FORT POLK, La. — At 5 feet tall and 120 pounds, Capt. Erin Harding may not initially present an formidable presence. But put her on a gym floor with a rack of weights in front of her and she turns into a beast.
Harding, the S-1 for 1st Battalion, 5th Aviation Regiment, ranks in the top 1.6% of powerlifters across all genders, weight classes, divisions, age groups and federations according to OpenPowerlifting.org, which tracks the results of competitions across the world.
“I’ve had a lot of success,” Harding said, in what has to rank as the understatement of the year. “When I began this journey three years ago, I never thought I would be this successful this quickly.”
Harding said she was encouraged to take up powerlifting by her then boyfriend, and now husband, 1st Lt. Robert Rubiano, himself a powerlifter.
“We were working out one day and he said, ‘You should give this a try; I think you’d be good at it,’” she said. “I love it, so I stopped doing CrossFit and focus on powerlifting now.”
Thus began a journey that has seen Harding rack up trophies, plaques, certificates and medals at an unprecedented pace, as well as having her name carved into the Louisiana and national powerlifting record books. Among the records to her credit are 92 Louisiana state records and 32 national records. She has competed in 15 sanctioned and three unsanctioned powerlifting meets since 2018 in Louisiana and Texas. Among her winnings are 45 first place awards and 14 best overall lifter awards.
Harding’s most recent event was the 2021 United States Powerlifting Association meet in San Antonio, Texas, where she was crowned national champion in her weight division.
While Harding has only been at the sport for 3 years, she's no stranger to physical fitness. Prior to powerlifting she spent several years as a gymnast and cheerleader.
“I’ve always maintained myself in pretty good shape, so this (powerlifting) was basically an extension of what I was already doing,” she said.
During her three years of competition, Harding has grown slightly in weight, but tremendously in lifting ability. She began lifting at 113 pounds and is now up to 121 pounds. Even more impressive are the increases in the amount of weight she’s lifting in the four categories measured at meets: Bench press, deadlift, squat and total weight.
- Bench press — 115 pounds to 193 pounds
- Deadlift — 245 pounds to 364 pounds, or three times her body weight
- Squat — 185 pounds to 320 pounds
- Total — (combining all three totals at one meet) 545 pounds to 871 pounds
Harding said she’s set even higher goals for next year aiming to increase her squat to 331 pounds, bench press to 205 pounds and deadlift to 375 pounds. But she’s not stopping there.
Her long-term goals include 375-pound squat, 225-pound bench press and 400-pound deadlift for a total weight of 1,000 pounds, and an invitation to compete on Team USA at the International Powerlifting League world championships.
“The overall top three women at nationals are invited each year to compete for Team USA,” Harding said. “I was No. 5 this year, so I have a pretty good chance of getting invited next year or the year after.”