It was the beginning of my junior year of high school, which also happened to be my first year as a starter on the varsity soccer team. My former school is located in an inner-city neighborhood in the heart of Hackensack, New Jersey. As a result of the school’s under budgeted athletics program, a boiler room had been converted into a makeshift weight room for students.
In an effort to impress my coach, I decided to walk over to a local gym, instead of the boiler room, and try some lifts.
Walking into the gym’s weight room for the first time was intimidating. Although I was familiar with general types of exercises, I had no familiarity with weight training whatsoever. Most of my team’s training sessions consisted of only bodyweight exercises and cardio conditioning. Everyone in the weight room seemed to know exactly what they were doing, and the herd of gigantic gym bros did not help my anxiety.
Over the next two years, I became an avid weightlifter, and I’ve continued to workout as a college student at Chrouser Sports Complex. I’m hardly the only one. Weight lifting is a part of many students’ lifestyles here at Wheaton. Some are student athletes. Some are non-athletes. Regardless, before they felt comfortable pumping iron, they all had a first time walking into a weight room.
Ray Jin, a senior political science major, is a competitive powerlifter. Although not part of the Thunder athletics program, Jin said that he takes weight training very seriously and considers himself an athlete. In December 2021, Jin was named “Best Collegiate Lifter” in Illinois, and in March 2022, he placed seventh in the nation for his weight class (100kg/220lbs) at the college national level for USA Powerlifting.
Jin started lifting during his freshman year at Wheaton. He sought it out because of his involvement in Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC), which requires rigorous physical fitness training. Jin is an anomaly; usually, an untrained lifter in Jin’s weight class would average a squat of 150 pounds, but when Jin first lifted, he squatted 350.
“I just wanted to keep going with [weight training], see where it took me,” Jin said. “And I fell in love with the sport.”
Adam Parcel, a junior economics major, is another competitive powerlifter on campus. Parcel’s journey is different from Jin’s. Parcel says that he started lifting during his sophomore year of high school to help him overcome anorexia.
“It’s a process of not only putting in the work in the gym but also to make sure I’m getting enough calories and protein everyday,” Parcel said. “It’s been a long journey, but I know the Lord saw the good work ethic within me. That really helped.”
According to Jin and Parcel, the best part of weight training is being able to see the fruits of one’s labor.
“Whatever you put in, you’re pretty much guaranteed what’s going to come out,” said Jin.
Most student athletes involved in team sports integrate weight training into their athletic regimes. Depending on the sport, the workout split, a term that refers to the pattern and number of repetitions of an exercise, can look dramatically different.
Cade Zeamer, senior business and economics major, is on the wrestling team. Zeamer says he has been wrestling since he could crawl due to his long family legacy of wrestling. He first learned about weight training in eighth grade during an advanced weight lifting class.
“A lot of sports lift, because a lot of sports use different muscles,” said Zeamer. “In wrestling, we use a lot of pull muscles. So pull-ups, deadlifts, stuff that you pull into, and then in football, you’re pushing, if you think about it.”
Jeremiah Tucker, a fifth-year studying communications and pre-med, was a member of the football team for four years at Wheaton.
“The type of lifting that we were doing is so different because [the workouts] are literally just to absolutely break your body down, so it will build itself back up and become stronger and bigger,” said Tucker.
Even for frequent weight lifters, going to the gym is not always appealing. On most days, lifters say, they must force themselves to wake up and go to the gym no matter how they feel.
“Most people think motivation is the thing that gets you in the gym,” said Jin. “But at the end of the day, it’s really not, because motivation can only go so far. Consistency and discipline sounds pretty cliche, but trust me, they go a long way, even if there are days where you’re not really feeling it.”
While lifting is often associated with the aforementioned gym bros and football players, there are plenty of women who enjoy weight lifting as well. Leila Parente, a senior business and economics major on the pre-law track who plays for Wheaton’s women’s soccer team, is one of them.
According to Parente, women who lift in Chrouser face unique challenges, including the SRC’s dress code and misogynistic comments.
“Being a woman that lifts a lot, I’ve gotten backlash from the men on this campus,” said Parente. “It’s not something that I do for men or anything like that. I feel like I get judged for it.”
Nonetheless, weightlifting is a major part of Parente’s daily routine. She currently lifts six times a week. She loves and enjoys doing heavy compound lifts, such as squats, hip thrusts and deadlifts. Her favorite day is leg day. According to Parente, lifting also helps her regulate her emotions.
“Honestly, it’s more like a mental thing,” she said. “It gets my stress out or anger or any emotions that I’m feeling.”
These lifters unanimously agreed that in order to prevent injury, new lifters should take things slow. Lifting is a journey requiring time and effort, and lifting also teaches people new things about their body.
“Everyone has different exercises that help their body more,” said Parente. “Some exercises my friends love to do, and for me, they just don’t work for my body type. The thing people have to realize is that everyone has different bodies, so you have got to know what’s good for yours.”
Although trying out lifting for the first time can be intimidating, gym-goers concur that the weight room is a welcoming place.
“Don’t be afraid to ask anybody for help or ask questions,” said Parcel. “Don’t be afraid to try something new. There’s always a bunch of different exercises out there that can help you progress wherever you are in your journey, so be bold and adventurous.”