During her off-time, Dani Aponte works on proper squatting and lifting techniques with the 90-pound 'log' in her home gym.

Photo by Samuel Stokes

Sailor ‘Lays Down the Hurt’ By being a Power Lifter

By Justin K. Thomas

May 20, 2017

At 5-foot and 160-pounds, Dani Aponte isn’t your typical powerlifter. “Greatly Exceeds Standards” is how a top-performing Sailor is described by the U.S. Navy. In 2016, Aponte took these words to heart, adopting the tagline as her mantra.

Getting Interested

Those standards that Aponte exceeded consists of deadlifting over 300-pounds, squatting 270-pounds and bench pressing 130-pounds. Aponte admits that being a powerlifter wasn’t her initial plan, but after training for a while with a friend, she felt that the sport might just be for her.

“I first got interested in powerlifting because I have a friend who is heavily involved in strength and conditioning exercises,” Aponte said. “So, I contacted him and asked him to help me train. He agreed, and we started working out at Project SixKiller Performance Gym in Norfolk, Virginia. When I first walked into the gym, I was terrified.”

Reluctant to begin, Aponte noticed powerlifter and co-owner of the gym, Amira Juma, deadlifting nearly half of a thousand pounds, she said.

“Seeing all the members who work out at Project SixKiller was simultaneously excellent and a little intimidating,” Aponte said. “But the thing that really caught my eye was the owner, Amira deadlifting 400-pounds.”

Training for Competition

As an active-duty U.S. Navy Sailor, finding the time to work out is difficult, but Aponte said that she finds strength through those around her.

“I am still trying to figure that one out myself,” she said. “Because I'm a Sailor sea-duty, it is tough to find the time to train. There are days where I just want to go home and sleep because my ship is preparing for inspections that will certify it to deploy overseas. And that preparation can take a toll on the mind and body. But, my wonderful boyfriend, Samuel J. Stokes always ‘pushes’ me to get my butt out of bed and to the gym.”

Her initial training regimen consisted of numerous repetitions of weighted squats, deadlifts, bench presses with cardiovascular exercises, she said. Typically, she and her boyfriend will train for about three hours on an “easy” night and that routine has helped her get ready for her first tournament.

“The event was tough,” Aponte said. “There were a lot of other participants that looked like they were going to win over me, so I was very nervous. However, I pushed myself so much that I took first-place in my weight class. I wasn’t expecting to place. I just wanted to give my best.”

To Others Who Want to ‘Lift Heavy’

For women who want to try and “lift heavy,” Aponte recommends finding a gym where they will feel comfortable and just doing it.

“A lot of women are scared to lift heavy weights because they think they will get bulky or look too manly,” Aponte said. “I say ‘screw that.’ Strong is beautiful, strong is sexy, and you should never be afraid to try something because you might end up falling in love with it. Many strongwomen in the world are such an inspiration. They are beautiful because they are strong, and they are strong because they are beautiful.”

Though some contenders misjudge Aponte’s potential, however, she said that miscalculation is what specifically helps her to succeed

“There are a lot of people that underestimate me, always have, always will and I am okay with that,” she said. “I don't have to prove anything to anyone except for myself. I love hitting a new weight [amount] that I have never hit before because it means that I am pushing myself correctly. Do not allow anyone to tell you that you can’t do something."