New York Air Guard woman powerlifts to success

  • Published
  • By Ms. Jaclyn Lyons
  • 109th Airlift Wing

When New York Air National Guard Master Sgt. Sarah Chambers decided to try powerlifting, she wasn’t in it for the recognition or to set records.


“My personal life wasn’t going as planned and it made me pivot.  Instead of choosing a road where I could develop destructive habits, I chose to take my hurt and harness it towards the weight room,” Chambers said.


“I didn't realize I was kind of strong until I just decided to try it at the base gym,” she said.


Five years later, Chambers, a member of the 109th Airlift Wing, based at Stratton Air National Guard Base in Scotia, New York, is currently ranked third nationally in powerlifting and first in New York State for her division.


Chambers explained that an old coworker was a powerlifter and he asked if she had ever thought about trying it.


“I said maybe I’ll try it out and he gave me a template to follow to get started. I didn’t have a trainer or nutritionist or anything, I just looked up some videos and practiced over and over again,” she recalled


Chambers a member of the Air Force for 19 years, --17 of them with the 109th-- serves full time in knowledge operations in the communications flight.


Powerlifting is a strength sport that consists of three attempts at maximal weight on three lifts.


The squat is a deep knee bend where the lifter’s thighs must drop to or below parallel to the ground.


The bench press, requires the lifter to lie on their back and lift.


The deadlift, which requires the lifter to raise the weight from the floor to hip level in one movement.


Chambers' competitive career began when she participated in a local competition and did well. She subsequently started competing in United States Powerlifting Association contests and did well, there too.


Chambers had been ranked first in her division of submaster (for ages 35-39) for the last four years, but she just added a new achievement: in July becoming the National Champion in two divisions at the 2023 United States Powerlifting Association Drug Tested National Championships.


The USPA Drug Tested powerlifters are randomly drug tested to compete.  Her classification in lifting landed her to fall within the International Elite category, which is determined by the amount of weight you can lift in comparison to your body weight, only a small percentage of powerlifters fall into this category.


During that competition Chambers was able to squat 237 pounds, bench 126.7 pounds and deadlift 352.7 pounds, for a total weight of 716.5 pounds only weighing in at 119.2lbs.


Chambers won the Open 56kg division, which any age can enter, and the and Submaster 56kg division, which is for ages 35-39.


Chambers said she remembers how much of a hard time she was going through in her life and she didn't let it get her off course.  


“I like to think of the squat as an analogy- the squat is this tremendously devastating lift because all of the weight is on you,” she said.


“ It feels like the weight of the world is on your shoulders- you get down in the hole and there is a 2-3 second conversation you have with yourself, can I get this back up or am I going to have to dump it? And the more times you go down into that spot, the more you are comfortable and confident,” she added.


“I feel like as people we get into a lot of uncomfortable situations and we’re like, oh this is scary.  But the more times you put yourself out there and dig deep, it becomes comfortable,” Chambers said So it has helped me develop more of a belief in me and who I am as a person and dealing with life,” she said.


Next up for Chambers is a new challenge: bodybuilding.  She said she entered two bodybuilding competitions the week after she won her national titles.


“I've been training for 10 weeks and it is a completely different sport and is challenging in different ways- it is totally a mental game,” she said.


After excelling in powerlifting, Chambers said she wanted a new goal while still challenging herself physically.


Bodybuilding is different than powerlifting because while powerlifting focuses on explosive power and strength, bodybuilding focuses on building muscle mass and definition, Chambers said.


Chambers will be competing in the Wellness division, which is judged on a more athletic physique and more body mass in the hips, glutes and thighs.


 Extreme muscularity, muscle definition and extremely low body fat are marked as points off in this division of bodybuilding, she explained.


She says it is never about winning competitions, it’s all about the journey.


“You are forged through fire, putting yourself through the toughness.  I become my best self when I am challenged, physical activity takes me out of worrying about the petty stuff in life,” Chambers said.