When freshman Raiya Taha Thomure first started powerlifting just a year and a half ago, she never would have dreamed of becoming a nationally ranked competitor by 17 years-old. 

In October, she came in second place to the World Record holder in every single event at the United States Powerlifting Nationals (USAPL) in Spokane, Washington.

Thomure self-trained during her first year of powerlifting using YouTube. 

Video by Jared Smith and Kallyn Hobmann

“I did a lot of research,” she said. “I didn’t have the money to hire a coach or a personal trainer or anything. So I had to write my own programs.”

Her dedication paid off. Now, she holds Missouri state records in the bench press, powerlifting total and deadlift — her personal favorite. 

 “I was really really proud of that and I broke my own three state records, so that was pretty fun,” Thomure said. 

 “I was really really proud of that and I broke my own three state records, so that was pretty fun” 

Though she started as a basketball player, she said she saw little improvement in her performance. Adding weight became a form of motivation when she went to the gym.

Though she is already accomplished, Thomure said she is constantly setting new goals for herself. Her biggest goal? To beat the national deadlift record in the United States Powerlifting Association. She wants to hit a 400-pound deadlift within the next year, before she turns 20 years-old.

“I’m currently at 330 pounds, which is the national record,” she said. “So next time I compete, I’m smashing it.”

For Thomure, life is anything but conventional. Cal Poly is the tenth school she has attended. Having a father in the Navy allowed her to live in many places, from Louisiana to Dubai, most recently.

While she enjoyed exposure to various cultures, Thomure said she never found a true sense of permanence until she found the powerlifting community.

“[At] the gym that I’ve belonged to for the past year, there were people who compete in the world championships, so it was awesome to be there,” she said. “Then I come here to school, and there’s a whole powerlifting club. Wherever I go, I’m always going to see other powerlifters, so it’s really cool to see that.” 

Alison Chavez | Mustang News

For parents, many hope to see their child find comfort in a home away from home as they navigate college. Thomure’s mother, Hanada Taha, has seen the growth and maturity powerlifting has given her daughter.

“The happy twinkle in her eyes after each new personal record she sets and her determination to be the best she can be makes me the happiest mother,” Taha said.

Upon coming to San Luis Obispo, Thomure joined the Cal Poly Powerlifting Club, which is composed of about 40 members. They meet on Thursdays from 11 a.m. to noon in the Construction Innovations Center (building 186, room C100).

“They just provide so much knowledge that I just don’t have because I’m new to the sport,” she said. 

Led by Powerlifting Club President Adam Weiss, the team has been growing with 20 to 30 new members every year.

“She’s a great addition,” Weiss said. “She always shows up very enthusiastic to our club meetings and off-campus workouts.”

“She always shows up very enthusiastic to our club meetings and off-campus workouts”

Women — or as Thomure calls them, “some crazy strong women” — comprise about a third of the club. Thomure said the women’s powerlifting community is one of healthy competition and positive support in a sport largely dominated by men.

“I’m a part of huge Facebook groups and follow Instagram pages,” she said. “You’ll have women who are 85 years old who are lifting 250 pounds! You have all sorts of women, and it’s so inclusive and diverse. I think it’s really awesome.”

As for the future, Thomure looks forward to increasing the sport’s popularity among women to help develop strong young women.

Weiss said the international powerlifting community has grown to become more gender inclusive towards women.

Within the club itself, Weiss said she hopes to add more women to the powerlifting club in an effort to match the “approaching 50/50 demographic in the powerlifting community.”

“My hope is that the club will be balanced demographic-wise,” she said.

Alison Chavez | Mustang News

The club is welcome to anyone interested in health or personal well-being. Club meetings include guest speakers such as physical therapists and nutritionists who help the athletes understand how to take care of their bodies.

“You don’t have to compete in lifting to be a part of the club,” Thomure said. “You just learn more about nutrition and health and proper lifting form so you don’t get hurt. There’s a lot of knowledge we get through the club, and all of that is really valuable — especially to college students who tend to have really unhealthy habits.”

Her one piece of advice?

“When you’re in the gym, just know that no one is looking at you,” she said. “They’re looking at themselves in the mirror, so don’t be afraid to do what you want to do.”

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