By Aida Toro
Have you visited Philadelphia Barbell Club’s Instagram lately? If you haven’t, you are missing out seeing videos of a 4’11” young dynamo giving it her all on the platform, practicing barbell snatches. That would be Veronica Restrepo hard at work.
“I’ve probably done every sport under the sun,” said Restrepo. “It took me a really long time to figure out certain sports weren’t for me.”
Restrepo, currently 19 years old, participated in gymnastics throughout her elementary school years. She gained an interest in CrossFit when she was nine years old. Mostly because her father opened up a CrossFit establishment in West New York, New Jersey.
“At eight, she was doing gymnastics, which allowed her to be flexible,” said Restrepo’s mother, Alexandra Sanchez. “For CrossFit, you have to be flexible and your mobility has to be spot on.”
After doing gymnastics for a little while, CrossFit came into the picture, following with moving to Pennsylvania, said Sanchez. “It was something I’d do after school. I would go in and workout,” said Restrepo about CrossFit. “Since I wasn’t doing any other sport at that time, I was like, ‘ok CrossFit is my sport’, and it wasn’t really to stay fit. I was just doing it for fun.”
Restrepo dreamt of being a CrossFit superstar but she thought that she was competing against girls who were bigger and stronger than she was. Therefore, her CrossFit dreams were unrealistic to her at the time.
“When it came to the lifting, she was really good for her body weight,” said her mom, since Restrepo weighed about 105 pounds at the time. “She was going up against 16-year-olds who weighed 160 pounds, but still had to move the same weight as she did.”
Regardless of her size, Restrepo’s form for CrossFit movements was on point. She was very flexible, not to mention, she did not fear the barbell. While Restrepo worked out at the CrossFit gym, she was being filmed. The videos of her training at the CrossFit gym ended up on Instagram, which were noticed by Weightlifting Coach, Ryan Marciniszyn of Westchester. In February of 2016, he reached out to Restrepo through Instagram and mentioned she should consider weightlifting.
“I really wasn’t into lifting weights,” said Restrepo. “The coach reached out to me through Instagram and said, ‘hey, you’re really good at this. Why don’t you come in and work with me?’ I said, ‘ok I’ll try it’.”
When Restrepo began to train with Marciniszyn, she realized the coach was right about her being an excellent weightlifter. “If I was never scouted, I don’t think I ever would have competed in weightlifting,” Restrepo explained. “I didn’t really think that I was good at weightlifting...like I knew I could move and that was fine, but for someone to reach out and tell me that I had a talent in this, I thought...maybe I should try it.”
Restrepo began competing locally while training with Marciniszyn. In 2017, she began training with Coach Jim Rutter out of Philadelphia Barbell Club. Once she began training with Rutter, her career as a weightlifter skyrocketed.
“She competed in her first Junior Nationals competition, for her division it is the top of the top competition in the country,” said Sanchez. “She took bronze at her first Junior Nationals competition.”
Throughout the end of 2017, Restrepo was ranked top three in the Junior division and became a member of Team USA Weightlifting. Once 2018 came, she began competing internationally. She won the Gold medal in the Snatch, Clean & Jerk and overall total for the National University Championship. By winning the Gold at the National University Championship, Restrepo made the World University team to compete in Poland. She then won the Bronze in Snatch, Clean & Jerk, and overall total at the Senior National Championships, which qualified her for the Junior Pan Am’s team to compete in Colombia. After competing in Colombia, she competed in the Nike 2018 American Series II where she won the Bronze medal. Thereafter, she won the Bronze Medal in the Junior Pan Am Championship, ranking 4th overall in the Pan America’s as a 48kg Junior. She went on to compete in the FISU World University Championship where she won the Gold in the Snatch, Silver in the Clean & Jerk, and the Silver for the overall total. She was ranked 4th in the World at a Collegiate level as a 48kg Junior.
“Honestly, I like international competitions so much more,” said Restrepo. “One, because you get to meet so many people from different countries. Teams get really close.
Restrepo added, “The competing experience is a way bigger stage and there are a lot more people watching you. People who don’t know you and are cheering you on, and you don’t really know why, but it gives you that extra push.”
Although Restrepo has been very successful as a weightlifter thus far, she has experienced some challenges along the path. “I had like a three month period where I didn’t want to weight lift,” she said. “I wasn’t going to train and I was very unmotivated because it was my senior year of high school. I wanted to go to prom, graduate, and attend senior week. I just wanted to be able to experience things. But for every prom I went to, I had a competition the next day.”
For example, she sacrificed a lot her senior year of high school, especially during prom season. She always had to leave the event early in order to wake up at five in the morning to drive for an hour to a competition. “It was hard watching all of my friends have fun. I was stuck in this sport where I felt like I wasn’t being a kid and enjoying myself,” she said. “I took a good two months off to hang out with my friends and finish off my summer, but then I thought to myself, ‘is losing my career worth going to the beach for a week?’ If weightlifting is something that I want to do and want to go to the Olympics, then other things need to be put to the side and realize that there are other responsibilities I need to take care of.”
Like anyone, Restrepo still gets into the funk of not wanting to train. Her mother, however, is there to motivate her day after day. “Sometimes I just need to let go of it, because I always come back to the sport. —ALWAYS,” said Restrepo about weightlifting. “A couple of weeks before a competition I can say ‘I’m not feeling well’ or ‘I need to take a week off’, but I always go to the competition and I always deliver.”
“She delivers,” said her mom. “And again, it’s not just the two of us. It’s her coach, as well. So, if her coach sees that she’s not going to train, he’ll reach out to me… as a parent, you want your child to be successful.”
Restrepo mentioned the rest of her support system consists of her coach, head coaches, chiropractors, nutritionists, and doctors. At times, she experiences backaches and other body pains after training or competitions.
“When we went to Colombia, I felt really good and had a feeling I was going to medal,” said Restrepo. “When I came home, my body shut down because of all the flights. I had to make emergency calls for my PT to come to my gym, because my back and neck were messed up.”
She said, “We went into my second competition and I thought that I might not medal and do as well as I thought, because I was very stiff. I was down about myself going into Poland, but then I said to myself, ‘look, make six lifts and you have the medal and you’re fine’.”
Restrepo ended up medaling in Poland.
“One thing I believe that she has is that she is great under pressure,” said Sanchez about Restrepo. “In one of her competitions, in order to make the Pan Am team, she had to make a certain number. The coach said, ‘you need to hit this if you want to make the team’. It was a number she never made before and ended up hitting.
Restrepo will be going to Chicago for Junior Nationals this February. She has to up her numbers a bit and lose a lot of weight. She stated that these goals make her doubt her skill at times, however, her coach’s motivation and pep talks keep her mind focused. “I don't really know how I’ll feel until a couple of days before, if not the day before,” said Restrepo. “My mood changes day to day. I could go in one day, feel terrible about my training and not want to lift. I feel like I can’t do this because it’s too heavy. But then I come in the next day and feel that I can go above my ranges and go heavier.”
Being an elite athlete, comes with challenges and dedication. Her nutrition is another hurdle she tackles as an athlete. Restrepo has to make weight for certain competitions. She was able to lose weight on her own without the assistance of a nutritionist, until she had to lose ten pounds for her upcoming Junior Nationals competition in Chicago.
“I went to my coach and said this is a weight cut I won’t be able to do myself,” she said. “Cutting almost ten pounds is something I’m going need help with, and trusting somebody else to decide what I eat was hard. At times I felt like I was eating too much or that I was gaining weight.”
Restrepo stated that her nutritionist works very well with her as she has provided some flexibility in her diet like allowing her to eat as much as she wants on Saturdays.
“Her nutritionist will give her a shopping list, weigh and prepare meals for the week to make sure she’s in line with what she’s supposed to be eating,” said her mom. “At times, she’ll fall off when having a little treat here and there. For the most part, she’s pretty disciplined in that area.”
Aside from training and competing, Restrepo is a student at Montgomery Community College. She took last semester off to focus on training, competing and traveling and is now enrolled in online courses. “It keeps me busy,” said Restrepo about school. “It would be nice to be on campus and associate with others. But I know when I’m traveling a lot, it’s easier to take my laptop everywhere and get my work done online.”
She plans on transferring over to Temple University in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, to pursue a degree in Exercise Science, and continue her weightlifting career. “I always knew I didn’t want to be in an office job,” she said. “I’m a very hands-on person, and something I’m very passionate about is physical therapy, and something I’ve always needed was a physical therapist.”
Restrepo said there aren’t enough physical therapists in Pennsylvania, which is why she feels pursuing Exercise Science would work for her, “To be a physical therapist and be able to help my teammates would be amazing.”
Makeup is also a hobby Restrepo is very fond about. She gained an interest in makeup when she was 13 years old and began watching makeup tutorials on Youtube. Currently, she has a part-time job at ULTA Beauty. She works in the mornings since she is a full-time athlete.
“My favorite thing to do is unbox makeup, put it away, and see what new products are coming in,” she said. “I plan on telling them that I want to become a freelance makeup artist.”
Tattoos also play a major role in Restrepo’s life. She has 13 tattoos at the moment, which all have a special meaning. The first tattoo she ever got states her mother’s name.
“I think the tattoos definitely add to my character when I go to my competitions,” she said. “I have pink hair, tattoos, and piercings. I just love to stand out.”
She said, “A lot of my tattoos are a symbol of strength and respect. I have one piece that says, ‘Respect all and fear none’, which is a perfect representation of who I am. I respect each and every one of my competitors, but I can’t fear them because it will create a wall I won’t be able to get over.”
Restrepo looks forward to enjoying the ride as a weightlifter, which of course, includes her mother.
“This is something she and I can experience together,” said Restrepo. “I would never go to international competitions without my mom.”
She also looks forward to discovering herself as an athlete and a person. After all, she’s at a point where she is unsure where her weightlifting career is headed.
“This next competition I’m going to will tell me if this is for me or if this is it,” she said. “I have to wait and see what this competition has in store. I’m excited about it, because I’ll get to travel and represent my country on multiple huge stages.”