Loaded barbell (Photo by Lance Goyke)What does it take to be the best? Powerlifter Naomi Kutin found out.
Loaded barbell (Photo by Lance Goyke)What does it take to be the best? Powerlifter Naomi Kutin found out.

What does it take to be the best at what you do? Powerlifter Naomi Kutin found out.

Naomi Kutin is not a superhero, but she is as close as you can get. Naomi, 16, is a champion powerlifter who has earned world records for her weight class.

Powerlifting is a sport comprised of three components: the squat, bench press, and deadlift. Naomi, who lives in Fair Lawn, New Jersey, has broken five world records in the squat for women in the 97-pound weight class. She also has broken records in the deadlift.

Naomi can squat 320 pounds, bench press 130 pounds, and deadlift 365 pounds. Supergirl, a documentary about her, will air on PBS on December 18 and 21.

I recently spoke with Naomi by phone. Here are highlights from our conversation:

What made you want to start powerlifting?
When I was eight years old, I was in a karate class. One day, my dad came to see me, and he saw that I was doing push-ups really well, better than the boys. I also was doing well in things that indicate strength. He has been powerlifting for over 30 years and practices in our basement, where we have a gym.

My dad saw that powerlifting was something I could potentially be good at, so he asked me if I wanted to try it. I started working out in our basement and still do so with him as my coach.


 Naomi at a film festival for her film in Long Island (Photo courtesy of the author)

Naomi at a film festival on Long Island

What are some of the challenges that you’ve faced with powerlifting?
I’ve had a couple of injuries, and it took a few months to recover. I had to lower the weights a lot, and that was frustrating. I also get a lot of cyberbullying for what I do. People think that it’s terrible and I shouldn’t do it. That got kind of discouraging and made me not want to powerlift. But then I realized that’s ridiculous, and I shouldn’t stop because people online are telling me to.

What motivates you?
I noticed that people saw my lifting and were inspired by it. I enjoy making those people happy.

There is a new documentary about you called Supergirl. Can you tell us about it?
Jessica Auritt, the director, is Jewish, like me. After hearing about a Jewish powerlifter, Jessica thought that it would make for a fascinating movie.

How do you balance school and powerlifting? 
It’s a challenge, but I prioritize school over powerlifting. At the end of the day, powerlifting is a hobby. If I have to do my homework, and I also have to do a workout, I do my homework first.

What is your favorite subject in school?
My favorite subject is definitely history.

Do you have Olympic aspirations?
No. In the Olympics, you have to lift the weight over your head, and I don’t practice or compete like that.

What do your friends think of your powerlifting?
My friends are super supportive of my accomplishments, and they love seeing me compete.

Do you have any other hobbies?
I really like photography, and I’ve won a couple of photo competitions.

What do you want to do when you’re older?
I’d like to make a career out of powerlifting, but that’s not so practical. I want to keep powerlifting no matter what I do, and I want to keep that as a part of my life. I’d really like to be a psychologist because the way people think interests me.

Do you have any advice for our readers?
Don’t be afraid to try a new hobby or do new things. I was scared when I started powerlifting because I wasn’t sure how people would react. But going out of my comfort zone turned out to be an amazing decision.

Top photo by Lance Goyke; bottom photo courtesy of Naomi Kutin