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  • Tom Sandford

Cornell Barbell Club: (Second) Strongest in the Ivy League

Image Courtesy of: Cornell Barbell Club

Back Row (Left to Right): Johannes Wortel, Krish Patel, Jason Moore, Kyle Roth, Pedro Reyes, Scott Drummond, Michael Moore, Eliza Ryan, Tom Sandford, Kayla Butler, Justice Starks, Alicia Huynh, Michelle Kurianowicz, Nathan Aronov

Front Row (Left to Right): Jacqueline Arnold, Nadia Valcourt, Jessi McGlashan, Brian Lu, Dylan Grigas, Nyla Bowers, Abby Akselrod, Callie Burns, Anthony Corrales

I first got into strength training in November 2017. Around that time, I was beginning to look at colleges and began looking up recreational weight training clubs. Eventually, I found a whole Instagram page dedicated to the club powerlifting team at Dartmouth College. One of the first posts I saw was a congratulatory message to all of the athletes who had competed in that weekend’s “Ivy League Championship.” Apparently that competition would run for one more year before falling to the wayside for reasons that I can’t discern. Fast forward four years, and I was a sophomore at Cornell, trying to figure out how to best grow the Cornell Barbell Club. Everything I did that school year related to the Barbell Club was a failure: the t-shirts looked awful, I couldn’t explain to anyone what we actually did as a club, and interest was quickly waning.

By chance, I was following USA Powerlifting’s New York affiliate Instagram account and saw a call for commentators at the 2022 USAPL New York State Championships. I drove up to Albany, commentated for about eight hours, and at the end of it, approached the state representative, Jan Daurio, and asked him if he would be the meet director for the new version of the Ivy League Championship that I was putting together. I told him that we would get maybe 30 people total from all of the Ivy League schools. When November 6 rolled around last year, 90 athletes showed up to participate in the 2022 USAPL Ivy League Cup and Collegiate Open. I’ve already written about that for BRSN, and you can read my recap here.

It turns out that Cornell won the 2017 Ivy League Cup and having failed to even podium last year, I was so hopeful that we could repeat history and take the trophy home again in 2023. Sadly, we were to come second to the now 2-time Ivy League Champions, Columbia University Barbell Club.

Here’s how it happened:

Firstly, our girl’s team was absolutely dominant. Of the five weight classes that our female athletes competed in, they were the top two in all of them. Callie Burns placed second in the women’s 60kg division while also qualifying for Collegiate and Junior Nationals, and furthering her New York State Bench Press record. Additionally, Eliza Ryan placed second in the women’s 82.5kg division, breaking every single gym PR of hers by significant margins. In terms of gold, both Nadia Valcourt and Michelle Kurianowicz put on absolute clinics within their respective classes of 67.5kg and 100kg. Nadia earned herself an invitation to Collegiate and Junior nationals just like Callie. Michelle qualified for those as well, but in addition, she also shattered both the women’s teen and junior records for New York state in the squat, bench, deadlift, and total.

(Michelle Kurianowicz squatting 140kg. Picture Credit: Anthony Corrales/Cornell Barbell Club)

Local club record holder and Collegiate Nationals bronze medalist Jackie Arnold also comfortably won her weight class where she equaled her club record of a 170kg squat while improving her bench and deadlift records to 105kg and 205kg respectively. For those of you who don’t speak kilogram, she squats close to four plates (405 pounds), benches over two plates (225 pounds), and deadlifts close to five plates (495 pounds). Got it? Good. She’s qualified for every level of nationals that exists in America, and she also holds all of the Virginia state records in the women’s 75kg class.

Not everyone set the world on fire though, and that’s okay. In the women’s 67.5kg class, Nyla Bowers put in a performance that was full of passion, heart, and everything that you could ever want to see from a competitor.

Was it enough for the win? Unfortunately, no.

Is she more determined than ever to improve and come back stronger next year? Absolutely.

Nyla is exactly the kind of person that we want on this team, with just the right amount of grit and perseverance that makes you feel like anything is possible.

(Nyla Bowers deadlift 95kg. Picture Credit: Anthony Corrales/Cornell Barbell Club)

It wasn’t all sunshine and rainbows though. First-time competitor Abby Akselrod was sadly disqualified for failing to adhere to the commands of the judges. Additionally, both Alicia Huynh and Jessi McGlashan were forced to compete as guests, as they both weighed in outside the bounds of their respective classes. Fortunately for Jessi though, she did qualify for Collegiate Nationals which makes her our fifth and final woman qualified for a national-level competition.

(Alicia Huynh benching 62.5kg. Picture Credit: Anthony Corrales/Cornell Barbell Club)

Our men’s side was far less successful. While Pedro Reyes and Luca Bielski achieved top-five finishes in their respective 67.5kg and 75kg weight classes, other competitors such as Brayden White, Jason Moore, and Krish Patel did not fare as well. Despite the end result, it is worth noting that all of these men more than exceeded their gym totals and put up very respectable numbers on the platform. And most importantly, they had fun!

I talked with Jason and Pedro after the meet, and both of these first-time powerlifters said that they wanted to compete again and improve their numbers. That’s how you take a loss on the chin. I said it before with Nyla, and I’ll say it again for Pedro and Jason: that kind of attitude is exactly what we want on this team. Using a loss as motivation is much better than just sulking, which is thankfully something I can say that nobody on the team did. All of the men who did not place on the podium or top five showed up with their best effort and were simply beaten by stronger individuals. It happens.

(Pedro Reyes deadlifting 165kg. Photo Credit: Anthony Corrales/Cornell Barbell Club)

As President, I am still very proud of everyone and I appreciate the hard work that went into each and every single’s performance. For some people, however, their efforts did pay off. We had four third place finishes with Justice Starks earning bronze in the 82.5kg class, Johannes Wortel matching him in the 90kg class, Kyle Roth getting there in the 100kg class, and I myself earned a nice little bronze medal in the 110 kg class. Out of the four of us, only Johannes qualified for any sort of national championships, as he put up a Junior Nationals level total. Both Justice and I fell short of qualifying for Collegiate Nationals, with him missing by 7.5kg and I only missed it by 2.5kg. It still stings a little, but that’s life: nothing I can do about it now.

One of my favorite deadlifts of the night came from Kyle. He had a bit of a shaky start missing his third squat attempt and his first bench attempt, but when the chips were down, he gave it his all and ripped 225kg off the ground, securing his spot on the podium and solidifying his 82.5kg improvement on his total from last year.

As much as I enjoyed seeing Kyle earn that bronze, the gold medal went to Michael Moore. The strongest man in Cornell Barbell Club history, he started his afternoon by shattering the old squat record, which had been steady at 578lbs for several years. He squatted 650lbs. Yeah, that’s a lot. It was the heaviest squat of the meet by about 80lbs. He followed that up with what he considered a disappointing bench performance, only hitting his opener at 170kg.

Let that sink in for a second. He was disappointed with a 374lbs bench press. Must be nice.

He finally closed off his historic performance with a convincing 650lbs pull, just eleven pounds under the club record of 300kg. Like Jackie, he’s qualified for every kind of nationals after this meet, and I’m sure that he’ll break the club bench and deadlift records at Collegiate Nationals in April.

(Michael Moore squatting 280kg. Picture Credit: Anthony Corrales/Cornell Barbell Club)

To summarize my long-winded ramble, I’m proud of this team. Did we win? No, that trophy went right back to NYC with Columbia’s name on it. But did we all have fun? I think so. There’s something to be said about the team aspect of this event. I know I mentioned it in last year’s write-up, but powerlifting isn’t the lone-wolf sport that people try and make it out to be. Friends, boyfriends/girlfriends, and supporters all came out to help handle athletes, work the tables, load and spot, etc. Some of us were lucky enough to have our parents come out and cheer us on.

Between all the headaches regarding travel, hotel arrangements, last-minute lineup changes, and other delights, I would chalk this up to a very enjoyable experience. I might not be competing next year, but you bet I’ll be there supporting my team however they need me to.

See you in Teagle.


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