Like many other women who find their way to competitive athletics, Liz Rebaudo began her trek wanting to lose weight. So many stories begin this way. Woman feels discomfort in body. Woman feels compelled to exercise to rid self of fat. Soft parts of her body. Parts that squish over clothes that, in photos of models in magazines and on billboards, are brushed away into air, jutting bones and sunken cheeks. On the way to weight loss, woman discovers something more fulfilling: strength building. The perceived target of a number on a scale and a way the body ought to look, the prescriptive way of thinking is replaced by some more significant force at work. Building strength, making the self more capable: bigger in new ways. Woman is more than her body. Woman is more than the summation of her physique. Woman is inside life, rattling around in a physical casing, and as that casing turns hard it reflexively feeds the internal to something harder, something more forgiving. This strength spills over to other areas of her life. Woman learns who is in her corner. Friends are gained, lost. Partners too. Children see a mother heading out for the gym practicing strength building, the craft of building strength. The pursuit of growth by way of the barbell. In comes that same woman more like the girl she used to be before she bent herself against others in the name of motherhood, in the spirit of wifely duties. Strength is her own. Other women see new woman, become inspired. Woman shares her insecurities and her path to growth. We know this story. Liz has struggled with body image and insecurity, and though she still struggles she shares her troubles with others so that they can see that a person, who on the outside appears to have all the confidence in the world, still struggles with the universal challenge of accepting the self. Liz’s story is one of sincerity, of transparent growth.
We begin with Liz years back, a school teacher—going to work, coming home. Work and home. Patient, and gracious with sharing knowledge, Liz taught Pre-kindergarten. She thought she would have no greater satisfaction in her profession when she was asked if she’d be willing to take on third graders instead. Even with her boss, Liz was her authentic self. She told her boss not only no, but hell no. But, having a good relationship with her boss, she spoke with him in seriousness afterwards and he asked if she’d just try it out. She did and ended up loving it. She stayed on with third graders for five years until COVID changed the way classrooms were run along with the expectations of teachers to cater to the at-home student alongside the in-class student.
“When I started teaching, I loved teaching,” Liz said. “I love making a difference and helping people. I mean, that's why I went into it …. I felt very fulfilled.” But the things that she loved about teaching were changing, and instead of being able to form the bonds with her students as she had in the past, the new teaching modality led to challenges that weren’t worth the return for her, so she ended up coaching full-time at Fortis Fitness Studio in Mary Esther, Florida, the gym that she and her husband own. Liz finds satisfaction in teaching athletes. With “training and coaching, I still get to feel fulfilled, because I am teaching people powerlifting or general fitness, or just working out or helping them, and I can see that I’m still impacting them, which is really cool.”
For being someone so invested in fitness, it’s bizarre that Liz was not athletic growing up. She did play indoor soccer in high school, but she said she only signed up to hang out with friends. “I was going to socialize with them. I just stood there. That was the extent of me playing indoor soccer.” She laughed and I laughed. For those who don’t know, Liz Ribaudo has competed at an invite-only professional powerlifting meet. She has totaled a 1047 with a 385 lb squat, a 204 lb bench, and a 457 lb deadlift. She has accomplished these feats as a natural athlete. How does someone become a high-level athlete without an athletic background?
“I used to be really shy. I had low self-esteem,” she explains. She had poor body image, and that’s how she ended up exercising to begin with. She didn’t do weights, though, not at first. She ran, did cardio. She lost a few pounds, but those activities did not change her in any fundamental way. She later went with a friend to Orange Theory where she discovered her initial interest in weightlifting. She met her husband Nate there, who ended up being integral to her growth from general fitness to competitive powerlifter.
She credits him for her growth. “He’s the one who believed in me from day one.” Liz was pulling 250 when she first began, but Nate said, “You’re going to be pulling 400,” and she didn’t believe it was ever possible. She kept training for the last few years alongside Nate and she has since lifted more than 400 lbs. About him she said, “I think because of him, truly, I was able to grow into the athlete that I am.” When asked if Nate does her programming and coaching, she laughed at first. He used to coach her, but they argued a lot. She did a few online templates after that, then tried out a few different coaches. The preps didn’t go as she had intended, so Nate ended up stepping in to help her. Eventually Liz got her NASM personal training certification and started to program herself. “I’m type A; I want a little more control over what I’m doing with my training.” So most of the time she programs for herself, trains with Nate and some other athletes in their gym, and as she gets into the final stages of meet prep, Nate takes over. They have a system, and it’s definitely working.
Liz was coached by Nate through The Showdown, the professional meet where she felt for the first time in any powerlifting arena as though she didn’t belong. “I was absolutely terrified. That was the first time competing on such a big stage. But everyone was nice.” They reassured her that she did belong there.
When asked how she got to the level of overcoming her shyness and self-esteem issues, she said powerlifting did that for her.
“Powerlifting definitely helped me find myself,” Liz said. “It’s been an empowering journey for me. I was always very shy, very quiet. Didn't really know who I was, and I have definitely found my true self, I think, and some confidence. I used to have a really bad body image issues, and I think through powerlifting, it has helped because I can also focus on all this cool shit that my body can do instead of just what it looks like or the number on a scale.” Powerlifting has also helped Liz be able to shift her focus inward when she becomes anxious. “I’ve learned strategies to stay calm when lifting that I literally use in day-to-day situations (to relieve anxiety.)”
Liz often shares these things openly on social media. She has a refreshing authenticity to her approach as an athlete and as a coach. Though she is an internationally elite-ranked athlete, she has not forgotten where she began. She still struggles with body image. She has felt quite recently like she doesn’t belong. She has to practice thinking about what her body can do for her instead of getting lost in just how it looks. She shares this with her athletes and with others openly. Liz’s story is so relatable to so many women. And to know that someone with such immense power still struggles with analogous issues as so many other women is fascinating. People often think once an athlete gets to a particular level that the athlete is far enough away from any likeness to herself that she cannot relate. But Liz is accessible. Liz reminds other athletes that the process is continuous—intentional action is required in order to continue to grow. Though she can be nervous about where she is in relation to others in the sport, she has used the power found in powerlifting to drive away the outside noise that might deter her from taking a risk too many others wouldn’t think to take. Liz is perpetually growing.
Liz is signed up for the Drug-Tested American Pro in 2023 where she intends to challenge herself by competing in the 60 kilo weight class.