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  • Writer's pictureKatherine Weaver

Taking the Leap: Bella Rodriguez's Weightlifting Story

Updated: Jan 15

Herathlete Spotlight: a storytelling series dedicated to sharing the stories and unique experiences of athletes and sports professionals within the Herathlete community and beyond. 


19-year-old, Bella Rodriguez, has always been athletic. A high-level youth gymnast-turned-high-school basketball player and track star, Bella is no stranger to various coaches telling her how she'd excel at their sport, on their team.


So when Spencer Arnold, the strength coach at her high school, told Bella that she could do incredible things in the sport of weightlifting, she initially shook it off as just another coach lauding her innate athleticism. 


At the start, Bella really didn't enjoy weightlifting that much. It didn't seem like a sport that girls did and was definitely not one that many people knew about.


“When Spencer introduced the snatch and clean and jerk, I honestly wanted nothing to do with them,” Bella explained. 


Yet she was good. Really good. 


Like hitting-junior-nationals-winning-numbers-in-the-highschool-weight room good.  


Going All In


Recognizing her potential, Spencer, who also serves as the head coach of Power and Grace Performance and coaches several Olympians, was persistent.


“For almost three years, Spencer kept telling me to take weightlifting seriously,” said Bella, “Then one day, he came back from Tokyo in his Olympic gear and said, ‘this could be you someday,’ and I thought, ‘maybe it could.’”


This struck a chord with Bella, who had always known in the back of her head that she was going to be an elite athlete at something.


In the spring of 2022, after her senior year track season ended, Bella made the extremely hard decision to fully commit to weightlifting with Power and Grace.


“It was very difficult. I dropped a lot of things that I was very certain of at a young age,” Bella explained, like running track in university, “But Spencer knew it would pay off, and I was convinced.” 


Since deciding to go all in with Power and Grace in the spring of 2022, Bella’s numbers have shot up 20 kilos each. 


Finding Passion


While her rise has been quicker than most, it has not been without serious dedication and challenges. For Bella, working hard in the gym has never been the difficult part. In terms of weightlifting, her biggest struggle has been finding her love for the sport. 


“I'm a natural adrenaline junkie,” she explained, “I lived for the adrenaline of standing on a start line in track with my heart beating out of my chest. In weightlifting, you're in a cycle for ten weeks and then you get one minute of adrenaline, six times.”


But Bella began to find that adrenaline and love for the sport at the 2023 IWF Junior World Championships in Guadalajara, Mexico this past November. 


“I needed someone to give me a run for my money. Junior Worlds was the first meet where I've been pushed up against a wall, I realized that this was what I needed.”


At her international debut, Bella hit a 171 kg total to win second place and won first place in the clean and jerk for her 49-kilo category. 


Despite the fact that her numbers are still going up, Bella trains daily on platforms adjacent to one of the top athletes in her weight class in the world, Jourdan Delacruz. 

Bella is often asked how she avoids comparing herself to Jourdan and her numbers. 


“The way I see it is that Jourdan’s been in this sport for a long time, and I'm sure she's had her own ups and downs,” Bella explained, “I don't really care how long it takes me to get there. It could be 3 years, it could be 8 years, who knows?”


“I just know that if you compare yourself to anyone in that gym, you're going to be really unhappy.”


So Bella continues to work, unafraid of the gap between where she is currently and where she wishes to be. In this process, she’s fortunate to have plenty of support, whether that be from other athletes at the gym, like Jourdan and Kate Vibert who can share wisdom and be sources of inspiration, or from professionals, such as her physio, or Team USA’s dietitian, who help her fuel properly for competitions. 


Addressing Stigma in Weightlifting


One of the biggest issues Bella has seen women deal with in weightlifting is societal biases asserting that women shouldn't be lifting weights. 


“A lot of people who don't actually know the sport don't see weightlifting as a ‘girls sport,’” explains Bella, “At first, I felt very uncomfortable doing weightlifting myself because it wasn't really within the female world.”


Bella, who has been fortunate to have interacted with many high-level female athletes over her career, believes that more representation may be a solution to these biases. 


“I think seeing other women doing something at a high level that's intimidating or not super common is very encouraging to younger athletes,” Bella said. 


Despite being only 19 years old herself, Bella is wise beyond her years, and her quick rise to prominence within USAW has put her in a unique area of influence in the sport. 


With this newfound influence, the advice that Bella would give younger girls in the sport of weightlifting is uplifting and encouraging: 


“Work hard. Train. Do the hard things, and be confident in yourself.”


In all of these, Bella continues to lead by example. 


To find out more about Bella Rodriguez and her journey, check out her Instagram, or this interview done by Power and Grace Performance.


Image credits: The Art of Barbell & YKS Media



Written by Katherine Weaver


As a weightlifter with a passion for writing, Katherine is excited to help highlight the inspiring stories of other female athletes.

 

Before transitioning to weightlifting, Katherine sailed at the international and collegiate levels in the ILCA 6 Dinghy.


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