There were two things that Kristian Elvina loved when he was younger: World’s Strongest Man and dinosaurs.
The Filipino-American kid was the deadly combination of what he calls “husky” – those were what his second-grade pants were labeled – and nerdy. So, naturally, he’d roleplay. Inspired by World’s Strongest Man, he’d lift deck chairs above his head, yelling. He’d fill wheelbarrows with rocks from his backyard and push them. When he came home from school – a tough place for a bigger kid – he’d enter his favorite world: one where he could read books and be strong.
“My family called me the human encyclopedia,” Kristian recounts now from an office at Jersey Strong, where he works as the District Director for Personal Training. A perfect example: after he first touched a weight in his middle school weight room around seventh grade, his first instinct was to go to the library and take out books on working out. He’d already exhausted the library’s dinosaur encyclopedias anyway.
Here’s a sneak peak of the ending: it turned out that Kristian was actually pretty strong. In fact, he was stronger than most of the kids his age. He’d eventually be a running back on his high school and college football teams and join the Jersey Strong family as a trainer shortly after graduating. He’d compete in strength and physique competitions. But this is not your typical nerd-turned-jock story. And that’s because of one small but significant detail, and it happened nearly two decades ago.
Kristian was in third grade at the time. He was walking from the bus to his elementary school. Backpack on. Unassuming. When, out of nowhere, a boy from school came up to him.
Everyone has a defining childhood moment, one that immediately comes back to them the second they try to remember a time that permanently changed them. For Kristian, it was the moment directly before he walked into school.
It was when the boy shoved him, unprovoked, and said some unkind words.
“It’s always stuck with me,” Kristian says now. “Maybe I’ve always had that chip on my shoulder.”
The moment, however long ago, was character shaping. It gave him someone to prove how powerful his focus and determination can be: not the bully, but his third-grade self. And that’s why last year, after casually pulling a 500 lbs. deadlift during a session with one of his training managers, he decided to start signing up for powerlifting competitions.
It didn’t come easy. There were plenty of opportunities for him to give up the effort. His first lift back on a training plan was one of them: a few years off from lifting because of two herniated discs had left him deconditioned. His first attempt – a squat at 365 lbs. – was, as he puts it, “a failure.”
“I’m the type of individual that wants to win,” says Kristian. “If I’m doing something, I want to dominate.”
So, not meeting a weight goal, not winning a meet; that, for Kristian, is by definition a failure. Some people aren’t as hard on themselves. But those people don’t win strength competitions.
Kristian’s first meet was in November of 2017. He placed second.
His next one was in March of 2018. He won.
Then, another reason to quit: he pulled his back. He couldn’t stand upright. He’d gone off program. The USA Powerlifting NJ State Championships were coming up and he wasn’t sure if he’d be able to compete. Doubts came rushing in. The mental strength he’d built began to wane – once there were cracks in the routine, resolve began to crack, too. But he reminded himself of his motivator: third-grade Kristian on his way off the bus.
“You can’t be afraid to fail. I mean, that fear will be there, but it’s how you respond to failure,” Kristian says. So, focused, stiff, he continued to train. He pushed through a grade two strain in his hamstring, taking time to rest when necessary. And he kept remembering: seventh-grade Kristian lifting deck chairs like the World’s Strongest Man.
His third meet was the USA Powerlifting State Championships. Despite nights of lost sleep, injuries and rigorous training in the weeks leading up to the meet, he was calm. He was hitting his squat and bench attempts throughout the day, staying in a consistent second and third place.
His last pull would be a deadlift: 606 lbs. When the weight landed on the floor, it was like a sounding bell – the lift had launched him into first place.
And just like that, Kristian Elvina was a USA Powerlifting NJ State Champion.
For anyone who is trying to find the focus to strength train, Kristian says to hold yourself accountable.
“You need to speak it into existence,” says Kristian. “You need to let people know that you’re doing this, because all of a sudden, there’s that level of accountability.”
For Kristian, a member of the Jersey Strong staff for over 8 years, it was all about having a supportive community to speak his goals into existence. At Jersey Strong, “it’s a family,” and families hold each other accountable. If you need a community to help you stay focused, we can help.
And if you were wondering, Kristian Elvina’s (both the second grader and the Powerlifting State Champion) favorite dinosaur is the Allosaurus.
Ready to hold yourself accountable? Visit Jersey Strong, the Gym of New Jersey!