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Pathology Researcher By Day, World Champion Weightlifter By Night

Woman lifting barbell over her head
By Sarah Marshall

USU’s Sara Contente Competes, Wins Master Weightlifting Competition

When Dr. Sara Contente signed up for a membership at a local strength and conditioning facility in 2013, she just wanted to become stronger, physically, and perhaps motivate her husband to get into better shape. She never thought she would end up competing in several national weightlifting competitions -- let alone win a Masters World Championship, as she did this summer.

Contente has been a research associate professor in the Department of Pathology at Uniformed Services University (USU) since 1986. She has been involved with USU’s Faculty Senate since 2009, and served as the former USU Faculty Senate President from 2018 to 2019.

Outside of researching how gene expression controls cell growth while keeping busy representing the University’s faculty, in her spare time Contente had decided to check out a local fitness facility known for its high-intensity interval training and large-scale fitness competitions. She had seen her daughter gain strength using the same type of fitness facility. Plus, Contente figured she could convince her husband to give it a try, too, and they could all push each other to be more physically fit.

woman in a lab coat working in a lab
Dr. Sara Contente has been working in the Department of Pathology at Uniformed Services University since 1986. (photo by Sarah Marshall)

In 2017, the facility added a barbell club. So, Contente decided to try her hand at using the weights, which meant having to take special training to use them safely and appropriately.

“It’s not just brute strength -- there’s technique and skill involved, too,” Contente said.
As time went on, she did grow stronger – and the stronger she became, the more she wanted to achieve.

“I wanted to do better and I wanted to keep getting stronger,” she said.

In May 2017, Contente decided to start training for Olympic weightlifting. She continued to watch her diet and trained diligently several times each week, perfecting the barbell movements referred to as the “snatch” and “clean and jerk.” The snatch involves gripping the barbell with two hands, palms downwards, maneuvering the barbell into the air in a single movement. For the clean and jerk, the lifter moves the barbell up to his or her shoulders, resting the barbell on the clavicles before pressing it into the air. With either maneuver, during a competition, lifters must ultimately keep the barbell in the air until the referees give the signal to place the barbell back on the ground, and earn points on their style and technique.

Later that year, Contente entered her first local competition. It was somewhat overwhelming and stressful, crowded with lots of people and busy with noise and bright lights. She thought to herself, “What am I doing here? Am I crazy, or what?”

woman on first place stand
Dr. Sara Contente, a research associate in the Department of Pathology at Uniformed Services
University, has competed in several national weightlifting competitions.
(photo by Andy Blaida, Lifting Life) 
However, she qualified for a national competition which took place in January 2018. At that event, sanctioned by USA Weightlifting, she qualified for her first Masters World Championship held in August 2018 in Barcelona, Spain. Competing among 850 men and women from ages 35-80+ from across the globe, she took fourth place. In April 2018, Contente went on to participate in yet another national competition, and won second place.

“I became hooked on competing,” Contente said.

In March of 2019, once again Contente competed at the national level, this time in Salt Lake City, and this time taking first place. This allowed her to qualify for the Pan American Masters Weightlifting championship in May 2019. She won that competition, too.

Contente followed by placing first in this year’s World Masters Weightlifting Championship, held in Canada the week of Aug. 16. With her family cheering her on, Contente walked to the top of the podium, where she was adorned with the gold medal around her neck.

“It’s really amazing to be able to represent your country at a competition like this,” she said. “It’s been a lot of fun.”

Since she started competitive weightlifting, she noted, she has not only been able to travel, but she has also met many interesting people, including world record holders and Olympic athletes from all over the globe.

As for her husband, he stuck with the fitness routine, too, and has started to compete in weightlifting. He has also become involved as a technical official for their competitions, she said. In November, they will travel together to compete in the American Masters Weightlifting competition in Seattle.