By Joseph Robertia
Competition can push a person to do their best, and while two local powerlifters upped their game by traveling to Scandinavia to compete this summer, it was their personal growth from the experience abroad, as much as their wins, that they cherished from the journey.
“Being a good athlete really wasn’t the only thing I got out of these trips. It gave me a better idea of myself,” said Cipriana Castellano, a senior at Kenai Central High School. She and Robin Johnson, a junior at Soldotna High School, traveled in June to Salo, Finland, competing in the International Powerlifting Federation RAW Classic Powerlifting World Championships.
They crushed the opposition in their respective weight classes for teens 18 and under. Castellano — competing in the 159- to 189-pound weight class — amassed a three-lift total of 898 pounds, squat lifting 336 pounds, bench pressing 181 pounds and deadlifting 380 pounds. Johnson — competing in the 138- to 158-pound weight class — put up a three-lift total of 865 pounds, squat lifting 341 pounds, bench pressing 176 pounds and deadlifting 347 pounds.
“It was a perfect day and I’d live it forever if I could. I learned I’m capable of anything and that I’m not a quitter, I won’t ever quit,” Johnson said.
Coming home with the win doesn’t mean she didn’t feel the butterflies of anxiety from competing so far from Alaska, and American soil in general.
“Finland was like going back in history and I got to see what I learned in my sophomore history class. The cathedrals were giant and so detailed. The ground was made from little stones fit together perfectly to make a road. Everything was different.
“The grass was greener, all the native people to Finland all looked similar — blond hair, blue eyes, thin and quiet. The roads were smaller and the sidewalks were bigger. They served in such smaller portions and I’m used to stuffing my face,” Johnson said, but joked that she made up for it by stopping for gelatos nearly everywhere she went on her downtime.
Travel was also different. Johnson took buses or taxi for just a few Euros, and walked frequently. When she did see cars, they were different than the vehicles of the U.S.
“(They had) smaller cars, too. I only saw one truck while I was there and it was a Ford F-150. Living in Alaska, we see trucks more than any other vehicle,” she said.
The competition was also a little different, and not quite as friendly as Johnson was used to, particularly her Russian counterpart, who ended up finishing in second place among the eight teens in their division. Johnson said that the girl cooled to her after her win and would purposefully avoid sitting near her on the shuttle to and from events. But again, Johnson said it was an opportunity from which to grow.
“I learned that you can only focus on yourself, because you only have control over one person, which is you. I learned not to worry about anything but what I was doing. When I was competing, I did that,” she said.
After returning home Johnson began transitioning out of specifically training for powerlifting to focus more on CrossFit and weightlifting.
“It was what I was doing before powerlifting seriously and I love it, and all the people involved with it, so I’m going to see where it takes me. Ultimately, I want to be going to the CrossFit Games,” she said.
Johnson also has a few more years of high school left and wants to start narrowing her academic focus.
“I want to either be a sports psychologist or specialize in sports nutrition, but I’m going to see where life takes me. It’s what I’ve always done and I’m so happy with the path it’s led me. I’m going to trust in the process,” she said.