On March 4 in Columbus, Ohio, Cheshire powerlifter Kierstyn Bourdeau set a goal of making history at the Arnold Sports Festival. Before stepping up for her turn in the strict curl event, she took a moment to look over the crowd and enjoy the atmosphere.
“It was incredible,” reflected Bourdeau, a member of Connecticut Strength, LLC. in Cheshire. “I wasn’t worried about what (weight) was on the bar, but the environment we were in. I trusted my technique and what we do in the gym.”
Under pressure, the 2013 Cheshire High School graduate rose to the occasion in a big way. Bourdeau lifted 120 pounds to break her own open world record for strict curl in the 100% RAW Powerlifting Federation, Inc.
“I was definitely surprised. I’ve recently had a shoulder dip and you can’t do (in the event) [? do what?],” explained Bourdeau, whose previous record was 117 pounds. “That (lift) is probably the cleanest I’ve ever hit that weight. It was a huge accomplishment.”
Bourdeau describes the Arnold Sports Festival as the Super Bowl of powerlifting. High-ranking lifters need to be invited to participate in the event.
“Any competition you go to as an athlete, you want to perform your best,” stated Bourdeau. “I did my best on that day (in Ohio).”
When she originally came to Strength Academy (now Connecticut Strength) five years ago, Bourdeau was looking to lose weight and develop a healthier lifestyle. She found a passion for powerlifting and has gone on to set multiple records.
“There is something about it that you makes feel powerful,” explained Bourdeau. “You are around these strong women who want the best for you and are so proud to see you succeed.”
In reflection, Connecticut Strength owner and coach Pat Russo quickly saw powerlifting potential in Bourdeau.
“We sat down and talked about it. I told her that ‘I believe in my heart that you could be the number one curler in the world,’” recalled Russo. “My vision for her was five years out. She put the work in and made it a reality.”
Along with Bourdeau, Lesley DeAngelo, Angie Krom, and Tony Esteves also represented Connecticut Strength in the Arnold Sports Festival. A Cheshire resident who usually competes in the 50-54 age division, DeAngelo lifted 86 pounds to place eighth in strict curl.
“That woman is truly incredible. Even with how hard she trains, people aren’t doing what she is doing at her age,” said Bourdeau. “She pushes me to do better. There are times in the gym when I don’t think I can do another rep and then I see her do three or four more. I’m blessed to train with her.”
Bourdeau and DeAngelo both received world rings for their top-10 finishes in Ohio.
“To have two woman do that out of Cheshire is very rare,” stated Russo. “I’m excited as their coach.”
In the lead-up to the Arnold Sports Festival, local lifters earned milestones in the New England Championship Part 1 on Feb. 11 at Connecticut Strength. Bourdeau recorded the world record in strict curl and set a state record for bench press (231).
DeAngelo secured world records in strict curl (88.1) and bench press (133) in her age category
“I think it says a lot about our gym and what we do,” said DeAngelo. “Nobody takes it easy in here. You can be having a bad day, but when you come in the gym, you just get to work. It is such a supportive environment.”
Krom set another world record for strict curl (71.5) in the females aged 55-59 division.
“It was a big accomplishment for me. I’ve been chasing that (record),” reflected Krom. “We always have the desire and drive to do more.”
The record-setters appreciate the coaching of Russo in their development.
“He is a brilliant coach. We couldn’t reach these heights without him,” stated Bourdeau.
“He makes you believe in yourself and what you can accomplish,” added DeAngelo.
Connecticut Strength has also seen success on the youth level this year. At the regional event on Feb. 11, Connor Grenier set the world [record?] for his age group in strict curl (60.6).
Brewer Drust also earned state marks in bench press and strict curl.
Russo feels that he has gotten to the point where has stopped counting the overall number of gym records for his athletes.
“You focus on giving them the best possible product in the safest possible way,” stated Russo. “I remember the feeling when the first world record was broken by my son (Christian) and they all feel the same way. They haven’t lost their excitement.”
Connecticut Strength has scheduled their New England Championship Part II for May 5. For this youth lifting event, 30 people have signed up for bench press, squat, and strict curl in the 11-and-under division.
Additionally, there will also be high school athletes attempting world records.
In his youth program, Russo works with mostly fifth graders. He feels that lifting safely can help in children’s development.
“It is something that I did with (my sons) Christian and Evan. The benefits were outstanding,” reflected Russo. “It is not only a physical advantage, but a mental one, as well.”