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Girl Power - Lifter

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Joe Orengia remembers when Michelle Martucci walked into his gym six years ago hoping to get in shape.

She had just lost 40 pounds from a crash diet. She had shed a lot of muscle with the weight and looked, in Orengia's opinion, soft. Joe's Gym in Millcreek seemed a good place to change that.

Six years of weight training, eating right and proper nutrition have transformed Martucci's 5-foot-8 physique.

"Right now she looks like a supermodel with muscle on her,'' Orengia said.

Martucci, a former Erie resident who has lived in Schaumburg, Ill., since 2001, won the 132-pound division with a record-breaking performance and was selected women's champion of champions June 21 at the Anti-Drug Athletes United Powerlifting Nationals in Brookfield, Conn.

Martucci, 35, was among three female powerlifters representing Joe's Gym to win their respective weight divisions and help Joe's earn a second-place team finish.

Erie's Jolene Schroeder, 14, who is Orengia's granddaughter, took first place in the 148-pound teen division and set a Pennsylvania bench-press record with a 115-pound lift.

April Catalino, 20, won the 132-pound junior division, setting a junior American deadlift record (240 pounds) and setting state records in the squat (160 pounds), bench press (85 pounds) and total weight (485 pounds).

"We took second, but I train all our lifters,'' Orengia said. "The team that beat us, all their lifters train at different places.''

Martucci was named the competition's outstanding female powerlifter after setting American records in the deadlift (380) and total pounds (740). A market development specialist at International Components Corp. in Chicago, Martucci said she continues to lift for Joe Gym at national events because of the training she received from Orengia.

"Joe really helps motivate you and get you enthused for the sport,'' Martucci said. "Because of his experience in powerlifting, he really knows how to train lifters. His gym is solely for powerlifters.''

That's something Martucci quickly learned when she moved to Illinois two years ago and searched for a Chicago gym with a reputation for developing powerlifters.

"There is no powerlifting gym like Joe's,'' Martucci said. "You'd think in a city like Chicago there would be gyms geared to powerlifters. Here, it's more about bodybuilding. When you walk into a gym and you're deadlifting more than the men, it can get a little uneasy.''

Martucci, an avid water skier most of her life, became interested in powerlifting in 1997 at the prodding of her husband, Rich, who won the 165-pound men's division at the June 21 national meet.

"I knew I needed to do something,'' Martucci said. "When I started, I was 120 pounds and I had no muscles. I train now at 135 to 137 pounds and drop down for the competitions. At first I thought I might want to be a bodybuilder. Once I started, I realized I had some natural strength.''

In 1999, Martucci won the 132-pound division at the Amateur Athletic Union world powerlifting competition in Atlantic City. But she said her performance in Connecticut two weeks ago was her best ever.

"She was the most beautiful woman at the meet and the champion of champions,'' Orengia said.

While Martucci is one of Joe's Gym's veteran lifters, Schroeder, who will be a sophomore at Strong Vincent in the fall, has competed in just three powerlifting events. She's won her division in all three.

"She began working out at the gym when she was 12 and she was getting so good, I talked her into competing in the Great Lakes Powerlifting competition (March 20 at Villa Maria Academy),'' Orengia said. "She did real well. She's always had the capabilities.''

Schroeder followed her Great Lakes competition trophy with another first-place finish in a single-lift meet at Villa Maria in April. She benched 110 pounds.

"I started weight training because I wanted to lose weight and get in shape,'' Schroeder said. "I liked it. I've gotten stronger. I haven't lost weight, but I've lost a lot of fat. In November, I decided I wanted to get serious about it.''

When her friends are out having fun, Schroeder often is in the gym.

"When they see my achievements, they're like, 'Wow, I want to do that,' '' Schroeder said.

Schroeder's 115-pound bench press at the Connecticut competition was a personal best.

"When I had to do my first attempt on squat, I was really nervous,'' Schroeder said. "Michelle (Martucci) helped me out and gave me confidence. It became easier after a while and the crowd cheered me on.''

Away from competitions and the crowd, it's Orengia who handles that role.

"He is a real big influence,'' Schroeder said. "He pushes and pushes me and never wants me to give up.''

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