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Chattin’ With: Melissa Hexter, Weightlifting Champion

Today we will be chatting with Melissa Hexter, winner of the Collegiate Nationals weightlifting competition in 57 kilos, and went as an individual to represent UMBC. Hexter is a senior biochemistry major.

So, you won the national weightlifting competition, tell me about the meet itself.

It was a really crazy meet, there were a lot of people there. It came down to the last lift, it was pretty insane. I also set a national record for the bench press.

I saw that. That is insane. Can you tell me more about that list lift?

It’s pretty crazy, I wasn’t favored to win it, I was the second seed. The girl favored to win it, Rachel, who I think is from Jersey, was competing for Rutgers. I won the squat, although I had a bad squat day, actually. I bombed out of the second lift and had to come back to win on my third, so that was cool.

Then I went into the bench, and I won the bench, which I think I did 30 or 40 pounds above the next person. I set the American record, so I was above by like 50 or 60 pounds total in the competition at that point, but the thing is Rachel is a really strong dead lifter and I’m a really weak dead lifter and that’s the last lift.

So the dead lift is a big deal?

Yeah, it’s the heaviest lift so you can just lift more by a lot. My best dead lift before then had been 308 and hers was 355 or something. That’s a pretty big difference, so it was going to be neck and neck. She did not expect me to get all three of my lifts, and honestly I did not expect me to get all three of my lifts. We knew it would be really rough, I hurt my back doing bench in the previous lift, and that third dead lift I went out there and I was like, “Crap, it’s really heavy.”

My initial attempt took me five or six seconds to get it off the ground, and that’s a really long time. My coach before that told me, “Just keep pulling, just keep pulling until it comes up.”

I keep pulling, it goes up, but then it gets stuck halfway. I was scared I was not going to be able to lock out, but I kept trying and I got it. Rachel had to increase her last lift by about 10 kilos to catch up, which was way above her personal record. It would have been a huge PR for her if she hit that lift, When she dropped it, I was just like, “Oh my God, I just won.”

So you’re going to competing with the national team this upcoming Summer?

Yeah, I’ll be competing in the North American Power Lift (NAPF) Panamerican Games for the US team. I’m pretty excited, I’ve already started training but I’m really busy with school.

Yeah, I’d imagine between school and coming off this you’re really busy right now.

Yeah, I’m taking 22 credits in Chemistry right now, and I’m training three hours a day so it’s busy.

Wow that’s, no pun intended, quite a load. So what ended up getting you into weightlifting?

So I used to play football, lingerie football, which is really the highest level you can get as a woman, sadly.

Yeah, I was very specifically not leading in with that as the question, “as a woman weightlifter.” 

I know! But yeah, the thing is nobody is going to watch woman’s sports if they’re not half-naked. The difference in pay between a WNBA and an NBA athlete is insane. I spent a season with the Baltimore Charm, but they got cut, so they don’t exist anymore. I started weightlifting to become a stronger running back, and I got pretty strong. After the team dissolved, I’d be in the gym weightlifting and people would come up to me and say, “you should compete, you’re pretty strong.” I could bench 135 plates on both side, only a year into doing weightlifting which is really impressive.

So if not 22 credits of Biochem, weightlifting, or football, what does Melissa do with her free time?

I don’t have any other free time.

Okay that’s fair, but in the hypothetical if you did?

In the hypothetical I like to travel. I’ve been to Hawaii and seen all the islands, I just love the culture there. And riding my motorcycle, my GSXR 750. It’s my baby. I’ve done a lot of mods to it, and now it’s super beautiful and super powerful. I can do 200 miles per hour so, it’s pretty cool. Nothing makes me happier than letting it rip on the highway.

To put you on the spot, any other cool facts about you other than this whole awesome repertoire that was just conveyed?

Facts about me? I don’t know, a lot of what was just said is a lot about me. The embodiment of what I am is what I like to do. I don’t know, I speak French. I’ve been taking it since I was in fourth grade and I was an exchange student. I don’t just know French, I can speak French.

So not like my mangled couple of years of Spanish?

Yeah, I speak pretty fluently. I don’t use it much anymore, but I used to be a waitress and I’d use it a lot when Spanish and French people came. We had the European Union of something would come in once.

Anything else?

I’m just really excited to compete. I still can’t believe it, when I got the email from the coach of the US team I couldn’t believe it.

Say the date of the Panamerican games again, that it’ll be running?

It’s July 4 through the July 8, so I’ll be competing on the fourth, on the holiday.

Well I know I’d like to spend my Fourth of July watching an American and a UMBC student compete in weightlifting! Hopefully, a lot of other people will too. 

Yeah, power lifting is such an underground sport. Especially people who look at me, I’m 5’3 and 123 pounds. Nobody will look at me and think, “This girl can lift 782 pounds.” It’s kind of a misconception that all power lifters are super huge. I mean, the heavy weight power lifters all do look like that stereotypical image but not all of us.

May I ask about the scar on your body, if that’s not too personal?

Yeah, no, I actually meant to talk about this. I was in a motorcycle accident exactly a year ago, and I was supposed to lose most of the function in my arm.

Oh my goodness, I’m so sorry.

Yeah, it was insane. The surgery went well, but the doctor told me I’d lost functionality in my arm and I was never going to be able to weight lift again.

So what’d you do?

Said “screw you,” did not go to the physical rehab and went to weight lift instead. And here I am.

Thank you so much Melissa, it was great speaking with you and I really hope everybody makes the effort on the fourth of July to watch you lift in the Panamerican games for the United States.