St. Ed’s senior Kendra Mathes is the first to admit that she is probably the most unlikely weightlifter you will ever see. However, that very circumstance generated some of the fuel burning her desire to reach the state championship finals three times in five years.
“I know I don’t look like the typical weightlifter,” Mathes told us. “If you see me for the first time, I’m not bulky like some weightlifters. The reaction is usually surprise. I’m 5-feet tall and super tiny. And I’m a weightlifter.
“But if you know me it’s not that much of a surprise. To those who don’t know me and don’t believe that I’m a weightlifter, I sometimes want to show them what I can do and then say yeah, I’m a weightlifter. I work really hard and I really try to do the best I can.”
In accordance with her petite stature, Mathes competed in the 101-pound weight class and won the silver medal at the FHSAA state championship meet in February. She matched personal records of 120 pounds in the bench press and 130 pounds in the clean-and-jerk for a total of 250. It was the best finish ever for any Pirate lifter, boys included.
She is currently one of two finalists for area wide Girls Weightlifter of the Year honors. Further, Mathes medaled in 2015 with a fourth-place finish at states. In eighth grade she qualified for the state meet in her first year of competition.
Training of a different sort from an early age paid off. She followed her older sister Cristian into a popular youth activity that proved to be the springboard for both to excel at weightlifting.
“I started gymnastics when I was about 2 years old and continued until I was in seventh grade. I had to quit because it really didn’t work out with school hours, but I can thank that sport for how well I did in all other sports. When you do gymnastics you can pretty much do any other sport. You work your base muscles and when I was 9 years old I had six-pack abs.”
Mathes began pumping iron with CrossFit and decided to go into competitive weightlifting as an eighth grader at St Ed’s under the direction of head coach Les Rogers. She also played on the varsity lacrosse team for four years and ran cross country for three seasons.
Now it’s on to college where there will be more heavy lifting to do, only this time without mats or benches.
“I’m hoping to go to Virginia Tech and I’m waiting to hear back. I’ve already been accepted to Norwich University and the University of South Carolina. I will be perfectly happy at either one if Virginia Tech doesn’t work out.
“I will be doing the Air Force ROTC program. When I graduate I will be commissioned as an officer in the Air Force. From there I will do what they tell me to and continue on (with a four-year service commitment). Later in life, I really don’t know.”
Weight training will probably continue in some form, either at a CrossFit facility or in conjunction with the mandatory ROTC fitness program.
“It was great to see Kendra do as well as she did this year,” Rogers said. “As a senior to do well it’s tough to train as hard as you have to. Kendra absolutely did that. She did everything I asked her to do. She would come in from the Stuart area where she lives to train on days we didn’t have school. She was one of the hardest workers I’ve ever had. And it paid off for her by taking second place in the state meet.”
Kendra Mathes thus enters the pantheon of all-time great Pirate weightlifters, a group that includes Lonnie Scott, Jad Shalhoub, Andrea Splendoria and Cristian Mathes, among others. “Super tiny” Kendra might be hard to locate in that group photo, but her achievements in the sport certainly stand out.
“I’ve been going to St. Edward’s since sixth grade,” Mathes said. “This has been a great experience. I have been very honored to go to this school. It’s a very good school for academics, athletics and creativity (she’s also an award-winning artist).
“I have made some great friends and they have been with me since sixth grade. I feel like I know everyone here really well.
“I’m approaching leaving by not approaching it. Of course I will miss home a lot, but it will be really exciting to be on my own. I’ve done a lot of college tours so I think I’m ready. I’ve been waiting for this for a while, and I know what to expect.”