Erika Moncada sat in a steam room, time ticking down toward her start in the Connecticut Open Weightlifting Competition. An hour passed before the moment of truth.
Competing for the first time in a weightlifting tournament, the Riverhead woman had never needed to cut weight. Now here she was, unsure whether a tip in the scale by the slimmest of margins could send her home.
“That was definitely really challenging,” she said. “I have never really had to do that and I just love food so it was hard for me.”
By .6 pounds, Moncada made her weight class, setting the stage for a remarkable performance from the relative newcomer to the sport. By the end of the competition, Moncada had not only earned the Best Female Lifter award, but also earned a spot in the American Open, a national competition held in December that’s one of the premier events hosted by USA Weightlifting.
Moncada, weighing in at 139 pounds, posted a clean and jerk of 200.2 pounds and a snatch of 154 pounds. The total of 354.2 pounds was the top weight in her class.
“I didn’t think I’d do as good as I did,” the 21-year-old said. “I surprised myself and was pretty much the strongest woman there. I loved it.”
Moncada trains at Team 13 Fitness in Riverhead under her coach, Steve Tria. She was one of two locals who train under Tria that stood out at the Aug. 2 competition. Shoreham-Wading River graduate Kevin Galligan qualified for the University Nationals, a collegiate championship, after lifting 264 pounds in the clean and jerk along with a snatch of 202.4 pounds. Galligan, 21, attends SUNY/Cortland.
Tria has been training for nearly a year with Galligan, who played multiple sports as a Wildcat in high school.
“He’s been working hard,” Tria said. “At the actual meet itself we weren’t even worried about the [weight] total. He was looking to place pretty hard. He actually just missed placing.”
Moncada’s entry into competitive weightlifting began after excelling in CrossFit. She previously trained at Metoac CrossFit in Riverhead before it transitioned over to CrossFit Impervious.
She was looking for a break from CrossFit, hoping to focus more on her technical form, she said. That led her to Tria.
“She was a very strong girl, but had a couple little issues with her technique and once we started polishing them out, she started seeing the weight come on and lifts that were hard became easy,” Tria said. “I think that’s when she realized there was a lot more potential there.”
Moncada began training at Team 13 about three months ago, shortly after she was one of the featured athletes in a CrossFit competition at the Suffolk Theater called the Tribal Games. For a woman who never played sports in high school at Riverhead, her ascent into competitive fitness has even caught her by surprise.
“I never pictured myself doing this,” she said. “I always thought my brother would be the one who’s more athletic.”
For as well as Moncada performed in her first meet, she can still do even better, Tria said, considering some of the obstacles that went into competing for the first time, such as travel and cutting weight.
“It definitely didn’t go, as first competitions usually do, as smooth as we would have wanted it to,” he said. “But she knew what she had to do and she did it.”
When Moncada first joined Tria, she didn’t envision herself becoming a competitor. She had always enjoyed the weightlifting part of CrossFit and simply hoped to fine tune her lifts.
Weightlifting, she said, became a stress reliever.
“If you have anything bothering you,” she said, “you can pretty much take it out on the bar. And it just makes me feel so much better.”
Moncada plans to compete in one or two competitions before the American Open to help prepare for the marquee meet. Tria said their goal is to make the A section of the American Open. If not, the goal would be to medal in the B section.
The competition figures to be strong this year as more athletes begin to prepare for a shot at the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro.
“That’s definitely beyond us, but it’s an interesting year to get into it, because now all the good people are going to be coming out of the woodwork,” Tria said.