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Exercise science major Sandra Tran performing a deadlift at the world powerlifting championship in Minsk, Belarus in June of 2017.

Is this the strongest woman in the world?

First in the nation. A second trip to the global stage. For Sandra Tran, good things come to those who weight(lift).

November 6, 2017

By Cory Phare

Sandra Tran is strong.

The exercise science major with a minor in nutrition is heading to the World Classic Powerlifting Championships for a second time thanks to a relentless pursuit of her goals. And with aspirations of becoming a physical therapist, she wants to help others achieve theirs, too.

Her athletic success story begins as one of discovery. From cross-country to swimming and cheerleading, Tran searched out several ways to stay active. But it wasn’t until she went to the gym on campus that she found an unexpected interest – powerlifting.

“I was really small, so when I started I got involved with maintaining a healthy lifestyle to gain weight, which also helped me get stronger and improve my mood,” she said.

And even more, she discovered purpose: “I had something to go to the gym for, too – I never realized how important it’d become for me.”

Sandra Tran placed third in the world for deadlift at the recent world championship for powerlifting. Here, she stands on the awards podium.

Not wasting any time, Tran dove right into learning as much as she could about the sport. Powerlifters make three attempts at hoisting a maximum weight in each of three lifts: squat, bench press and deadlift.

It wasn’t long before Tran started turning heads at the 43-kilogram class.

“Some of the others in the gym would come up to me and say, ‘Wow, you’re really strong – you should look into competing,’” she said. “So I did.”

Great things happen when purpose meets a plan. After intense targeted training, Tran came out on top in her first national meet, qualifying for and competing at the international level in Minsk, Belarus, this past June.

And though she describes it as “going well” – an understatement to be sure, placing third for deadlift and fourth overall in the world – she recalled the experience with an appreciation that extended far beyond the competition.

“It was such a beautiful country with great people,” Tran said. “It also gave me a lot of perspective about what life is like in other parts of the world, and how fortunate we are to have the opportunities we do here.”

Sandra Tran performing a squat at the 2017 world powerlifting championship in Minsk, Belarus.

Ever selfless, Tran made sure to credit her success to many others, including her parents, Katie and Doug; her coach, Heather Connor; and supportive faculty such as Julie Rummel Mancuso.

“One of the first things I noticed was her can-do attitude,” said Mancuso, a lecturer in exercise science. “She’s a real leader; she made everyone’s work more enjoyable by jumping right in.”

And the foundational element underneath it all? Finding her community of belonging.

Tran detailed how the connection to other students of a similar interest created a connection she hadn’t had elsewhere. The supportive group was less competitive than in other sports invested in collective success, which resonated with her. And not only that, they kept one another on task: When there was temptation to sacrifice studying for more gym time, there were others to remind of the importance of school.

MSU Denver student Sandra Tran, after placing first in the nation for her weight class. She will go on to compete in Calgary in the world championship in June, 2018.

It’s a balancing act that continues to pay off. Once again placing first in her class at the national level this fall, she’ll be off to compete internationally next June – this time in Calgary.

For Tran, though, it all started here at MSU Denver.

“I’ve had the opportunity of a lifetime to travel across the world, and I wouldn’t have had that without the powerlifting community on campus,” she said.

Humility is part of Tran’s personality. And with confidence and an infectious smile, she’s developed a formula for tapping into inner strength that’s brought her around the globe.

You won’t hear that from her, though.

“She’s such a dynamo but never bragged about her accomplishments,” said Mancuso. “She’s been so successful because of her attitude and hard work – great things are going to happen when you approach your goals like that.”