Lifting for a Bigger Cause: Chelsea Zimmerman

Many of us have a few causes that we give our time to, donate or participate in. Events such as Barbell for Boobs, Lift Up Autism, or the Wounded Warrior project are very special causes that bring awareness and funding to help those in need. However, some people take raising awareness and money into their own hands. That’s where Chelsea Zimmerman comes in.

Chelsea is competing in the USAPL Raw Nationals next week and she is competing to raise awareness and money for Autism Speaks, a very near and dear charity to her. Chelsea was kind enough to share her powerlifting journey with us and share why she is so passionate about raising awareness for autism.

TBBS: Before we get into the upcoming Raw Nationals, can you share how long you have been powerlifting how you became involved in the sport?

CZ: I have been powerlifting for 10 months. It all happened so quickly that sometimes I forget I am just a novice. In May 2014, I had finished being a D-III college softball player, ironically in Scranton, PA, but still had a year of school left because I was in a 5-year accelerated master’s program in speech language pathology. I was terribly lonely without my Pacer softball routine so began to train on my own, more bodybuilding style. I quickly realized I thoroughly enjoyed lifting heavier rather then fitting into skinny jeans (jk, I don’t even own jeans). With the end of my athletic career, I was able to go home to Reading, PA ( about 2 hours south) more which led to more workouts with my dad, Don, who is almost 60 years old. My dad then decided he wanted to compete in his first meet in December 2014 and that’s when I got hooked. This January, I started training for the USAPL PA State Championships side by side with my dad, then again in July at The USAPL Gym and TLS Raw Challenge and now the USAPL Raw Nationals.

TBBS: Do you have a coach or do you do your own programming? Who do you train with?

CZ: I trained for my first meet under a loose programming based off of the 10/20/life by Brian Carroll. I programmed for myself, my dad, and my sister who is 29. Within two weeks, Gia found out she was pregnant and will be due about a week after nationals (a baby girl !)

TBBS: Congrats Gia!!!

CZ: After the PA State Champsionships, Ryan Nosak (IG: @rnosak),a strength and conditioning coach at UNC Charlotte, started programming for me and my dad. Ryan is a Penn State graduate and a powerlifter as well, under DeNovo Nutrition.

I train 75% of my sessions alone. The remaining sessions I train with my dad. His work schedule is demanding leaving him on a plane to a Canada or somewhere in the U.S. every other day but when he is in town we make sure we find time to lift together. Truthfully, I would love to have a steady training partner or group since I am used to team sports, but I have no friends in the area, female or male, that are into powerlifting. Most 23 year olds have other ideas of fun than ripping your hands open and spending 2 hours in the gym. Plus, a dad never lets his daughter down (minus the few times he let the bar drop on me).

TBBS: Ouch! So the USAPL Raw Nationals are coming up in a little over a week. First, congrats on qualifying. How has your training been going leading into this competition?

CZ: Thank you, although the qualifications were little low this year due to the weight class changes, being so fresh to the sport it does feel very good : ).

Truthfully? My training has been a little rough. Okay, a lot rough. Prior to the TLS meet in July, I was flying high with PRs every other week. I felt strong and healthy, but after I was plagued with the typical powerlifting injuries like tendinitis. I did not perform the way I had expected myself to perform at the TLS meet, so it left me severely mentally fatigued. I did the meet to give me a little more experience but I almost feel like I should have skipped the meet. On top of that, I also graduated in May and immediately got a very advanced job for newbie, leaving me way over my head with client work and lots of traveling. About two weeks out from the meet, I found out that I had a small pec to delt incursion tear that I am still in the process of rehabbing. Regardless, I am still in the gym four times a week, hitting what I need to hit and adjusting accordingly to make it to the platform. My dad adds to that constant drive to get me through my training. He is an amazing husband, great father, incredibly busy and a successful salesman, but you bet your ass as soon as his plane lands he’s looking for the most badass gym to train at (and yes, I typically get a selfie of him and the bar). I always think if he can get through his lift, so can I.

Most recently though, my training has picked up a little bit. I have been blessed with the opportunity to surround myself with a great supporter, who is a very smart and established powerlifter. He most recently accomplished squatting 1k in 3 different weight classes! He has become my everyday inspiration. He has kept me on target, always asking to hear about my training session and spending time watching countless of my videos. The constant support has definitely brought some enjoyment back into training for me. This experience has left me feeling inspired, refreshed, and definitely determined to excel my future performance.

TBBS: You qualified via the 2015 PA State Championships going 120/170/115//305 and taking first place in the 63kg weight class. What are your goals heading into Nationals?

CZ: In 12 weeks, I added 100 pounds to my total (States to TLS ). The TLS meet did not go AT ALL how I had planned, but I managed that 100 pound increase and achieved all 4 Pennsylvania state records in my weight class. Despite the positives, I am capable of way more. Coming off that meet, I had in mind I wanted another huge total increase (the reason for my $875 target for my fundraiser), which I quickly learned through my training that was not realistic. I have adjusted my mindset to my current training sessions and would really like to hit a 325 pound squat, 170 bench, and 380 deadlift for an 875 pound total. I want to be proud of my performance, leave it all out there. Ultimately, I want to come out of there 9/9 because I have never done that. Third times a charm right?

TBBS: Of course! Third times always a charm. You mentioned your fundraiser. Your Instagram account has a link to a Go Fund Me page in which you are raising money for Autism Speaks. You have exceeded your goal of $875 and have raised $1,255 so far (which is awesome!). You talk a little bit about why you are raising money for this worthy cause on Go Fund Me, but can you share why autism awareness is so important to you?

Thank you! I have been overwhelmed with the support and contributions regarding this fundraiser. I have had people of my personal life, inter-displinary professionals , and the powerlifting community from all over the country donate, share, and repost for Autism Speaks. In particular, Stephen Correa (IG: @s_correajr), powerlifter and owner/trainer of Twin Anchors Fitness, has exposed the fundraiser to a wide range of people and even designed t-shirts to add additional donations to the foundation. People have been tagging me wearing these and it brings tears to my eyes. Ewa Januszkiewicz (IG: @ejanss), a phenomenal 63kg powerlifter and inspiration of mine, also shared the Go Fund Me which definitely spoke volumes due to the large amount of people that she influences. There has been many others as well who have put forth action to this and I am eternally grateful!

Honestly, I started the Go Fund Me for personal reasons. I was lacking motivation and encouragement in my training. No Instagram or internet post of how “hardcore” someone’s training was or how intense their cut to reach a weight class inspired me. Those kind of things don’t improve my work ethic because of my profession. The things I see on a daily basis are more genuine than any social media plea. I am a speech language pathologist- clinical fellow and I work in a very tough field of outpatient rehabilitation with infant to geriatric clients that struggle every day from a very wide range of disorders and severities.

From an early start in my clinical experiences, I have been drawn to the autistic population. It is amazing to me that such an atypical population can accomplish so much, just in a different way. I have been exposed to some of the saddest cases and some of the most rewarding families have come into my life showing me what strength truly is. And that is inspiring to me.

My first autistic client ever was a young boy who was nonverbal, as many of my current clients are. I remember slaving over independent research, staying up hours to plan therapy sessions and doing in-services on various devices that might work. I spent the whole semester feeling like I had let the family down knowing that he still, as sad as it sounds, had not made progress and had no true functional communication skills. But I never stopped trying. After the semester ended and he was discharged from my caseload, his mother gave me a card that I still keep with me today. She wrote words of kindness stating she could never repay me for putting all of my effort into her child and that my work ethic and compassion would lead me to greater strives for my future clients.

That, to me, is intense, moving and motivating. That is inspiring and radiates something deep inside me. It is a very humbling yet intense feeling, knowing that you can put your all into something and still not get to where you want to be. But that doesn’t mean you don’t try. As an SLP, you graduate thinking you can change the world and get every child to be able to tell their parents they love them or tell their siblings to “shut up”. Quickly, despite every want, wish, and effort, you learn that some children will not reach that goal. It is the same feeling as being an athlete; no one goes out with the intent to be average, and you will always strive for that end goal. So yes, I may never hit that 400 pound squat at a body weight of 138 pounds in knee sleeves alone, but you are damn sure that I will keep trying.

TBBS: I love your passion…both towards powerlifting, but more so in regards to helping others. We could use more people like you. It sounds like you have a pretty busy schedule. What does a typical day look like for you? What is your work/training/life balance?

CZ: My schedule is crazy! Being a new graduate I’m a vagabond with student loans over my head. I’m living in both my parents and my sister’s/brother-in-law’s house which are about an hour away from each other. I work at three different locations, two of which are closer to my sister’s place and one is closer to my parents, racking up about 350 miles of commuting each week. I try to coordinate my training based off my work hours and when my dad is home. So, for example, I know after my 10 hour shift on Monday there is no way I am going to the gym. I really only have a 4 day split (two times a week I do all 3 lifts, two times a week hypertrophy (back/bi, shoulders/tri)). So it typically works out: Tuesday lighter big 3, Wednesday hypertrophy, Friday hypertrophy and Saturday or Sunday morning I snag my dad for a heavy big 3! I also typically like to end my week with going to church. I am blessed beyond belief and it gives me peace to dedicate that time to God.

I recently received a promotion at work so after nationals I will only be working at two locations four days a week, which I am really looking forward to. As any gym junkie and workaholic, I do not see my friends as often as I like but I will never miss an important girls night, my god son’s request to see me, or a reunion with my old teammates. I’ve learned that balance doesn’t mean 50/50 and I believe the majority of people in my life understand that.

TBBS: Wow. That’s a lot to balance. What do you enjoy to do outside of the gym?

CZ: I am pretty basic: family, friends, sports, music.

I am a huge music junkie. I go to all types of shows, large or small of any genre. Any one that knows me knows I will never miss a single country concert within a two hour radius. I always scoop the mega ticket to an outdoor venue in Scranton, Bethel Woods where Woodstock was, and love to get last minute tickets to smaller venues.

It is definitely a family thing, too. My parents are always down for a good show. The last few years we have been flying to Minnesota for WeFest, a four day country music festival. This past summer, my best friend, Chelsea, and I drove there and back….. never again!!!!!

TBBS: Where can people find you on social media?

CZ: Here is my Go Fund Me page: https://www.gofundme.com/abvs6j28. You can also find me on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook.

Instagram: @chelsealma
Twitter: @chelzimmy
Facebook: chelsea.zimmerman.75

TBBS: Thank you, Chelsea, for taking the time to share your passion for powerlifting and autism awareness with us today! Good luck at Nationals. We’re all rooting for you.