Athlete leader Gabriela Moffett of Kenosha Special Olympics flourished in her national powerlifting debut when she took first place in five events at the 2021 NASA Natural Nationals competition in Oklahoma City on February 20 and 21.
Moffett placed first in her weight class of 114.5 pounds in bench press, deadlift, curling and two combined score events. She also set a Wisconsin state record for her weight class with a deadlift of 231 pounds.
As if these accomplishments weren’t impressive enough, before the weekend was through Moffett also received one of 20 Regional Lifter of the Year awards. “I actually burst into tears,” Moffett said about her reaction to the news.
Short for Natural Athlete Strength Association, NASA is a family-friendly, drug-free powerlifting organization that “provides a place and a setting for lifters of all ages and generations to enjoy competitive lifting.”
An inclusive environment
Like any competitor, Moffett enjoyed the victories and the significant hardware that came with them. “They kept calling my name and I was like, ‘Wow, I hope we have room in the car for all this,’” Moffett said.
However, the event meant so much more than the trophies and plaques. For Moffett, being accepted by peers in a non-Special Olympics setting is what really made the weekend unforgettable.
Despite having never met any of the other 120 lifters who came from all over the country, she quickly established a tight bond with them over the weekend. “We treat each other like brothers and sisters,” Moffett said.
The inclusivity on display at the competition also impressed Moffett’s dad.
“The thing that’s exciting about this particular association is she is just a regular lifter like any other lifter,” Rick Moffett said. “All of the other lifters encourage her but everything she’s earned has been totally on her own. It’s been a good thing for her.”
From humble beginnings
You wouldn’t know it from her accolades, but Moffett didn’t actually like powerlifting at first. Moffett was the first athlete to join the Mt. Sinai Gym in Racine when they began offering free memberships to Special Olympics athletes a few years ago, but she wasn’t so sure about the sport initially.
She realized how fun it could be when she surprised herself and others in the gym with an impressive deadlift. “I wanted to show people and the guys, ‘Hey, I know I’m little. I can show you I can lift a lot,’” Moffett said.
But once she caught the lifting bug, she was hooked. It quickly joined basketball, track, softball and bowling as her sports of choice in Special Olympics. In 2019, she competed in her first Special Olympics State Powerlifting competition, taking home three gold medals.
Lifting at Mt. Sinai Gym also helped Moffett stay active and fit during the pandemic while team sports and most other Special Olympics Wisconsin activities were on hold. “I didn’t want to be bored and just working all the time. I wanted to be working out and making sure I’m healthy enough,” Moffett said.
Powerlifting elevates Moffett’s leadership
As a member of the Athlete Input Council, Moffett is well versed in athlete leadership. So it’s only natural that she has brought other athletes into her powerlifting community. While she once was the only Special Olympics athlete lifting at Mt. Sinai Gym, she now coaches a handful of athletes from Kenosha and Racine who have joined her.
It’s all part of the maturation process for Special Olympics athletes as they progress through their careers, according to Moffett’s dad. When athletes go on to become mentors, “that makes a culture that’s really positive and inclusive and encouraging for everybody else who’s there,” Rick said.
While Moffett is fresh off her nationals experience and still savoring that weekend, she’s already looking ahead. Recently, she was excited to learn that she was selected to represent Wisconsin in a national team competition.
She’s also continuing to work toward her lofty goal of 300 pounds in the deadlift, a weight that would shatter her current state record of 231 pounds.
But perhaps more important to her than any of those things is that she continues to be a leader for Special Olympics and an advocate for powerlifting. “Anyone can do it. If somebody is in Special Olympics, they can do it,” Moffett said. “Check it out first and see what you can do.”