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Arlee Woman Breaks World Bench Press Record, And She's Not Done Yet

Rachelle Meidinger holds the world bench press record for women age 20-25
Corin Cates Carney
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Rachelle Meidinger holds the world bench press record for women age 20-25

A student at Salish Kootenai College is a world record holder in weightlifting. She’s a powerful woman, but for a time felt so weak she didn’t want to leave her room.

Rachelle Meidinger’s sanctuary is a pile of iron. The discs ring as the 20-year-old slides the weights onto the bench-press bar. She lies down and arches her back. Her knuckles turn white as her fingers wrap around the bar and slowly remove it from the rack.

About a month ago Meidinger entered her first weightlifting competition, the 2015 World Association of Benchers and Dead lifters championship in Missoula. Each contestant got four lifts, and the best lift counted as their score.

"I got 244 for the last time and was all cheering and stuff and then was like cool, I broke the state record. And then me and my older sister were looking through the manuals they have there just for all the Montana records and all the world records. And the world records was like 226. We were so surprised. We had no idea."

She broke the world record for women age 20-25, over 221 pounds. Breaking the record qualified her to compete in the world championship in Las Vegas. That’s coming up in November, and she’s now training at least four days a week.

Meidinger is buff, with long brown hair, wearing a shirt from the first event she competed in.

"You can’t expect yourself to go in the weight room just once and expect to have a six-pack at the end of the day," Meidinger says. "You’ve got to work for it. And people look at me and they're like, ‘you work out four times a week?’ And they’re like, ‘I can’t even imagine.’ But I can’t even imagine reading a book in a week. That’s something that I can’t do, or like, running a mile. Or running all week, or cycling. I can’t imagine that."

Rachelle Meidinger prepares for a 250 pound bench press.
Credit Corin Cates Carney
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Rachelle Meidinger prepares for a 250 pound bench press.

Meidinger’s ideas of what can, and can’t be done, once locked her in her room, unable to do anything. After graduating from Arlee High School in 2012, Meidinger started getting panic attacks - five to six a day.

"I had a lot of personal issues, family issues, going on and I just got hit with anxiety. I couldn’t leave my house, couldn’t have a job."

Meidinger was haunted by what might happen if she failed. What would happen if she wasn’t good enough?

She briefly struggled with substance addiction.

"I finally went and got help, you know. I got diagnosed as bi-polar and panic disorder, OCD, stuff like that, my racing thoughts."

Meidinger did not get better with one counseling session, or with one prescription of pills. She’s found something that makes her thoughts stop racing, but its work.

"We all have something that takes the pain away and I guess mine is lifting weights. I lift weights. I lift heavy weights. I do it every day."

A few weeks ago, Meidinger got her first fan letter.

"I was really depressed, really really depressed these past couple weeks. And it's just kinda like, she wrote me check…. And was just like wow, people I don’t even know believe in me, you know. And still, she had a handmade card, and I'm like, holy smokes, you know?"

Meidinger has a phrase for this sort of thing in her life, those moments when the mind goes quiet. The letter from a stranger was a tender mercy.

Meidinger is back in school studying addiction counseling. Although, sometimes she thinks school isn’t the right fit, and wonders about applying to a police academy or becoming a personal trainer.

"I wouldn’t say I’m a recovering addict, but I’m a recovering human…. I just want to help people. And maybe that’s with weightlifting, maybe its building people up and encouraging people."

The bench-press world championship is this November. Meidinger wants to bench 330 pounds at the competition, almost 100 pounds more than when she set the world record.

She thinks she can do it.

Meidinger has never had a panic attack in the weight room.