Last month 25-year-old Alaskan Natalie Hanson placed fourth at an international powerlifting competition in Germany.
Hanson, who’s originally from Bethel, loves a good underdog story. Partly, because she has one of her own.
“It’s really fun being an underdog–it’s a lot of fun–because nobody even looks at you or thinks twice about you,” Hanson said.
She started participating in powerlifting three years ago. Last month she competed at the IPF Open World Championships in Luxemburg, Germany, an annual international powerlifting competition, for the first time.
“There’s a database online when a world championship is coming up and there’s a hyperlink on each person’s name,” Hanson said. “You click on their link and it goes to their lifting history and my name wasn’t even hyperlinked because I had no lifting history.”
Hanson initially didn’t get an invitation to compete. She had placed second in the qualifying event as an alternate. Then someone dropped out.
“I had a feeling it was coming, but when it finally did, it was pretty surreal,” Hanson said. “I’m relatively new to the sport. I was the youngest on the team by several years, and so I just felt like a little fish in a huge ocean.”
Hanson grew up in Bethel and began powerlifting after she moved to Anchorage for graduate school in 2012.
Just a few years later, she’s set new records for the U.S. women’s squat and lift in the sport, most recently in the 2015 Men’s and Women’s National Powerlifting Championship in Texas, in May. In powerlifting competitions are held year-round and focus on three skills: the squat, the deadlift and the bench press. The athlete attempts each of these moves three times. Unlike weightlifting, there isn’t much emphasis on speed but on weight and form. Hanson has lifted more than 500 pounds and says it’s pretty thrilling.
“Part of what makes it so exhilarating and fun is that it’s really scary, too,” Hanson said. “It takes 100 percent of your brain to focus on what you’re doing at that exact moment, but once you’re done, you can let your mind relax.”
She says that mental focus is a hallmark of those who succeed in the sport. Hanson works out five days a week, works part-time and is pursuing a master’s in civil engineering at the University of Alaska Anchorage. She plans to graduate next summer. She says her parents and older brother are a huge part of her support network
Kathy Hanson, her mom, says she was surprised when her daughter first told her she was joining powerlifting.
“I think like a lot of people I said, ‘What’s powerlifting? Why would anyone want to do that? That doesn’t sound like very much fun,” she said.
As time went on Kathy understood the sport better.
Hanson’s parents have followed her competitions across the nation and even to her most recent one in Germany.
Outside of her other obligations, Hanson remotely coaches 17-year-old Bethel high school student and two-time state champion Sophie Swope in powerlifting.
Swope, a senior, heard about Hanson her freshman year of high school. A few years later she became interested in powerlifting after doing general weightlifting. She says Hanson encouraged her to compete in state competitions and offers her feedback through social media.
“Lately, we’ve actually just been sending our videos through text message or on Facebook,” Swope said.
With Hanson’s next competition in March and her master’s degree following soon after, she’s unsure of what’s next. But whether it’s powerlifting or engineering, or both, she’s in no hurry to choose.