Marisa Acosta bends under the squat bar and places it on her shoulders. She whips her ponytail from her face to her back then steps back, carrying 145 pounds. She begins her rep.
Her face flushes into a light pink. She dips once, twice, three times, then places the bar back on the rack, takes off her gloves and grabs some water.
“And that was the end of my warm-up,” Acosta said.
Acosta’s maximum weight for squatting is 235 pounds — almost twice her weight — but she was taking it easier on this night, 200 pounds maximum.
When the senior psychology major started power lift training a year ago at age 20, she never anticipated being where she is now. Over the summer, Acosta placed third at the United States Powerlifting Association (USPA) National Championship in Las Vegas. It was her second powerlifting competition ever.
Acosta says she went for the experience and didn’t expect to place. She was ready to leave before the awards even began, then she heard her name called over the speaker.
“I was so surprised. I’m like ‘Me?’ so I ran up and got the medal,” Acosta said. “It was such a good feeling because standing up there with such strong people, it really reassures you that you’ve been putting in the work and it’s paying off.”
Ever since her training started last September, Acosta says she hasn’t missed a workout. She works out at least four times a week for two and a half to four hours, depending on her training criteria for the day. On weekdays, she heads to the school’s recreation center straight from class or working in a psychology research lab on Stony Brook University’s campus.
When she arrives, Acosta gets changed out of her day clothes and throws her backpack in a locker. She carries around a gray duffle bag of workout goodies from one station to the next. Her duffle bag contains the necessities: knee braces, a powerlifting belt and two pairs of shoes — one light gray pair for squatting and another black pair used for deadlifting and bench pressing with pink straps imprinted with the words “kinda fit kinda fat.” Acosta is several inches over five feet tall and 125 pounds.
She may have to fight some crowds to get a spot at a rack, but she’s not afraid to let people know she’s up next. She hops from one station to the next asking how much longer each person has left there. Acosta recalls that last year she was a little timid approaching the weights.
“I remember for the longest time I would come to the gym and not know what to do,” she said. “I would be scared of the weight room … Powerlifting and going into the weight room, it really made me think, ‘Hey, I can do this.’”
She said she felt herself develop not only physically, but mentally as well. She felt more confident weightlifting in front of others and training by herself. Now, her day-to-day schedule revolves around her training, and she says she doesn’t mind. It keeps her organized and accountable.
Before powerlifting, Acosta played field hockey and danced, which meant most of the working out she did was cardio or machine-based. Until she was 20, she didn’t train with free weights at all. Then, her boyfriend and coach, Massimo Visca, took her under his wing.
Visca, 20, has been writing Acosta’s training programs for the past year. He says when she first started, she wasn’t too serious about it. Over time, he watched her begin prioritizing powerlifting in her life.
“She is obsessed with it in a good way,” Visca said. “She thinks about it a lot, she cares about it a lot…I don’t give her anything that’s too easy and she’s never once complained about that.”
At the start, she squatted and deadlifted 145 pounds and benched 65 pounds. Now, at 21, she benches 122 pounds and deadlifts 300 pounds, which is more than twice her weight.
Acosta sacrificed a lot to get where she is — her social life, club activities and time with friends. She had to step away from her sorority, Sigma Delta Tau, with the support of her sisters and friends. This year has been no exception, as she focuses on going back to Nationals and getting into graduate school after graduating with her Bachelor of Science in psychology.
For her future in powerlifting, Acosta doesn’t see an end.
“I hope I can do this as long as I can,” she said. “Until my back breaks or something.”