It wasn’t Berkeley librarian Hilary Schiraldi’s plan to become a powerlifter. Growing up, she didn’t consider herself an athletic person. She wasn’t good at team sports or running. She did stop by the weight room in high school and college from time to time to experiment with lifting - something she found fun, but not a serious pursuit.
It wasn’t until she got to Berkeley that she found her passion for powerlifting, a form of competitive weightlifting in which contestants attempt three types of lifts in a set sequence: squat, bench press and deadlift. And now, she can’t imagine her life without it.
"My favorite thing about powerlifting is how clear the relationship is between work and progress," says Schiraldi. "When I put in the work and train smart, the weight on the bar goes up! I had no idea what my body was capable of until I got serious about lifting."
Schiraldi began working at Berkeley in 2008 as a business librarian at Berkeley Haas. She provides reference and instruction for faculty and students across campus, and selects books and databases for the Business Library’s collection.
In 2011, Schiraldi signed up for a Cal Rec Sports strength-training class at the Hearst Gym with Al Moolick. The class would help pave the way for her to become a competitive powerlifter.
By the end of the class, Schiraldi could squat an empty 45-pound bar and started coming to the Recreational Sports Facility on campus to train on her own in the mornings before work.
"I went into the class with a goal in mind - getting into the sport of powerlifting," she says. "It was a necessary first stop for getting comfortable with barbells. I don’t think I could have confidently walked alone into the weight room at the RSF with all those strong men if I hadn’t taken the class."
But she didn’t stop there. She went on to join a barbell gym in San Francisco and to find a coach, who encouraged her to get serious about lifting.
After participating in several local weightlifting competitions, she qualified for the June 2019 USPA National Powerlifting Championships in Columbus, Ohio. She competed in three types of lifts: bench press, deadlift and squat - and placed third nationally in her age and weight class. For the deadlift, Schiraldi achieved her personal best at 303 pounds.
She says one of the best parts of powerlifting is training with her team. "I love being part of a team,” says Schiraldi. "We have a group chat where we talk about training, equipment, cute gym clothes, gym gossip, powerlifting memes - all kinds of stuff. We compete against each other, cheer each other on, commiserate on bad training days, and like each other’s training posts and gym selfies on Instagram. It’s very motivating.”
Schiraldi and Team SF Iron strike poses after competing in a meet in March 2019 in Vacaville. Five team members qualified for nationals. (Photo courtesy of Hilary Schiraldi)
Although Schiraldi says training for nationals is too time-consuming to do every year, she is training for the next qualifying meet on Nov. 9.
"Whether I’m nationally competitive or not, I definitely see myself continuing to train with barbells as long as I can," says Schiraldi. "I’ve met master’s lifters in their 70s and 80s at meets. I hope I’m still going at their age."
And she says working at Berkeley has been essential to her training.
"I feel fortunate to work somewhere with all these resources to help me as a beginning and intermediate powerlifter," says Schiraldi.