Lift like a girl

Girls form first ever female powerlifting team


Photo by Caden Rainwater

Two seniors and one freshman made school history when they formed the first girls powerlifting team. Seniors Mariza Paez and Mollie Johnson and freshman Makenley Chandler advanced from district to regionals. Paez went on to the state meet where she placed fifth, becoming the first girl to do so.

Story by Graci Henard, staff writer

This year, seniors Mariza Paez, Mollie Johnson and freshman Makenley Chandler made Texas High history by becoming the first girls powerlifting team ever. Texas High School has had female powerlifters in the past, but never formed a team. Just before the season began, the three were notified that they had been nominated by other coaches to be on the team.

“I was really nervous, just as a senior that hasn’t lifted weights very often throughout [my] high school years to be thrown into this,” Johnson said. “The coaches told me I was doing powerlifting this year and I was surprised, and then I made it to regionals.”

Being thrown in at the last minute proved to be an obstacle Johnson had to overcome. She highlighted the biggest challenge she faced was her lack of experience, which is why she didn’t lift as much as the other senior girls.

“We didn’t have the advantage of lifting for four years,” Johnson said. “We were literally just thrown into a mix of girls that have been doing it for a long time. We are a first year team, and we didn’t get that experience. We were told the day before what the rules were how we were supposed to lift and what could disqualify us.”

Johnson faced adversity at her first meet when her lifts did not count because of a mechanical error, but this minor setback only made her more eager to work harder.

“My first meet, I deadlifted 255 pounds, but I did what’s called a hitch, so it didn’t count,” Johnson said. “Realizing that I had to get every tiny little part of the technique down for it to count really got to me. I worked on technique every single day at the gym trying to get it perfect so that whenever I did get in that pressure moment, it would count.”

Johnson was not the only senior on this new team. Mariza Paez was nominated by coaches to be a part of this milestone as well. Following in her fathers footsteps, Paez joined the team and made it to the UIL State powerlifting meet. Paez was the only one out of the three that advanced past Regionals. 

I was ecstatic to follow in my father’s footsteps,” Paez said. “[It felt] so surreal. He made his mark at his school, and it made me want to make a mark at mine.”

— Mariza Paez

Freshman Makenley Chandler also emphasized the role of her family in motivating her to be a part of the first Lady Tiger Powerlifting team. 

“I think it’s pretty cool [being the first], because my mom works out and she does personal training,” Chandler said. “It’s cool to have something to share with her and make her proud.”

Not only was her mother a reason Chandler agreed to join the team, but she is also Chandler’s source of encouragement. During the season, Chandler was able to work out with her mother to bond and train, giving her a shoulder to lean on after a disappointing first meet.

“I didn’t really have a lot of time to prepare for [the season], but just whenever I had free time, I went to the gym with my mom and worked out,” Chandler said. “That first meet we went to, I did so bad. It made me a little upset, but just talking to my mom helped me get over that little hump and she was like ‘you’re fine you’ll get it next year.’”

Along with parental support, the girls team also received lots of encouragement and kindness from the boys powerlifting team. 

“Everything just kind of flowed,” Johnson said. “We got on the bus meeting the male team for the first time, and it was just like we were talking to our brothers. It was just a really cool experience.”

Since the teams are small, the boys and girls practiced together many times. Johnson added that the boys team was very including and uplifting. Team chemistry played a big role in the development of this small girls team.

“We mixed really well with the guys and the guys were supportive [of us],” Johnson said. “We would go watch the guys and the guys would come watch us. It just turned into just like a big happy family. They were right there cheering us on and wishing us the best and wanting to see us succeed.”

Since all three girls were so new to the sport, the boys team played a crucial role in teaching the rules and techniques that are used in competition. Not only did the girls benefit from the boys’ teaching, but the boys improved their understanding of the sport as well.

“I would say that the girls team really had a positive impact on us because we were able to learn more about our own flaws by teaching the girls methods that we use,” Bookout said. “That helped us see where those methods may not be always the most efficient, so we were able to workout the kinks as we helped the girls get a hang of everything.”

While also thanking the boys team, Johnson noted the impact her coaches had on her joining the team and succeeding.

“I would thank coach Harrell, coach Franks, coach Hardy, coach Wilson, coach D and all of the coaches that threw our names in the mix,” Johnson said. “It was really really encouraging and, in the end, it was my decision if I was going to lift or not, but they did strongly encourage and thought I’d be good at this.”

Johnson listed many other coaches besides her powerlifting coaches, because like Paez and Chandler, she is a multi-sport athlete. Johnson competes in softball, powerlifting and track, Paez competes in track and powerlifting, and Chandler is involved in soccer and powerlifting. These athletes believe that what they accomplished would not have been possible had it not been for their coaches being very understanding and fair.

“They all wanted us to practice even though me and [Paez] both play multiple sports and couldn’t come to practices all the time,” Johnson said. “They were really really encouraging, and they wanted us to be there.”

With the 2021 powerlifting season coming to a close, Chandler expressed her disappointment in the graduation of her two teammates. With the rest of the team leaving, the freshman will have to adapt to not having them around in the future.

“[The seniors] pushed me because I wanted to be up there with what they were lifting so I strived to get to what they were lifting,” Chandler said. “They pushed me to try to do better. I’m trying to get a couple of my friends to join, but at the moment it’s just looking like it’s just me. I think one other girl said that she was wanting to join so I might have somebody else.”

Johnson’s advice to younger girls is to give the sport a try. She encourages them to step out of their comfort zone and give powerlifting a chance, despites the doubts.

“Full send it,” Johnson said. “Just go do it. There’s nothing stopping you, especially if you’re a freshman. Do whatever you want to do and go try sport. The team is there for you, and the older girls are there for you. You have someone backing you up.”