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How Angel Athenas became one of the strongest powerlifters in the world's Special Olympics



It takes a minute for Geri Athenas to figure out the number of powerlifting medals her daughter, Angel Athenas, has earned in the past three years.

First there were the medals of the local Special Olympics competitions. Then the Special Olympics 2018 in New York, where she won four gold medals, and the Special Olympics 2018 in the US, from which she brought home another four gold medals. In addition, of course, the four gold medals she earned at the Special Olympics World Games 2019, and the additional four gold medals at the New York State Games 2019.

All in all, Angel has determined 49 medals in her name, and finally her mother , And this figure is likely to increase only when 34-year-old Athenas from Huntington, New York, trains almost 20 hours a week with the goal of improving their personal bests.

"I feel like Hercules", Athenas tells SELF how she feels about powerlifting. Their achievements are certainly Herculean: At the 201

9 World Games, held in Abu Dhabi in March, the five-foot-tall athlete dropped a staggering 254 pounds, hit a bench 138 and squatted 182 . She has also broken female powerlifting records for the state of New York .

As this powerlifting powerhouse is targeting the next Special Olympics World Games scheduled for 2023 in Germany, we've talked to her, Geri and her Trainer, to learn more about her unlikely rise to one of the strongest female specials To learn about the world's Olympic athletes training for high-level competitions, their future goals and more.

A Very Difficult Start The climb to the world-class Special Olympics powerlifter is all the more remarkable, considering where it started. Athenas faced an extraordinarily challenging childhood. Her mother states that she was born a drug-addicted baby, was abused as a child, and was in the care system for the first eight years of her life. Then, in the early '90s, Geri and her late husband saw a video of a hyper-girl adoption agency missing her two front teeth and feeling compelled to help. "Gee, how could we not guide her and do something?" Geri says to SELF. "Because what is your destiny?"

They adopted Athenas, which Geri explains has autism, ADHD, bipolar disorder and learning difficulties and welcomes her family of four. Although she was struggling with basic verbal skills, her natural coordination and athleticism became immediately apparent. Geri's older sons Jason and Jeff, both teenagers at the time, taught Athenas how to play hockey and skate. In high school, she extended her repertoire to running and gymnastics classes.

After completing high school, Athenas enrolled in a daily program at Family Residences and Essential Enterprises (FREE), a New York-based non-profit agency that supports disabled adults, says Geri. Through FREE, she sang with a group of adults with autism for nearly 10 years and danced and traveled with a troupe. That was all before she discovered an unprecedented passion – and aptitude – for powerlifting.

How she came to powerlifting.

In 2015, when Athenas was struggling with behavioral problems, John Ponce, the supervisor of the Athenas Hive home, suggested a solution: Why do not you go to the gym with her and ask her if she has her trouble elsewhere? could steer? (Ponce is not a certified trainer, but had some experience with weightlifting and thought it might help.)

They started working together to focus on weightlifting and Athenas developed a keen interest in the sport. The next year, she got to know a purely male team in the gym, the Iron Men Special Olympics Powerlifters. They welcomed her into her group and started lifting them once a week. Then she started to join them at local Special Olympics meetings, and from then on, Ponce, who is still Athenas' trainer, told SELF:

In many of these local competitions, Athenas was the only woman powerlifter, explains Geri. But that did not seem to intimidate her. "Because of her personality, she was out there shouting," You're doing great, "says Geri. "And she smiled and talked to everyone."

After earning gold and breaking records at the 2018 New York State Games, Athenas joined Seattle's New York State Special Olympics team for the Special Olympics Games USA 2018. The national competition was the first time that she traveled alone without Geri and her stepfather and "she really had a great time," says Geri. Not only did Athenas greet all contestants in essence (their coaches, according to Geri, remarked: "My God, here are 5,000 athletes, and she has hit 5,000 athletes "), but also won her weight class with four Gold points medals for her growing collection.

The overall experience, Geri adds, "helped her so much to grow up, to be independent, that the helicopter mother did not necessarily have to be a helicopter mother." Then came the epic question from USA Special Olympics. Would Athena's America be represented at the 2019 World Cup in Abu Dhabi? Given their success at the USA Games, Geri and Bob voted "Yes."

Athenas said she had come to global competition with complete confidence. "When I went to Abu Dhabi, I said: Do you know what? I feel like I have this because I know that I am the strongest woman in the world. "

There she regained her weight class, claiming four more gold medals and meeting in true Athenas style Apparently all contestants, including wrestler Stephanie McMahon and a prince from the Emirates, after a photo asked, says Geri. The newly crowned World Champion returned home with a flood of attentions, celebrations and invitations to events.

First there was a welcome party in their group house with elected officials and news cameras. Then McMahon invited them to WWE's WrestleMania in April, where Athenas walked the red carpet and received one of Ronda Rousey's original belts says Geri. In May she was honored by the New York Senate and in June she visited the United Nations Headquarters in New York City and played Boccia at a United Nations Conference of States Parties, despite almost constant attention Athena did not want to spend a lot of time enjoying her achievements – she just wanted to go back to the gym, says Ponce. "I was really surprised and impressed because most athletes would reach this finish line and enjoy the moment a little more," he says.

The intense training

"The strongest thing I do is powerlifting," says Athenas, whose favorite event is the deadlift. Their goals for the Special Olympics World Games 2023 are no joke: deadlift 315 pounds, squat 285 and bench press 205.

Taking these benchmarks into account, she is currently training for one hour a week with the Iron Men team and five days a week, about three hours a day, with Ponce at the local retro gym. A typical workout starts with about an hour of intense cardio (think treadmill, bike, StairMaster, elliptical, and / or skipping rope) before putting emphasis on weightlifting and finishing the core work.

Through powerlifting, Athenas has developed "Enormous Concentration," says Ponce, "and the urge to get better and get better." A typical example: your extremely strong work ethic. "I've never met anyone who is so excited," says Ponce. On Sundays, on the day she trains with the men's team, she often goes back to the gym that evening to do a separate cardio workout, he explains. As serious as she is about her workouts, she is also as serious about her recovery as she is aware of the safety risks that powerlifting brings with it. "I have to be careful," she says. "I'm not exaggerating."

Asked about her natural ability as an athlete, Ponce says: "A lot of heart, a lot of determination, a lot of skill." And as a person? Athenas is "very giving, very loving, extremely overprotective," he says. "If she feels that someone is not talking to me, say, or with her mother, she does not hesitate to tighten her weapons."

When she's not at the gym, Athenas spends three days a week learning how to care for horses in a local barn to one day get a job on the field, Geri says. She also likes to dance and likes to hang up.

For all these medals she keeps the most prestigious – the four from the USA games 2018 and the four from the World Games 2019 – in two showcases with shadowboxes. The flat she shares with her Pomeranian Jack. She has also made a habit of giving medals to young girls she meets, "to tell them that they can be strong," explains Geri.

What advice would Athena give to other athletes looking for success? "If you have a goal that you want to work for, do not stop it," she says. "Go ahead and just do the best you can and do not let anyone tell you that you can not." this.

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