RIO RANCHO, N.M. — She may be small in stature, but one Rio Rancho firefighter is big in strength since she can lift about four times her body weight.
Juanita Najera, who graduated from the Rio Rancho Fire Rescue academy in March, set a powerlifting world record in the dead lift, raising a 430-pound weight from the floor to waist level, Aug. 8. She was competing in the open, equipped 52-kilogram (about 115 pounds) weight class in Costa Rica at the 17th annual North American Powerlifting Championship with the International Powerlifting Federation.
She has broken the American dead lift record as well.
“You have to be strong to be a firefighter, and I love the challenge of being strong and the challenge of being a firefighter and helping people,” Najera, 38, said. “I was never meant for a desk job.”
She trains in powerlifting for two or three hours four days a week, and she still fits in time to practice boxing.
“She’s stronger than most men out there,” said RRFR Lt. Jessica Duron-Martinez. “It’s definitely inspiring to have her in the department.”
She added that other department members could benefit from learning some of Najera’s tips.
Najera started boxing in her early 20s, and she still thinks hitting a heavy bag is a good way to end a day.
“There’s just something about hitting something,” she said. “It’s just fun.”
When she was around 30, she began powerlifting to improve her boxing, and, she said, she enjoyed “the feeling of being strong” it gave her.
“The gym has always been my therapy,” Najera said.
In powerlifting, competitors do squats, bench presses and dead lifts, with three attempts for each type of lift. If competitors successfully lift a weight, they can try a heavier weight in their next try.
The highest weight from each type of lift is totaled for the final score, and the person with the highest total wins.
Najera is selective about competitions, participating in meets she gets invited to or particularly likes. She expects her next meet to be in March.
“I wanted to hit the world record, and now I have to aim for a higher number,” she said.
Meanwhile, she enjoys the fact that staying in shape is part of the job of a firefighter, a career she said she always wanted but waited for a long time to pursue.
“I finally got around to trying out and getting in,” Najera said.
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