’17, a four-year soccer player turned captain of the women’s powerlifting club. “They’re the ones who encourage me to compete and constantly give me feedback on my lifts.”
A second-year powerlifter, McCarthy is the favorite to win the ultra-competitive 141- to 158-pound weight class. She is looking to set a new personal record in Belarus by squatting, bench-pressing, and deadlifting a combined total of 937 pounds, 61 more than her current total of 876. Like many of her teammates, her most difficult lift is the bench press. “It’s a very technical lift,” she says, “and there are a lot of components that go into it.”
For many powerlifters, the most challenging aspect of the sport has less to do with meeting the physical demands of pushing and pulling heavy weight than developing the mental toughness to conquer competition anxiety and other psychological hurdles. In her first year as a powerlifter, for example, Zhou psyched herself out and almost failed her first two lifts at the collegiate national championship. “You need to get your head in the game and focus,” she explains. “If you bomb out, it’s often more of a mental issue than a strength issue.”
Jordan Green, a third-year powerlifter who is expected to compete for one of the top three spots in the 126- to 138-pound weight class, has worked hard to overcome her need to compare herself to other lifters. It hasn’t been easy, considering powerlifting’s prominence on social media platforms like Facebook and Instagram, where lifters often post videos of their latest squat, bench press, and deadlift achievements. “You can get discouraged about your numbers and your goals and even your body weight compared to others because all that info is out there,” says Green, E’17. “But once you get past that, you realize that you’re competing to better yourself—it doesn’t matter what others squatted or benched, only that you’re happy with what you were able to do.”
McCarthy, for her part, has been able to apply the lessons she’s learned as a powerlifter to her life as a student in the healthcare field. As a physical therapy major who recently competed her first clinical rotation at the South Shore Rehabilitation and Skilled Care Center, she draws parallels between building strength and rehabbing an injury. “You know you’re putting in the work, but the results might not be there right away,” she says. “You have to be committed to the process and show patience.”
Now she’s hoping that all her team’s hard work will pay off in Belarus. As she puts it, “Based on the numbers, we definitely have a chance to compete for the title.”