McKenzie Curtis: Powerlifter, Military Police Officer
CAMP FOSTER, OKINAWA, Japan -- “Until I found powerlifting in high school I was lost, I was the wanderer jumping from friend group to friend group,” confided Lance Cpl. McKenzie A. Curtis, a military police officer with Marine Corps Installations Pacific-Marine Corps Base Butler, Japan. “Powerlifting is something that is natural for me.”
Curtis’s lifting career began in high school. Her curiosity was jumpstarted by a set of school announcements filled with lifting jargon. Her inquisitiveness drove her to find out more. As she learned the meaning of the jargon, and lifted more, she fell in love.
“I started lifting my sophomore year and I didn’t really know anything about it,” said Curtis a River Falls, Wisconsin, native. “I had never done a squat in my life, but I ended up being really good at it. Now I eat, sleep, gym and work. I was heavier back then, I was 256 pounds. But each year I worked to cut down a weight class.”
Curtis was in the 198 pounds and above weight class her sophomore year. Her junior year, despite her coach’s skepticism, she cut down 26 pounds in less than a month in order to get to the weight class below her.
“After I managed to lose that first chunk of weight I was like, ‘Oh wow, this is kind of cool,’ and I got my weight down more and more,” said Curtis. “I had always kept the Marine Corps on the back burner, but I knew that I would have to be 155 pounds to get in, and I didn’t know if I would be able to lose that much.”
Curtis struggled with being confident in her body growing up, but powerlifting changed that. Her junior year she sought out a mentor who was exceptional at lifting, and he changed her whole outlook on fitness. That mentor was Shawn Cain, former worldwide competitive powerlifter turned personal trainer.
“I had no idea who Shawn Cain was, but I did know that I needed something more to help me progress, and that’s what I wanted, to progress,” said Curtis. “He was a great coach who has been around lifting for forever and is insanely wise. He’s like my grandpa. He’s not into hugs but whenever he initiated one he would say, ‘All right stinky grandpa hug.’ He essentially adopted me as one of his grand kids. He changed my whole outlook on lifting.”
After she won second place at the 2015 Sub-Junior and Junior International Powerlifting Competition her senior year, Curtis decided she wanted to enlist in the Marine Corps despite already applying and paying to go to college. She immediately began the seemingly insurmountable mission of losing weight.
“It’s been so hard since,” said Curtis as she recalled the grueling journey to join the Marine Corps. “The weight that I lost to get into the Marine Corps was all of the muscle I had. So when I went to boot camp I wasn’t as strong as I once was. Then, I lost even more muscle at boot camp. Afterwards going to the school house, I really struggled. I had the option to go to the gym but I just didn’t have the motivation to go every day. I had run my world around powerlifting, even in high school, but now the Marine Corps comes first. Your training comes first and if it runs late, that’s it.”
Once Curtis became Marine, she found that motivation was drying up. As she battled the taxing schedule of military police in the school house, she found less and less time for her release, lifting. Once she was sent to Okinawa she would start and stop, attempting to balance the unforgiving schedule of shift work.
Now back to normal working hours, Curtis trains daily with her coworkers and friends. Running in the thick humid air of Okinawa in the morning and lifting in the afternoon.
“Most of the time we work these long, long shifts,” said Lance Cpl. Eli Brix, a military police officer with MCIPAC-MCB, Japan, and a close friend of Curtis. “Your day feels off when you don’t go to the gym. I know especially for Curtis, when she doesn’t go, it’s a bad day. Nothing feels right. It blows off a lot of steam. When someone goes to the gym daily it becomes a part of you. As busy as our schedule is, it is hard to prepare meals, it’s faster to go and pick up fast food but she doesn’t.”
Brix, like Curtis, is a powerlifter.
“I don’t even know how to start explaining her,” said Brix. “She is good at her job, always working to do the next best thing and pretty easygoing. Curtis hates failing. When you work hard for something and fail, it sucks. I have seen her out lift quite a few guys so she has my respect. She has so many goals and it doesn’t matter the amount of time or effort she has to put in, she’ll achieve those goals.”
Curtis balances meal prepping and her long hours with working out at least once, usually twice a day. However, her goals don’t stop at out lifting guys, or getting to a certain weight.
“I am scared of mediocrity,” said Curtis. “I want to make my dad proud and I want to be confident with myself. I don’t want to be what everyone else is. I don’t want to be below par, I want to stand out. I want to be that step up above. I am a Marine, it’s natural for us. My father always says, ‘Don’t do anything half-(effort), do it to the best of your ability.’ I hate taking off days. I am at the point where I don’t even want to stop.”