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Sports

At 44, Anchorage powerlifter feels stronger than ever heading into World Games

  • Author: Chris Lawrence
  • Updated: July 26, 2017
  • Published July 25, 2017
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It's a typical weeknight for 44-year-old Hall of Fame powerlifter Priscilla Ribic.

She's in the middle of a superhuman workout session at Southside Strength and Fitness in Anchorage. She wraps her wrists and knees and fastens a belt around her waist before limboing underneath a barbell. She positions the bar on her upper back and clutches it with both hands. She creates Vs with her elbows and slowly walks backward.

[Anchorage powerlifter Ribic wins silver medal at World Games]

With 518 pounds on her shoulders, she dips not once but twice. With the help of her crew, she puts the bar back on the rack and catches her breath.

Ribic, who weighs less than 160 pounds, believes she is stronger than ever heading into this week's World Games in Poland, an international competition held every four years.

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Last year, she set an American women's open record with a combined total of nearly 1,395 pounds in the squat, bench press and deadlift. Since winning a national championship in May with a 529-pound squat, she has squatted 573, 578 and 606 pounds in practice.

"If this training cycle that has been preparing me is any indication, this is the strongest I've ever been," Ribic said. "Which is kind of fun to say at the age of 44."

Ribic, who is USA Powerlifting's executive director, is a 15-time world champion and owns, or has held, 30 records in the sport. She was the top-ranked female in USA Powerlifting 11 times between 2003-15 and was inducted into the USA Powerlifting Hall of Fame in 2011.

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"As a competitor, she's absolutely fierce," said USA Powerlifting state chairman Ryan Carrillo. "… She's fearless, confident and she doesn't get shook very easily. That's why she's a champion."

Priscilla Ribic is helped into her powerlifting suit by coach and husband Larry Maile. (Marc Lester / Alaska Dispatch News)

Ribic moved to Anchorage 10 years ago from Spokane, Washington. She began testing her physical strength in a high school weight-training class, but she was 27 before she began competing in powerlifting.

"I didn't know anything about (competitive powerlifting) and so I hopped in my car and I drove over to the next competition … just to watch it," Ribic said. "Actually I thought, 'Oh my God, I'm out of my league.' "

Ribic, who began her competitive career in 1999, faced stage fright at first. In one of her first meets, she dropped the bar while celebrating a 350-pound deadlift. The effort didn't count because she failed to complete the entire process.

Nearly 20 years later, she is slated to represent Team USA in her fourth World Games — a record for any American powerlifter, she said.

Over the course of her career, she has seen the climate of the sport change for women.

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"With other sports such as CrossFit, (and) weightlifting as a whole, you see more and more women now encouraged to be in strength sports where back in the day you didn't really see that," she said.

Ribic said she hopes her long career empowers other women. Carrillo said it has.

"Priscilla is a role model for young women because Priscilla's always done things her way and walked her own path," Carrillo said. "… You have a woman like Priscilla who just decided from the get-go, 'I'm going to be stronger than the boys,' and she is."

Priscilla Ribic deadlifts 501 pounds during training at Southside Strength and Fitness. (Marc Lester / Alaska Dispatch News)

Ribic will join eight other American powerlifters at the 10th World Games in Wroclaw, Poland. Her husband, Larry Maile, will also join the team as a coach. She'll compete in the squat, bench press and deadlift in the 159-pound women's heavyweight division.

Her goal is to medal for the fourth straight time — she already owns one silver and two bronzes. She also hopes to squat 573 pounds.

The World Games is the Olympics for a number of sports, including powerlifting. It features what Ribic calls "the oddball sports" — things not contested at the Olympics, like bowling, billiards and baseball.

The hope is to demonstrate to the International Olympic Committee that powerlifting and other sports are ready for the Olympics. Carrillo thinks powerlifting is getting close. Weightlifting, which features the clean-and-jerk and snatch lifts, has been contested since the early days of the Olympics.

After this week, the next big international powerlifting competition will be the 2021 World Games in Birmingham, Alabama. Ribic will be 48 then, and she hopes to still be competing.

"I'm not done yet," Ribic said. "I'm not ready to kind of give it up."

Priscilla Ribic has won 15 world championships in her Hall of Fame powerlifting career and currently holds four world records. (Marc Lester / Alaska Dispatch News)

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