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