At 5-foot-1 with a pink bow in her hair and a deadlift weight record of 380 lbs, Bella Vargas is an underdog in many ways.
Vargas, communication and leadership sophomore, is a member of Longhorn Powerlifting, the University’s official powerlifting team. Despite qualifying for an International Powerlifting Federation contest, she cannot afford to travel to the competition in Pilsen, Czech Republic, in mid-May.
Vargas began her athletic career as a cheerleader in high school but did not realize it would lead to her career in powerlifting.
“The male coaches in the athletic department saw me picking up the girls on my own without having the support of the other girls and thought, ‘OK, we’ve never seen a girl do that. That’s pretty cool. Let’s recruit her,’” Vargas said.
As a high school sophomore, she took powerlifting athletics classes. As she learned techniques to lift the bar and got used to holding more weights on her back, she earned a spot on the official high school team.
After moving to UT, Vargas joined Longhorn Powerlifting. She placed second overall in her weight group at the 2019 Collegiate Nationals, qualifying her for this year’s international event.
“(The national competition) was probably the most emotional meet,” Vargas said. “It’s always been hard for all my family to go to meets. Seventeen family members all came (from Chicago) to my competition last year. They made these little cutouts of bows, so when I came out my whole team and my family was chanting, ‘Fear the bow.’ I think that’s what really pushed me.”
Because the team is recreational, Vargas said all trips except for nationals come out of students’ pockets. In order to attend the international contest, Vargas is fundraising the $3,000 she needs.
Eric Jin, teammate, boyfriend and nutrition sophomore, said he’s confident she’ll be able to raise enough money to make it to the competition.
“Her work ethic is beyond great,” Jin said. “She has a lot on her hands this semester in terms of academics and other leadership positions. I think regardless of what she does, she’s going to go far.”
Vargas’ GoFundMe campaign has raised $915 at the time of writing. She also said she will be selling T-shirts with her signature phrase, “Fear the bow.”
“(‘Fear the bow’) is definitely a good motto just because in the years past, even at nationals, we’ve used that to cheer her on,” teammate and kinesiology sophomore Keith Jackson II said. “Even now, it really holds a lot of weight to her accomplishments and what she can do.”