Sophomore Longhorn powerlifters travel to Turkey for University Powerlifting Cup competition

Kaiya Little, Life & Arts Desk Editor

Metal chills the back of Niels Levy-Thiebaut’s neck as he lowers himself into a squat under the bar. Around him, spectators quiet into nothing, and the adrenaline rushing in his chest slows to a gentle buzz. 

Working through the motions of the lift, Thiebaut said his nerves and focus send him into a cathartic, near-blackout state until the moment he steps off the platform. 

“It’s almost a meditative feeling,” the biochemistry and Plan II sophomore said. “I’m (not) consciously focusing on those cues. It’s like my body is doing it for me. … My mind is blank.”

Joining the ranks of the country’s strongest collegiate lifters, the Longhorn Powerlifting Club will send members Niels Levy-Thiebaut and Austin Ha to compete in Istanbul, Turkey on Oct. 31 through Nov. 4 in the International Powerlifting Federation’s University Powerlifting Cup. 

“I’ve gotten increasingly nervous (as) the day of my competition grows nearer. That’s normal, I try not to let it get to me too much,” Levy-Thiebaut said. “I really care about the team, and I want to represent the team well. … A lot of people have donated and supported us and I just want to make them proud.”

After accepting their spots at the competition last summer and training for months, Levy-Thiebaut said he hopes the mounting stress will make him a more resilient person as he competes on the international stage for the first time.

“Powerlifting is very cause and effect. … It’s a number that you can look at, and you could say, ‘Okay, I did that from my consistent effort,’” Levy-Thiebaut said. “That’s a really nice thing to feel, because in other aspects of life, sometimes it feels like you can be powerless.”

With a year and three meets under his belt, Austin Ha said he initially didn’t plan on competing in any major contests in the middle of the school year to focus on his classes. Ha said he couldn’t pass up the unique opportunity to travel despite the uncertainties that come with it.

“This is a once-in-a-lifetime experience,” the exercise science sophomore said. “I’m nervous. … I don’t really know who I’m going up against. I don’t know what numbers they’re hitting. Typically, I do research to see where (I am) projected to be. This time, it’s a little bit different given that these guys are (from) all around the world.”

Joining the team as freshmen last year, Ha said he and Levy-Thiebaut quickly became friends, and taking on this challenge together as two of the only Longhorn powerlifters to accept the invitation to University Powerlifting Cup only marks the beginning of their journeys. 


“We called each other and were like, ‘Look, if you do it, I’ll do it,’” Ha said. “We’re still early on within our powerlifting careers. Why not expand even more and learn? This is such a big opportunity. … I’m really excited to be doing this with Niels because we have the same drive, I wouldn’t be able to be here without him.”


Entering her fifth year in the Longhorn Powerlifting organization, first-year graduate student Bella Vargas currently sits as recruitment chair. After witnessing the duo’s growth over time, Vargas said she encourages Ha and Levy-Thiebaut to remember the support system cheering for them back home as they depart for Turkey.


“I’m looking at everything they’ve done and all the times they’ve pushed each other, they should be really proud of that,” Vargas said. “I want them to never forget how much strength (they) have gained out of this — and just go kick some ass.”