It is Monday evening and Darrell K Royal–Texas Memorial Stadium is silent except for the sounds of stifled groans and clanking weights, reverberating off the cinder block walls of a small basement gym labeled “DL8.” Men and women of all body types practice their squats, bench presses and deadlifts as Longhorn Powerlifting president Mario Leos circles the room to provide instruction.
Leos, a nutrition and allied health professions junior, is a nationally ranked weightlifter and Team USA member who led the Longhorn Powerlifting team to victory at the USA Powerlifting Collegiate Nationals in Orlando, Florida, earlier this year.
Leos also set several personal records at the International Powerlifting Federeation Juniors and Sub-Juniors World Powerlifting Championships in Oroshaza, Hungary, earlier this September. He is a strong competitor in his own right, yet he is less concerned with his own successes and more concerned with the achievements of his team.
“My biggest accomplishment in powerlifting by far would be when our men’s national team placed first, and our women’s national team placed third at the 2014 [USA Powerlifting] Collegiate Nationals,” Leos said.
Leos is quick to assure people that powerlifting is not his entire life.
“I love watching football,” Leos said. “I have a fantasy team. Sadly, it has been pretty disappointing so far.”
Leos’ interest in football led him to powerlifting. According to Leos, football is a common route to powerlifting, and many of the Longhorn Powerlifting members have some past associations with the sport.
“I started my freshman year in high school because it was mandatory for all football players to do powerlifting,” Leos said.
Originally from Seguin, Leos grew up down the street from Ian Bell, past Longhorn Powerlifting president and UT alumnus.
“While competing at a state meet in high school, I watched Ian, and he became a huge inspiration for me,” Leos said. “I ran into him at the organization fair my freshman year at UT, and he took me under his wing.”
After working with and learning from Bell for three years, Leos developed his own leadership skills.
Fellow teammate Dominique McGaha, pyschology sophomore and nationally ranked powerlifter, practices under Leos’ guidance. The two work closely together for two hours a day, four days a week in the small, sweat-stenched gym.
“Mario [Leos] is a great inspiration,” McGaha said. “He has been to worlds, and that is a goal I have. Practicing with him, looking up to him as role model and watching him work so hard has always been a source of motivation for me.”
Tyler Wilburn, Longhorn Powerlifting vice president and biology and economics senior, was first attracted to the club three years ago by Leos’ engaging personality.
“He is really energetic and friendly,” Wilburn said. “When something happens or there are issues occurring, he is always the first one to notice [and] the first one to cheer someone up and help them out.”
Tiffany Vu, the secretary of Longhorn Powerlifting, said she has noticed a direct relationship between the recent successes of the team and the club’s growing membership.
“We have increased in size and acquired more awareness about our club after Mario [Leos] and our men’s team won the [USA Powerlifting] Collegiate National Championships in 2013,” Vu said.
Powerlifting has always been a source of guidance for Leos. It influenced his major and led him to pursue personal training as a prospective career path.
“Before joining Longhorn Powerlifting, I was unsure about everything — what I was going to do [and] where I was going to go,” Leos said.
Powerlifting has not only strengthened Leos’ body, but it has also strengthened his character.
“The sport has taught me that as long as you have the right attitude and motivation, you can succeed and feel rewarded in anything you do,” Leos said. “This is the philosophy I apply to everything now.”