Ian Bell

Mario Leos, UT Powerlifting President

Mario Leos, a nutrition and allied health professionals junior, leads Longhorn Powerlifting as president of the organization. Leos’ energetic personality and weightlifting expertise have helped propel the group to national success.

Photo Credit: Ethan Oblak | Daily Texan Staff

It is Monday evening and Darrell K Royal–Texas Memorial Stadium is silent except for the sounds of stifled groans and clanking weights, reverberating off the cinder block walls of a small basement gym labeled “DL8.” Men and women of all body types practice their squats, bench presses and deadlifts as Longhorn Powerlifting president Mario Leos circles the room to provide instruction.

Leos, a nutrition and allied health professions junior, is a nationally ranked weightlifter and Team USA member who led the Longhorn Powerlifting team to victory at the USA Powerlifting Collegiate Nationals in Orlando, Florida, earlier this year. 

Leos also set several personal records at the International Powerlifting Federeation Juniors and Sub-Juniors World Powerlifting Championships in Oroshaza, Hungary, earlier this September. He is a strong competitor in his own right, yet he is less concerned with his own successes and more concerned with the achievements of his team. 

“My biggest accomplishment in powerlifting by far would be when our men’s national team placed first, and our women’s national team placed third at the 2014 [USA Powerlifting] Collegiate Nationals,” Leos said. 

Leos is quick to assure people that powerlifting is not his entire life.  

“I love watching football,” Leos said. “I have a fantasy team. Sadly, it has been pretty disappointing so far.”

Leos’ interest in football led him to powerlifting. According to Leos, football is a common route to powerlifting, and many of the Longhorn Powerlifting members have some past associations with the sport.

“I started my freshman year in high school because it was mandatory for all football players to do powerlifting,” Leos said.

Originally from Seguin, Leos grew up down the street from Ian Bell, past Longhorn Powerlifting president and UT alumnus.

“While competing at a state meet in high school, I watched Ian, and he became a huge inspiration for me,” Leos said. “I ran into him at the organization fair my freshman year at UT, and he took me under his wing.”

After working with and learning from Bell for three years, Leos developed his own leadership skills. 

Fellow teammate Dominique McGaha, pyschology sophomore and nationally ranked powerlifter, practices under Leos’ guidance. The two work closely together for two hours a day, four days a week in the small, sweat-stenched gym.

“Mario [Leos] is a great inspiration,” McGaha said. “He has been to worlds, and that is a goal I have. Practicing with him, looking up to him as role model and watching him work so hard has always been a source of motivation for me.”

Tyler Wilburn, Longhorn Powerlifting vice president and biology and economics senior, was first attracted to the club three years ago by Leos’ engaging personality.

“He is really energetic and friendly,” Wilburn said. “When something happens or there are issues occurring, he is always the first one to notice [and] the first one to cheer someone up and help them out.”

Tiffany Vu, the secretary of Longhorn Powerlifting, said she has noticed a direct relationship between the recent successes of the team and the club’s growing membership. 

“We have increased in size and acquired more awareness about our club after Mario [Leos] and our men’s team won the [USA Powerlifting] Collegiate National Championships in 2013,” Vu said. 

Powerlifting has always been a source of guidance for Leos. It influenced his major and led him to pursue personal training as a prospective career path.

“Before joining Longhorn Powerlifting, I was unsure about everything — what I was going to do [and] where I was going to go,” Leos said. 

Powerlifting has not only strengthened Leos’ body, but it has also strengthened his character.

“The sport has taught me that as long as you have the right attitude and motivation, you can succeed and feel rewarded in anything you do,” Leos said. “This is the philosophy I apply to everything now.” 


Linguistics graduate student Jörn Klinger powerlifts at Gregory Gym Tuesday evening. The Longhorn Powerlifting team includes two world record holders who performed at the 2012 IPF Junior World Championship in Poland.

Photo Credit: Fanny Trang | Daily Texan Staff

At the back of the public weight room at Gregory Gym is a small, windowless room with a small sign that reads “Powerlifting.” The Longhorn Powerlifting team, while not a Division I athletic team, stays active and lifting through the efforts of volunteer coaches and motivated students.

Texas boasts superb powerlifting talent, especially in the muscles of psychology sophomore Ian Bell and exercise science junior Preston Turner. The two are roommates, and Texas knows how good roommates can be: Both hold several state, national and international titles, plus a couple of world records in their respective weight classes.

Turner hails from Victoria, Texas, where he excelled in many different sports in high school, including baseball and football. As a freshman, he began powerlifting and was hooked. According to Turner, lifting is big in Texas high schools, because it is a way to stay in shape during the football offseason. As a senior he was recruited to play football by several smaller schools but decided to come to Texas and focus on lifting.

“It is really for the love of the sport,” Turner said. “It’s highly addicting.”

Turner and Bell have both been around the world for powerlifting, including to the Czech Republic, Canada and Poland.

At the 2012 IPF Junior World Championships in Szczyrk, Poland, both Turner and Bell set world records. Turner set a record on the bench press with a lift on 684 lbs, which is not his personal best. His personal best of around 700 lbs came at a bench press-only competition rather than a full meet.

“It’s definitely a lot of dedication, because you can’t get back the days you missed,” Turner said. “It’s not about coming in and maxing out everyday; it’s about working through a plan.”

Bell comes from a powerlifting background. His father, Gene Bell, who has a couple of world titles under his belt, was a huge motivating force in Bell’s career as both a trainer and a role model. Bell started when he was 13, wanting to follow in the family footsteps.

Like Turner, Bell holds a couple of world records, including one in deadlift for his weight class, a record he set when he traveled with Turner to Poland earlier this year. His personal best is a deadlift of 810 lbs achieved at the GNC International PRO Deadlift Competition.

Despite everyone competing individually, powerlifting in college is not like it is in high school.

“We focus on team here because powerlifting in college is a team sport,” Bell said. “We are always encouraging each other, trying to make each other better.”

Since it’s not a Division I sport, most of the lifters have lives outside of the weight room, including demanding majors that require a lot of time management.

“School always comes first,” Turner said. “But I think it’s healthy to come in here and throw around some big weights, especially during a stressful week.”

Even if some are not at the top of the class or into the intense competitions like Turner and Bell, some people find advantages to participating in powerlifting.

“I think being strong is a really sexy trait, whether it be mentally or physically,” psychology junior Ploy Buraparate said.

Several women have found a home among the Texas powerlifting team, denying the stigma that weightlifting is only for men.

“It is kind of intimidating, but at the same time there is just a lot of camaraderie,” Natalie Escareno, an English and communication science and disorders senior, said. “It is fun. The one thing I love about this sport is that it is about how much you train, how much effort you put into it.”

Escareno said powerlifting is 100 percent different compared to bodybuilding, and women should not be afraid of joining.

“We are always looking for girls,” Escareno said. “There is always this misconception that this is bodybuilding, but it’s not. We are as girly as can be.”

The team is led by Turner and Bell, along with economics senior Austin DeShane, who is the president of the group. Their current unofficial coach is stepping down as he completes his schooling to join the workforce.

“We are working together to coach the team and all the new guys,” DeShane said. “It’s a team dynamic where everybody’s got your back, everybody’s looking out for each other.”

Printed on Friday, October 5, 2012 as: Athletes working for love of lifting

If people had a window of opportunity for more time off work, they would spend it on leisure activities rather than efficient actions such as studying or cleaning, according to a new economics study.

Economics professor Daniel Hamermesh co-authored a study examining how people spent their free time after a permanent cut in work hours by reviewing data from national time-use diaries from 1976-2006 in Japan and 1999-2009 in Korea. The study was completed last year and was conducted with UT alumnus Jungmin Lee and associate economic professors from Korea and Japan. Hamermesh said the study used thousands of daily time diaries from before and after the governments of Japan and Korea passed laws making it more costly for employers to use overtime work. The study examined how those keeping diaries spent the time they had free.

Hamermesh said the results showed that people spent their free time engaging in relaxing activities.

“In neither country was the extra time used to clean the house, take care of the kids, cook or shop,” Hamermesh said. “It was used for leisure and/or personal maintenance, such as grooming.”

Hamermesh said he has done much research on time use and finds the study to be a topic that has intrigued people for many years.

“It is very difficult to answer because so many things are happening at once, but this data provides the opportunity to get a clean answer,” Hamermesh said.

Although the study did not include Americans, Hamermesh said he firmly believes that Americans generally work too much and Europeans do much less work but seem happier.

Advertising senior Amanda Cummings, president of the National Society of Collegiate Scholars, said she spends every day studying and is constantly doing something for her organization or taking care of her priorities. However, she said she does separate some time to collect herself after she learned that relaxation is also a key aspect of living life, as the study has shown.

“I would always be busy and would emotionally break down,” Cummings said. “Now, I find it’s important to make free time for yourself.”

Psychology sophomore Ian Bell, an officer of the Longhorn Powerlifting team, said he spends his free time working out in order to stay fit and keep busy. However, Bell said his daily routine includes about an hour of relaxation in order to keep his life balanced, which relates to the study’s conclusion that people do prefer more relaxing activities.

“Without my free time, I wouldn’t be able to work out as much as I would want to,” he said. “If you use your free time efficiently, then you can accomplish more things throughout the day and keep things from piling up.”

An in-depth view of Hamermesh’s study will be published this spring in the American Economic Review Journal.

Printed on Friday, February 10, 2012 as: Leisure takes precedence in spare time, study show

UT Powerlifting Coach David Hammers practices alongside the team in Gregory Gym on Wednesday afternoon. The team is preparing for the Longhorn Open on Nov. 6.

Photo Credit: Amanda Martin | Daily Texan Staff

A few things stand out about the UT powerlifting team.

A quick glance around the team’s weight room reveals a group with patience, cohesion and a willingness to learn.

At a recent practice, veteran lifters spent time with the new guys, demonstrating how to properly do all the lifts.

With their coach, David Hammers, noticeably absent in the weight room on this occasion for another powerlifter’s competition at the World Championships, each of the returning lifters showed a level of maturity that will be necessary for the upcoming season’s meets.

Austin DeShane, an economics junior who currently serves as the captain and president of the powerlifting squad, has a positive outlook for his team going into this season.

“I’m very optimistic about this year,” DeShane said. “We finished second in Nationals, and we’re returning five All-Americans. I’m looking forward to us taking first place this year.”

He said the weight room has “high energy and high intensity,” and there “are always weights hitting the ground, and the coaches are always getting on team members” to help improve their technique and performance.

Sophomores Ian Bell and Michael Pyon are also looking forward to a successful season.

Bell, whose father is an eight-time world champion powerlifter, recently qualified for the World Championships, and Pyon, who was a state champion in high school, both have very high aspirations.

“I want to win the college championship,” Bell said. “Win the Arnold Strongman [competition], win the Men’s Open Nationals and qualify for the World Championships.”

Pyon said he wants to focus on Nationals first.

“I totaled 1,399 pounds in all last year, so I want to do at least 1,500 pounds this year,” he said.

Bell and Pyon also have great expectations for their teammates.

“Everyone needs to come in and work, along with being committed to the sport,” Bell said.

For each member of this team, the expectations are high, and each feels very good about how the results will come about.

As they get closer to their first competitive meet of the year, they will get their chance to prove what they want to achieve can be accomplished. They have the potential to do so and will be a team to look out for.

But for now, there’s only one thing on the team’s agenda: winning. 

Printed September 22, 2011 as: Ready for liftoff