Teaneck resident and rising TABC junior Noam Hershtik broke four New Jersey state records at the USPA Powerlifting Association meet on July 24 in Marietta, Ohio. Hershtik, 15, won the age 13-15 165 lb category, and the four New Jersey state records he set were in squat, bench, deadlift and a combined total. All at his very first meet! In addition, his total of 1129 will be #13 all time (out of 616 lifters) in the USA for 13-15-year-olds in the 165 class and #20 all-time (out of 1,175 lifters) 13-15-year-olds in the 165 class in the world across all powerlifting organizations.
So how does a TABC student decide to become a powerlifter? “Before this, I played basketball and enjoyed lifting weights for basketball training,” reflected Noam. “I fell in love with lifting weights and with powerlifting. After I learned about the sport it just took off. Lifting heavy weights is fun. Without my noticing, I switched from basketball to powerlifting.”
Noam started lifting weights at his local Jewish community center and then at Different Breed. He then found Jason Manenkoff at Iron Arena in North Bergen and began making the daily trip to train. Manenkoff was a member of the 2017 and 2019 USA Powerlifting National Team, holds credentials as a referee and coach with the USPA, and is a performance coach. As soon as Noam started working with Manenkoff they proceeded to “fix a lot of things,” said Noam. Six days a week, for three hours a day, Noam (and his mother) went to North Bergen so he could train and improve.
“We only had four weeks to prepare for the meet,” said Manenkoff, “and had to work fast, While he had a great strength base from the hard work he put in for the past year, I quickly realized that his lifts were not being executed to the standard which would be required of him in an actual competition. We had to dial back all his current maxes by roughly 15 percent to make the necessary changes to his technique. From there we were able to ramp things back up in an effort to put him in the best position to achieve success on meet day. He did just that and had a fantastic first contest!”
“Six months ago my goal was to get three national records wearing a kippah,” shared Noam. “And I actually got pretty close but once I went to Iron Arena, Jason had to fix my form and other things. It was a setback but I knew it was in my best interest. Even so, I have a lot to be thankful for. I did well in state and national rankings. I owe a lot to my parents, but especially my mom. She drove me to every practice and flew with me to Marietta to spend Shabbos and be there for me.”
Most meets take place on Shabbat, so Noam had to find one that took place on a Sunday or mid-week. That’s how he and his mother ended up spending Shabbat in Marietta.
According to his mom, Tamira, “Noam started powerlifting on his own but then we came to Jason to prepare him for the meet. Jason gave him a plan from A-Z. Noam would text him with questions and he’d answer them. He was so great and an excellent coach. Through it all Noam was so motivated by the process and it gave him confidence. I didn’t realize how much Noam was really invested in this until we went to spend Shabbos in Marietta and I watched him compete. The whole thing means a lot to him. The moment you see your kid and he’s happy and confident and excelling…it’s a beautiful thing. It was all worth it. No one even said anything about him wearing a kippah.”
So what is it about powerlifting that draws people like Jason and Noam to this sport?
Manenkoff answered that question with one word: accountability. “You get what you put in. Unlike team sports such as football, baseball and basketball there is no team for you to hide behind and no one to blame for failure. It’s just YOU and the loaded bar! When you succeed, it is because of the work YOU put in. Powerlifting is very black and white. You either add weight to the bar and get stronger or you don’t.”
Manenkoff told The Jewish Link, “While I have a fair amount of high school students that train at my facility, most of my lifters/members are over 20 years old. Fifteen is on the younger end of the spectrum, which is mostly due to the fact that it isn’t a ‘mainstream sport’ like football, soccer, basketball, etc. Aside from a handful of high schools in Florida and Texas, it’s not even offered as a high school sport and only a few colleges offer scholarships for powerlifting. Most students simply choose to participate in the sports offered at their school.”
So what’s next? Noam turns 16 this summer and will enter a new age class. He’d like to continue training and compete in upcoming meets where he hopes he can fulfill his original goal: To earn three national records while wearing a kippah.”