How old are you?
I am 42 years old.
Tell us a little bit about yourself.
My name is Melissa Garza. I was raised by my parents, Flavio and Lupe Lopez, along with my two, younger sisters. I am a single mother to four teenage boys. I am a full time educator, and I’m also a Master Powerlifter.
When did you get into Powerlifting?
In 2014, I began to train in a Crossfit gym. Our coach would post our personal best numbers for the major lifts up on the wall. As I would stretch out, I would compare my numbers to those of the men that worked out with me. I wanted to beat them! As I began to see that my strength was improving, I decided to register for my first meet. I was fortunate enough to work with a group of ladies that I would share my crazy ideas with. One day, I shared that I would love to compete in at least ONE meet before turning 40. It turned out that my friend was related to Sonia Rosenbaum, a fellow competitive powerlifter. She gave me her name and number, and Sonia agreed to coach me. We began our training in October 2015 and I competed in the USPA sanctioned meet, RGV Powerhouse Classic on December 5, 2015.
I have completed 9 meets, and I'm currently training for my 10th meet (June 15).
Why powerlifting and not something else?
I actually ask myself this whenever I have my aches and pains. LOL!!
During my first meet, I fell back while attempting my second deadlift. I walked out of the gym and began to pace outside. I told myself that I needed to gather myself and quick because I had one more lift. I couldn't give up. I went back in and successfully completed my third attempt. The fact that I had to push through even though part of me just wanted to break down and cry, made me appreciate the sport. It's not about just lifting heavy. There is so much more that is involved in this sport. Anyone with strength can lift but powerlifting requires mental prep and grit. We all strive to fit in somewhere and this is where I fit in.
As I have continued to participate in my federation, USPA, I began to see how great the competitors were. You have complete strangers praising you for a great lift or giving you a scoop of their pre-workout because you didn't have any. In any meet, you will see other coaches or competitors giving strangers tips or help them warm up. I have gotten to meet so many people that I follow on social media in any given meet since our community is so small. Where else can you meet someone or even share the platform with some of your role models?
What are you most proud of in yourself?
I am so proud that I haven't given up on myself. I used to think that being a mom meant putting yourself and your needs dead last. My ex-husband would work 10 hour shifts and commute for another 2, so I felt I had to spend all of my time with my children. I didn't want to ask for anyone to help me watch them just so I could spend an hour or two at the gym. I honestly thought I was doing the best thing for my children. I got caught up in eating their left overs and not keeping up with my annual checkups that I quickly didn't recognize the woman I was looking at in the mirror. I found myself taking medication for high blood pressure, high triglycerides, and was borderline diabetic. What had happened to the girl that would spend many hours lifting, running, or swimming? I came to the realization that if I truly believed that my boys came first, I would have to prioritize my health. I was not going to leave them without a mom at such an early age. At 35 years old, I decided to join a gym and hire a personal trainer. Around this time, I was also going through a divorce. During this time of uncertainty and chaos, I threw myself more into my work outs. I was not going to spend my time worrying or crying. I needed to focus on something positive...something that I could actually control. I was not going to give up on myself.
As I approach my 43rd birthday, I am happy and proud to say that I still haven't given up on myself. Thanks to my dedication, I am off my medications. Besides the rewards I have reaped for myself, three of my boys enjoy working out as well. I walk and jog with my youngest, and lift heavy weights with my twins. My boys have learned how to meal prep and its importance to the extent that one of them prepares his meals and takes them to school. The fact that we do all of this as a family now will ensure that I will not give up on my health anytime soon. Lifting is no longer a hobby but a lifestyle.
In your own words, who is an athlete?
I used to think that an athlete was anyone that competed in their particular sport. Now, I think an athlete is anyone who studies their sport and applies what they are learning. An athlete is someone that is constantly trying to grow whether by attending seminars for their sport, hiring a coach, or watching videos trying to improve their form.
If you go into my Instragram account, you will find that I am following so many powerlifters and bodybuilders. I review their film to mimic their technique, learn how to regain some of my mobility, or to discover a different exercise to strengthen my weaknesses. As an athlete, I want to improve my total, so I have become a student of the sport.
You don’t see a lot of Latinas in powerlifting. Do you see yourself as a role model for others?
I think I have come into this sport at a special point in time. Powerlifting is booming!! At my first meet, I competed alongside five other ladies (all Latinas). In February, I competed with 44 other women at an all women meet, USPA Queens of Iron. Many different races and ages were represented at that meet.
Growing up, my father would tell me that a lady shouldn't have muscles. The sport was not in any of the high schools in my school district. Now, you have strong, powerlifting teams made up by young ladies!! Even my father has become one of my biggest fans!! I am excited to see how women have empowered themselves to test their limits and see what they can accomplish besides just striving to be thin. I don't judge at meets, but I will give the young ladies advice in between lifts. Some of my son's teammates will reach out asking for tips. I am humbled when they ask because who am I? I still consider myself a novice.
There have been several times that women have approached me during a meet. They are usually a meet supporting their teenage daughters. They ask me how I began to powerlift. I love sharing why I started and how far I have come in regards to strength and how my health has improved. One lady stated that she doesn't see herself ever powerlifting, but she was going to begin taking care of herself and prioritizing her health after we spoke. Again, I am floored how one story, my story, can affect someone enough to make a change in their own lives.
Some days are harder than others to get yourself to go to the gym. What do you tell yourself that gets you to go anyways?
I remind myself about my promise to myself...not to give up on me. I have scheduled my work outs, so there is no reason as to why I can't get it done. I might take a quick nap, eat a special snack, or drink a caffeinated drink before going, but I need to get my mind right and show up. I understand that my feelings are fickle, so I do not make any major decisions based on feelings and the gym is no different. My health will not improve if I don’t go. If my competition isn’t taking a day off then why should I. I will not get any closer to my goals if I stay home. Don’t get me wrong. I won’t go if I’m sick, hurt, or if there is a family emergency, but these are the only reasons not to work out. My life and work is stressful. I have learned to take out my frustrations and stress on the weights and not on the people around me.
What advice do you have for other masters women about body image?
Not many people get to the age where they can consider themselves a masters woman, so give yourself a break. We are so hard on ourselves. “I can’t wear sleeveless shirts because my arms are saggy. I have cellulite. My butt isn’t big enough.” In sports like powerlifting and strong man, I see a lot of women that rock their arms, extra weight, and cellulite. They could care less what other people think because they are confident in themselves and what they bring to the table. I find this to be so liberating. I only have to change the things that I want to change in my body because it is my body. No one else gets a say.
How do you find time to work out raising 4 teenage boys?
My four boys are just as active as I am, so we need to coordinate our schedules. During the weekend, I find out what they have scheduled during the week, and I set up my 5 days to go to the gym. On a weekday, I will go to the gym around 7 pm. This affords me the opportunity to make sure my boys get home from school, they get to tell me about their day, and homework is started. Luckily, I don't have to worry about dinner. My parents live next door, and they make sure the boys have something warm to eat by the time they get home from school. Two of the 5 training days are set up for weekend mornings. Like most teenagers, they sleep in most weekends. I take advantage of these mornings to hit the gym while they are asleep.
Fortunately, my 16-year-old twins enjoy working out as well. I usually have at least one of them with me as I train. It has become our special, bonding time.
What have you learned about yourself since you started powerlifting?
I have learned that I am more than a mother. A daughter. An educator. I realized that I had lost myself somewhere inside myself and was just surviving. I am grateful that I found myself again. I have been reminded that I am strong willed, determined, and very competitive. These are qualities that I am learning to love about myself again and hopefully, pass on to my children. One day, my boys will be grown and leave home. Luckily, I won’t be left feeling a void inside of me because I will always have powerlifting and my gym family to keep me going forward.
What would you change about how women over 35 today approach fitness?
I was asked if I thought that I might train like a woman. The perception among women I’ve met is that women should only lift light weight and do a lot of cardio. Sadly, this is the mentality that is out there. It’s okay to add strength training into your regiment. You will not look like a man if you lift heavy or lift weights. As women, we lose muscle mass the older we get. We want to maintain some of our muscle so that we won’t be frail in our golden years. My advice is to see fitness as an investment in our health and not as a punishment.
What advice do you have for the women reading this?
WE are all worth it! You are worth investing the time and effort in making yourself healthy. It is okay to be strong! It is okay to swim against the current! Your goals don't have to be like everyone else's.