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Connor Borkert lifting Credit: Mona Lee

A Penn student ranks in the top 10 in the nation in his sport, and now his team is looking to get officially approved as a club at Penn.

College junior Connor Borkert competes in powerlifting, a sport in which competitors aim to lift as much weight as possible in the squat, bench press, and deadlift. He is ranked ninth in the U.S. in his age group and ranks No. 18 in the nation overall.

His personal records are a 573 pound squat, a 410 pound bench press, and a 601 pound deadlift. The squat standard for an elite lifter of Borkert's weight is 453 pounds — over 100 pounds less than Borkert’s personal best.

Penn Barbell Club started around five years ago, as a loose collective of mainly graduate students who were interested in powerlifting. Now, the club has grown in both size and scope, and its members are looking for official recognition and funding from the Student Activities Council.

PBC members said that although they are proud of how far the club has come, the full vision for the club cannot be realized until it receives funding from Penn. PBC's top priority is to obtain proper equipment, and members said they want access to one of the athletes’ gyms. Pottruck Health and Fitness Center is not equipped for serious weight lifters, PBC co-leader and College sophomore Michael Greenstein said.

“The squat racks are unsafe,” Greenstein said, adding that the bars bend with too much weight because they are not meant for powerlifting. 

“At the end of the day,” Greenstein added, “the gym we train at should be safe. Pottruck is a fitness center, and we need a gym.” 

Credit: Mona Lee

Engineering senior and master's student Adnan Jafferjee said that funds could be used to hold events like guest speakers, noting that Mike Israetel, a well-known exercise scientist, is a professor at Temple University. “It’s crazy that Mike Israetel is here and we haven’t had him in to talk,” he said.

Greenstein said PBC’s goal has shifted over its short lifespan from a small group of powerlifters to a larger group of lifters with a wide range of goals. While there is still a strong representation of people lifting purely for strength in the group, Greenstein estimated that 40 percent of the group focuses on bodybuilding instead.

Co-leaders Greenstein, Jafferjee, and College senior Bianca Donadio all stressed that PBC is a sports team, even though others don’t always view them that way. 

“Lifting is ostracized. It’s not given the same credibility as other sports,” Greenstein said. “It has a weird kind of social connotation.”

Jafferjee echoed that sentiment and described a time that members of a study group criticized him for saying he couldn’t attend certain meetings because he had to lift weights. To Jafferjee, however, going to every gym session is equivalent to an athlete attending every practice. 

“If I have to squat, I’m going to squat,” he said.

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