Student Spotlight: Finding focus and clarity through weightlifting

What sport teaches discipline, routine, commitment and healthy eating habits all at once? According to Del Mar College student and respiratory therapy major, Javier Salas, powerlifting does just that which is why he decided to pursue it even after receiving his high school diploma.

“I really enjoy seeing kids lift not only on a team but just in general,” said Salas’s former London High School powerlifting coach, Tony Ramon.

“Javi was definitely an asset to the team from just his freshman year. He may have not thought so, but just from working his numbers all the way to his senior year, qualifying for state twice, medaling at state twice, being a leader in the weight room…he was very hard to replace.”

According to Salas, Ramon was the reason he even joined powerlifting all the way back in the beginning of 9th grade.

“Pretty much, I wasn’t given an option. He just told me to do this and do that, and so I listened to him, and now we’re here five years later,” Salas said, as he revealed this single decision to have made the greatest impact on his life thus far.

“I was nervous,” Salas described as the way he felt walking into his first meet.

“Especially when I missed weight by half a pound when I first got there, so I had to find a way to lose it.”

Weight loss methods that weren’t necessarily the most practical as Salas described.

“I had to run two miles the night before with a whole bunch of sweaters and jackets and trash bags on.”

Methods that tend to affect a lot of novice powerlifters as well, paving the way for unhealthy eating habits as he mentioned, “It’s something that just comes with age and especially with high school powerlifting when you don’t really know what you’re doing,” Salas said.

“I think maybe if we do a better job of educating the youth on what’s safe and what isn’t and what’s effective and what’s not, then it would be a lot better.”

According to him, this is also part of the reason many powerlifters might refer to the sport as more of a mental struggle than a physical one, along with low confidence.

“I’d say it’s more mental than physical because anyone can lift,” Salas said.

“But you have to have the ability to lock in and really commit fully to a weight that you’re not comfortable with or you’ve never done before.”

A struggle Salas admits is one of those tricky things that can only be cured with time.

Furthermore, deciding to pursue powerlifting after high school was only half the battle for him, the rest would come with rediscovering the sport he loved at the collegiate level.

“I think the main difference between college and high school, is in college you get the option between equipped or raw lifting,” Salas said as he explained the difference.

“Equipped is like when you put on a suit and that suit feels like trampoline material.”

“It’s super stiff and it hurts, but it puts more weight on what you can actually do, and that’s what you typically have to do in Texas high school powerlifting…so I think that’s the biggest difference.”

A difference that ended up evolving Salas’s perspective on equipped powerlifting as well now that he’s switched to the other side.

“I remember these conversations we’d have in high school with a whole bunch of people that were saying equipped was cheating,” Salas said.

“But as I grew older and did more raw lifting…I don’t wanna say I lost my respect for it but it doesn’t take as much strength as it does when using the equipment.”

Overall, powerlifting and staying active is something Salas plans to pursue indefinitely as he describes.

It taught me a lot of discipline and being able to just make it part of my daily schedule and just commit to something,” he said.

“Like you just gotta do it, there’s no question about it, there’s no way around it, It’s just part of your day now.”

As for Salas’s biggest piece of advice for beginners? “Don’t be scared, just keep doing it. Do it over and over and over again and you’ll get there someday.”

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