WILTON — Five local powerlifters attended the 2023 USA Powerlifting Raw Nationals in Memphis, Tennessee, in mid-September. Of the five, two won first place in their weight class with Farmington teen Jackson Penland breaking an American record. Jackson is a sophomore at Mt. Blue High School.

The five train at Stand Strong Sports Performance, a gym located in Wilton,

Taking place at Memphis Renasant Convention Center from Thursday, Sept. 14, to Sunday, Sept. 17, the tournament saw competitive powerlifters from all across the country come to test their merit in squat, bench press and deadlift. With the help of Stand Strong owner and coach Shelby Downing, five powerlifters qualified for the tournament and represented Franklin County. Those powerlifters, along with their weight class and age group, are as follows:

• Julia Wells of Stratton [75kg/18-19 year]

• Jackson Penland of Farmington [110 kg/14-15 year]

• Emma Mancine of Livermore Falls [67.5 kg/14-15 year]


• Brenna Herridge of Sugarloaf  [67.5 kg/50-60 year]

• Marielle Opena of Bangor [52 kg/Open Division]

Wells and Penland came away from the tournament in first place in their respective weight classes. Mancine took second place, Herridge took third place and Opena placed tenth in the open division, which according to Downing is a good placement considering “the open class is really the most competitive class.”

“Her tenth place finish, as compared to the others, doesn’t look that fancy,” Downing told the Livermore Falls Advertiser in a phone interview, “But even qualifying for the open division is quite a feat.”

Downing has an extensive history in powerlifting, with her career including one teenage, one collegiate national and seven national titles. She competed in seven IPF [International Powerlifting Federation] world championships where she earned 25 of 28 possible medals, won a world championship, and broke two world records. She was also the first woman to ever officially be part to the coaching staff of a Men’s IPF world championship team.

Wells, Penland and Mancine, along with Downing, joined the Livermore Advertiser in an interview via Zoom. When asked about what things were like before he got into powerlifting, Penland shared that he was often picked on by his friends due to his weight.


Mt. Blue High School sophomore Jackson Penland getting ready to set an American record at the 2023 USA Powerlifting Raw Nationals in Memphis, Tennessee. Submitted Photo

“My friends would pick on me, and I decided one day to change that,” Penland shared. According to Penland, since he began powerlifting, he doesn’t get made fun of for his weight and feels much more comfortable in his body.

A sophomore at Mt. Blue High School, Penland found out about Stand Strong through a friend and joined in February of 2022. From there, he began his training which culminated not only in shedding off the excess weight and getting first place at the tournament, but also in breaking an American record by lifting 518 pounds in the squat lift.

“He actually broke it twice, because you get three attempts at each event,” Downing shared. “He broke the American record on his second attempt, and then he broke it again on his third attempt.”

“It’s just so surreal,” Penland added.

University of Maine Farmington student Julia Wells’ final deadlift at 2023 USA Powerlifting Raw Nationals in Memphis, Tennessee. Submitted Photo

When asked what led her to join Stand Strong, Wells said it was primarily for social reasons. “I left school at 16,” she shared. “I got into lifting and I was doing it pretty much by myself.”

Wells had her interest in a powerlifting club piqued when asked if she was interesting in joining a different club. When that didn’t fall through, she found Downing and Stand Strong in Wilton and joined the gym in March of 2022.


“It helped a lot with me socially,” Wells said. “I began connecting with people my age and making some really close friends at the gym.”

Wells called her experience at the tournament “pretty cool, to say the least.” Downing stated that she competed with at least a dozen other powerlifters in her bracket, and when she came out on top, Wells said the feeling was incredible.

“I had a strong feeling I was going to win after my second deadlift,” she shared. “Once I did my third and final deadlift, I knew I had won.”

Wells’ final deadlift was 341 pounds. According to Downing, Wells will also be attending the college national championship in April of next year. Currently, she is enrolled as a freshmen at the University of Maine Farmington and is undeclared at the moment, but she expressed an interest in psychology.

Taking second place in her bracket, Mancine already had a lot of experience in the gym under her belt. Her mother, Betsy Mancine, is the owner and operator of Renovation CrossFit in Livermore Falls, and has been teaching her daughter CrossFit for roughly six and half years.

“I didn’t like it initially,” Mancine shared. “Then one day, it just clicked and I wanted to do it competitively.”


Mancine joined Stand Strong roughly a year ago by her account. She was nervous about deadlifting at first, but eventually put her worries aside and began training. At the tournament, Mancine ran into issues with her squat lifts that put her in a deficit.

“You know, there’s always instances where it doesn’t seem fair,” Downing elaborated. According to Downing, two of her squats did not get passed by the referees, which affected Mancine’s score. “She had to work really hard to not get disappointed and to just focus on what was coming next.”

The setback placed Mancine in third place, but she managed to stayed focused on her deadlift, with her third and final deadlift boosting her from third place to second place.

“It is really fun to watch them grow in so many different ways,” Downing stated.

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