Uniformed Services University Psychology Student Sets National Powerlifting Records

Ashton Rouska lifting large weights.

By Sharon Holland

Ashton Rouska, 24, is a humble, unassuming and ambitious Army medical service corps officer studying to become a military clinical psychologist at the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences.

At first glance, you might not notice that Rouska could probably deadlift the equivalent of five new Army recruits at once, or bench press Tom Brady and The Rock simultaneously.  You might not know that he has tens of thousands of followers on social media, or that his “hobby” is powerlifting.  

Ashton Rouska flexing an arm on a stage.
Uniformed Services University graduate student, Army Lt.(P) Ashton Rouska,
readies himself for a record-setting powerlift. (Photo Credit: PROJECT Media)
What you would see, according to his Medical and Clinical Psychology professor, Dr. Josh Gray, is an “incredibly bright, driven, and upbeat guy” who is focused on his studies while, oh-by-the-way, pursuing and setting world records on the side.  

“Ashton is excelling as a student in the Clinical Psychology program, bringing the same poise and passion to his research, clinical, and academic work at USU as he does to his lifting,” Gray says.  

Recently, Rouska participated in the 2021 U.S.A. Powerlifting Nationals competition in Daytona, Florida, where, according to Fitnessvolt.com, he “stole the show with his near 1-tonne total and new American squat record.”  Rouska took first place in the 103 kg. weight class, set the American record for squats, lifting 265.5 kg (805 lbs.). He benched 205 kg. (451 lbs.), and deadlifted 372.5 kg (820 lbs.), for a combined total of 943 kg. (2078.93 lbs.).    

“Everything. I gave absolutely everything I had today,” said Rouska in a social media post following the competition. “Given the obstacles and circumstances we had to overcome, I knew I couldn’t let it stop me from giving this day my every ounce of strength. In order to win - it was required.”

Growing up, Rouska says he was a small, thin child.  He was interested in martial arts and sports, but he wanted to be bigger and stronger, so at the age of 13, he began lifting weights.  That fueled a desire to participate in competitive strength sports, and he entered his first powerlifting meet at 16 years old. Rouska competed in the Alaska State Championships, and broke his first American record (540 lbs. Deadlift in the 181 weight class, although he weighed below 170 lbs.). Seven years later, at age 23, he held the Open and Junior 93, 105 kg. Squat, Deadlift, and Total records.

“Through powerlifting I have... focused on developing and actualizing qualities such as discipline, commitment, focus, and sheer will. This has translated well to my training as a future Army officer and psychologist.” - Army Lt.(P) Ashton Rouska

Rouska typically trains four days a week, all while maintaining his hectic graduate school schedule. His most intense training day is usually Saturday, when he doesn’t have class or clinical practice obligations. He maintains a daily caloric goal to fuel that intensity that fluctuates depending on his goal to gain, lose or maintain body weight. 

Aside from wanting to be the best powerlifter in the world, Rouska says his motivation comes from a number of things.  

“I have many strength goals that I have yet to attain, and I do not plan on stopping until I have achieved them.  Beyond this, I think a more important aspect that is often overlooked is discipline. Motivation comes and goes, but discipline is the foundation on which you build legacies. Without discipline, it is very difficult to get to the top and to remain there. Discipline is what compels you to train when you are lacking motivation.”  

And his has paid off. Rouska fondly recalls two memorable events over the course of his powerlifting career: his win at the 2014 Junior World Championship (83 kg. weight class) and his win at the USAPL Raw Nationals in the Open class (93 kg. weight class).  

An official photo of Ashton Rouska
Army Lt.(P) Ashton Rouska balances his clinical
psychology graduate studies at the Uniformed Services
University with his "hobby" of breaking and setting
national powerlifting records. (Photo Credit:
Thomas Balfour, USU)
“In both meets, I won by tying second place on total weight lifted overall but with a lower body weight. Essentially, I won by lower body weight. Both meets satisfied my competitive nature and are the wins that I feel I worked the hardest to earn and are among my favorite memories,” he says.

Rouska’s discipline has also carried over into his career. He followed his father’s footsteps into the Army,
commissioning in May 2019 after graduation from the University of Texas at San Antonio. 

“I have wanted to join the Army since I was a child. As an Army brat, I was fortunately exposed to amazing soldiers – amazing men and women with conviction – who inspired me to serve my country. Aside from my own intrinsic motivation and desire to serve, I was also attracted by all of the opportunities the Army had to offer,” Rouska says. One such opportunity was the USU clinical psychology degree program. 

“I have had a fascination with psychology since the 11th grade. At that time, I became genuinely curious with understanding human behavior and why people acted and behaved in the ways they did. Fortunately, timing and luck were on my side, as I was introduced to the opportunity USU offered in my junior year of undergrad (I was already on track to commissioning in the Army through ROTC). I felt with this career route, I could combine my major vocation interests.”  

Rouska sees a slight overlap between powerlifting and his career as a future Army psychologist.  

“I find that some aspects of what I do to be the best I can be in powerlifting have carried over to other aspects in my life,” he elaborates. “Through powerlifting I have -- and for years -- focused on developing and actualizing qualities such as discipline, commitment, focus, and sheer will. This has translated well to my training as a future Army officer and psychologist.” 

Dr. Gray agrees, saying: “Ashton's discipline, accomplishments, and uncanny ability to connect with and inspire others are clear indications that he will be a fantastic Army officer and clinical psychologist.” 

Rouska’s outlook on competitions could also apply to any future military career challenges he might encounter.    

“I will always go to where the competition is. I won’t shy away, I won’t turn my back to it, but I will always march forward into it, and regardless of the outcome…I will give everything,” Rouska declares.

“I will continue to compete because there are many goals I have yet to achieve. There may be periods during my career where I will have to slow down with competing, but I anticipate I will be on the scene for a very long time to come. As far as the Army goes, similarly to powerlifting, I have a lot of goals and aspirations I would like to see come to life. There are so many potential routes that my career can take following graduate school that it is difficult to prematurely tether myself to a clear path. As of now, my focus is on becoming the best officer I can possibly be as well as the best psychologist I can possibly be.”