Meet this female powerlifter who works for her sport

The field of female powerlifters is booming. Team USA powerlifter Melissa Hanna, 28, loves the sport, but about the first thing most people say to her? “Wow, you’re so toned. That is going to…

Meet this female powerlifter who works for her sport

The field of female powerlifters is booming. Team USA powerlifter Melissa Hanna, 28, loves the sport, but about the first thing most people say to her? “Wow, you’re so toned. That is going to help in real life.”

“I always knew I was going to be a good athlete,” she said. “I was just always athletic. I played soccer, baseball. That was kind of my downfall and what made me go to powerlifting.”

Etched into Hanna’s fourth-degree black belt is a quote attributed to one of Japan’s most beloved bodybuilders, Yokohama-based Kaoru Aburi, who maintained that “mens’ strength is not masculine power but the power that comes from inside.”

But before she found powerlifting, Hanna took up dance — she was a Broadway dancer — and only really hit full stride at 15.

“I started competing in college and I would throw five-pound medicine balls around a room, and then it became like, ‘Yeah!’ It’s like, OK, I want to do this. I want to excel at this. And once I started to turn professional, it was like, OK, I’m going to keep that sport. This is my main sport.”

Powerlifting doesn’t require strenuous training, just sheer strength. Hanna’s coach tells her every time she walks out the door “to step up to the bar, and boom, just try and use your power as best you can. Don’t be afraid of a throw. Just kick back and then just throw it. That’s just what they teach us.

“I take it lightly,” she said. “If you hit the bar like this [her thumbs slamming together] and it breaks your fist, it’s over. You might end up back on the ground, but you are done.”

“I really felt like a kid when I was in college and just coming to training here,” she said. “I am your average gymnast. I went to school to be a ballet dancer.”

Hanna will compete in the women’s pull-up and bench press on Sunday, part of the U.S. Strongman squad. Hanna’s strength now amounts to about 140 pounds, but she once weighed 200. What has changed is the equipment.

“We changed to barbells — just throw them out and let your legs do the work,” she said. “The things that I like the most are the single or the double overhead. You’re getting your own lift. You get the bonus, too. It’s not that you’re being held back.”

Hanna is entered in this weekend’s championships at the Pennsylvania Sports & All Sports Complex, in Sharon, Pa. While she didn’t make the final cuts for the World Games this summer in Las Vegas, Hanna still works to the extremes of women’s powerlifting.

“You get the stereotype that you’re going to turn into Arnold Schwarzenegger with a wig, and they’re not wrong,” she said. “In my opinion, I don’t feel like I’m really thin. I just do what I have to do. I love doing this sport. This is my major sport. This is what I’m focused on.”

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