From ouch to wow: Gordillo now a powerlifting champ

A dumbbell helped Kendra Gordillo make a smart decision.

During a workout nearly two years ago, Gordillo rested a 25-pound weight on a bench beside her at the gym. But with her attention elsewhere, the dumbbell awoke and began a slow roll … right off the bench and onto Gordillo’s foot.

The result was a broken big toe that sidelined body but not brain.

“I was lifting weights for track and lacrosse at the time,” recalled Gordillo, then a sophomore at Ridgefield High School. “When I got injured, though, it dawned on me that I actually enjoyed the weight training more than playing the other sports.”

The following summer, a male colleague at the sailing school where Gordillo worked told her about powerlifting — a sport that includes three specific routines: Squat, bench press, and deadlift.

“He was doing powerlifting himself, and when he mentioned it me it sounded interesting,” said Gordillo. “I had nothing to lose — when you miss a season of high school sports it’s tough to catch up — so I figured I would give it a shot.”

Somewhat sheepishly, Gordillo approached Pete McLean, a strength and conditioning coach who works with Ridgefield High athletes. When McLean said that he thought Gordillo could transition to powerlifting, her concerns were soothed and her interest sparked.

“That was all I needed to hear,” said Gordillo. “Once coach McLean gave me that encouragement I knew what I was going to do.”

In 2015, at the beginning of her junior year, Gordillo began training in earnest, following regimens designed for her by McLean. A few months later she competed in her first sanctioned event — the 14th Annual USAPL (USA Powerlifting) American Open Powerlifting Championships in Boston, Mass. — and finished second in her weight (63 kilograms, or 138 pounds) division.

Further emboldened, Gordillo took part in two more USAPL competitions last year, finishing fourth in the girls raw varsity division at the Ryan Moore New England Open High School Championship and eighth in the women’s Raw Open class at the Connecticut Spring Classic.

Her breakthrough performance came in her most recent event: The St. John’s High School Raw Classic in Massachusetts on Jan. 14. Setting personal-bests in all three lifts, Gordillo hoisted 217.5 total kilograms (479.5 pounds) to win her weight division.

“Everything clicked,” said Gordillo, who squatted 170.9 pounds, bench pressed 88.2 pounds and deadlifted 220.5 pounds. “All my best lifts were personal records by a pretty good amount.”

Unlike many of her peers, who compete on powerhouse Ridgefield High teams, Gordillo receives little fanfare. “Some of my friends know that I compete but they don’t really know what powerlifting is about,” said Gordillo, now a senior at the school. “The meets are all pretty far away, so none of my friends have even seen me compete.”

Although hers is a solitary pursuit — Gordillo says she is the only Ridgefield High student (male or female) who trains exclusively for powerlifting — there are unexpected benefits from all that lonely lifting.

“I also play the viola in the [Ridgefield High School] orchestra," said Gordillo. “... I’ve noticed that the training for powerlifting has helped with my posture and stamina. The viola seems a lot more manageable now.”