Julia Panepinto likes to show off her strength. On the court, on the diamond and, most of all, in a weight room.

A four-year member and a captain of the Bates College volleyball and softball teams (leading the Bobcats in home runs and RBIs in 2018 and 2019), the Buffalo, New York native also took up powerlifting while attending the Lewiston school.

Earning her degree in rhetoric in the spring, Panepinto, 21, has continued her love of powerlifting (as COVID-19 has allowed) at the Kennebec Valley Health Club in Farmingdale, and plans to participate in competitions when it’s safe to do so. She’s also staying busy outside the gym, working on the election trail for the Maine Democratic Party.



Q: When did you first get into powerlifting?

A: My freshman year of college at Bates.


Q: What got you into it?

A: So I played volleyball and softball at Bates on their varsity teams, and we didn’t have a super strong weightlifting component of our offseason. So, I wanted something challenging that I knew was going to make me better. So I talked to these guys at the gym that I would always see lifting a lot of weight and asked them if they could help me lift a lot of weight. They said, ‘You know, we don’t have any women on our powerlifting team, do you want to join?’ And I said ‘Sure.’ I originally did it as a way to just get stronger for volleyball and softball, and then was better than I think I expected and started to compete in local meets around Maine.


Q: What do you personally get out of lifting?

A: I definitely use it as a way to escape my mind. I’m very much an over-thinker, and I like to do a lot of work. I was on two varsity sports teams, was in a ton of clubs throughout my four years at Bates. (The gym) was really a place I could go for two or three hours and not really think and focus on my physical body as opposed to homework and different clubs I was running. It was definitely an escape for me and a stress reliever throughout school.

Q: What do you consider your best lift, or the one you enjoy the most?

A: I think the lift I enjoy the most is bench (press). You don’t typically see women bench pressing, so there’s definitely a sense of pride when I get under the bar and I have a big arch in my back when I bench, the typical powerlifter look. I think I stop people a little bit in the gym. The other day I was benching at the KV Health Club, and a bunch of people came up to me and were like, ‘Whoah, were did you learn how to do that?’ I think it definitely catches people’s eyes when they see a woman lift 45 (lb. plates). And I kept getting stronger and stronger and was eventually able to bench more than my body weight. No one really ever asks women to bench, so I think I enjoy it because it defied expectations for what women are supposed to be doing in the gym.


Q: I think you just nailed it, but is that sense of empowerment a big motivating factor?

A: Oh, definitely, definitely. I enjoy people thinking that of me at the gym. My friends use to tell me that they used to hate seeing me in the gym because I was intimidating-looking. I was like, ‘What are you talking about? We’re on the same softball team.’ But they were like, ‘If I didn’t know you, I wouldn’t come up to you in the gym.’ I don’t hate that, actually.


Q: Pre-COVID, at your peak, what were you able to bench?

A: The most I was ever able to bench was 165 lbs.

Q: Is there a lift that you aren’t necessarily great at, but have been impressed with your improvement?

A: My deadlift was always a little shaky. I’ve transitioned a lot between transitional and sumo (forms). Right now, I’ve convinced myself that I should be a sumo deadlifter, because that’s what most women do and I have stronger quads than I do hamstrings. But, I can never really figure out what I want to do. So I think that has been my troublesome lift. A lot of power lifters, their deadlift is better than their squat, but that has never been my case. My squat has always been better than my deadlift. As of late, I’ve transitioned to sumo (deadlifts) and I think if I keep up with it at the KV Health Club, my deadlift will soon be better than my squat.


Julia Panepinto makes notes in her training journal how many deadlift reps she did Friday at the Kennebec Valley Health Club in Farmingdale. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal Buy this Photo


Q: When competitions are the norm again, will be the first time you’ve gone out on your own?

A: We did a lot of events in Biddeford (during college). We went to local Maine meets, but this will be the first time in my life that I’ll be competing independently. So I won’t necessarily be there with my Bates friends. I’ll have to kind of figure it out on my own, which will be a strange phenomenon, just because I’ve always had people there, wrapping my knees before I squat, or helping me determine what weight to use for my next round. It’ll definitely be weird the first time I go back to a meet and I don’t have my old team with me.


Q: How much did COVID-19 impact your workout schedule?

A: It was definitely distressing. I was amid softball season, we were in Florida when everything shut down. They shipped us back home, softball season go cut short. I went back home to Buffalo for a little bit, that’s where my family lives. I was miserable for about the first three weeks that I was home. My parents were like, ‘OK, we can’t handle this, you’re being a brat. What can we do to make you feel a little bit better about your senior year being ruined?’ And I asked, ‘Can we get a squat rack?’ And so we built a gym in our garage, with a squat rack and a bench. That was huge, because that let me stay a little bit consistent with working out. That was definitely a life saver. And then when I moved back to Maine for work, there was a two week period where I was only running, and I hated it. I have still be running a little on the (Kennebec River) Rail Trail, but finding the KV Health Club was huge. One of my friends, who went to Gardiner High School, told me about it. I was so grateful with that recommendation.


Dave Dyer — 621-5640

[email protected]

Twitter: @Dave_Dyer

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