Petite Powerhouse: Kirtland Air Force Base airman is a source of great strength

Apr. 23—The sound of metal slamming against the floor is the first thing you hear when entering the Kirtland Air Force Base gym.

With bright lights and smooth wood flooring, the gym is home to athletes of all types and many are inside, stretching and grunting through their workouts.

None of them is like Senior Airman Bianca Mendoza, 377th Security Forces Group defender and competitive powerlifter.

At 4-feet-10 and listed at 120 pounds, Mendoza is a great example of the phrase "small but mighty." She has a sunny disposition, smiling as she starts her daily stretches before lifting. Several people in the gym walk up to her, chatting about mundane things like their family, workout plans or new tattoos.

Her gym bag is filled to the zipper with everything she could ever need to work out. With multiple pairs of lifting shoes, small 2 1/2 -kilogram weights that she bought herself since her gym does not have them, chalk, two pairs of headphones, a book to read during cardio sessions as well as other things, the bag is half her size.

However, when Mendoza steps up to begin her deadlifts, a different beast takes form. Gone is the talkative girl. Her eyes become focused as she applies liquid chalk to her hands and knees. Once her powerlifting belt is latched on to brace her back, she is ready to step up to the weight.

As she places over 295 pounds on the bar, she seals herself away in her mind, mentally preparing for her workout.

Mendoza takes a deep breath, adjusting her feet beneath the bar. Her hands flex and unflex around the bar as she steels herself before lifting the large weight with a practiced ease to it.

Mendoza wasn't always a powerhouse. After joining the Air Force at 18 in 2021, the Colorado native was stationed in New Mexico to begin her military career.

She always loved the gym, but Mendoza found herself bored and ready to begin the next phase of her workout journey. When she found out her flight chief, Master Sgt. Spears, was head of the powerlifting club on base, she decided it would be something fun to try.

"Once I realized I could lift a certain weight, I kept going," Mendoza said. "It felt really good knowing I was strong enough to lift these heavier weights and I wanted to do more."

By day, Mendoza is a military police officer. "I really enjoy lifting because I work at a desk all day, so it's nice to look forward to lifting and getting some exercise in."

Mendoza's lifting quickly turned from a way to get exercise into a passion. After learning how to powerlift, she began entering powerlifting competitions. In her first meet, Mendoza won. She currently holds the New Mexico's Junior Women 56-kilogram powerlifting record in the 20-23 age bracket . In her second competition, she took home best female lifter for a competition in Arizona.

Mendoza's secret to success? Sour candies.

"I don't really eat candy, but during competitions I let myself have my favorite candies. Sour punch bites are my favorite," she said.

In actuality, Mendoza's secret is no secret at all. She dedicates herself to a strict workout regime, guided by a coach she started working with a year ago.

"I lift four days a week. I also sneak in some cardio so I can stay in good shape for the physicals we have at the base. I also like to do a bit of CrossFit here and there, since it's a great way to work out without doing heavy lifts."

Joe Raymond, another gym member on base, said Mendoza was an inspiration to his daughter.

"My daughter started lifting and was thinking about enlisting, so I asked Bianca if she would talk to my daughter," he said. "Bianca had a really big influence on her."

Raymond also said Bianca constantly shows her kindness to others and her dedication to powerlifting.

"I remember she came to a competition to speak to my daughter. Bianca couldn't even compete because she had an injury from a dog, but she still came to show her support and speak to my daughter. I remember thinking, 'She didn't have to do that — that was so nice of her.'"

Mendoza is looking to increase the weight that she can lift. "At my last competition, I hit a personal record," she said, "so I'm really looking to keep that progress up and hit those bigger numbers."

As Mendoza prepares to compete in her third powerlifting competition, a national lifting competition on June 24, she has a few goals in mind.

"Right now, my breathing and my mindset have been my biggest focus. Lifting is very mental, and getting yourself in the right headspace can make a huge difference."

After the national competition, she hopes to represent the Air Force in the United States Powerlifting Association Military Competition.

Mendoza's advice for anyone looking to start their fitness journey?

"Don't be scared. You always have a fear of being in the gym. You worry that people are going to judge how much you can lift or what you can do. Be confident, and don't think about it too much. It can be scary to put yourself out there, but you have to if you want to succeed."