When Eldersburg resident Emily Costolo starting losing weight in eighth grade, it originally went unnoticed. It wasn't until her junior year at Century High School when people began to ask if she was OK.
Costolo, who now stands at 5 feet, 6 inches, was battling anorexia. She said she weighed between 106 and 107 pounds when she entered treatment her junior year, but had trouble finding an outlet — until she was introduced to powerlifting.
"I didn't start powerlifting until about two years ago," Costolo said. "Even in treatment, it took me a while. Nothing seemed to get me on the road to recovery until lifting helped me redevelop a love for food. I probably weigh more than I ever weighed and am the happiest I've ever felt."
Costolo said her friend Sarah Cecil, a personal trainer, helped her develop an interest in powerlifting, specifically the deadlift. It's Costolo's favorite lift to perform, she said, and it saved her life.
"It makes me feel amazing," she said. "I never thought in my wildest dreams that I could lift that much weight."
Costolo trains at Athens Gym in Eldersburg and has participated in four competitions so far. Last July she competed in a sanctioned USA Powerlifting meet at Exile Fitness in Rosedale, where she squatted 176 pounds, benched 82 pounds and deadlifted 242 pounds for a total of 500.
In February, she set one of her highest personal records in a competition at Maryland. Her goal was to deadlift two times her body weight — she lost some weight prior to the event, making the lift harder, but she said it was the happiest day of her life.
Had Costolo lifted five more pounds, she would have taken third place.
She did, however, take first at a competition in December, when she won the junior division class in all three lifts for the 140 weight class.
"The powerlifting community for women is such an empowering movement to inspire girls to accept themselves and realize you don't have to be a weak person," Costolo said. "You can stand up for what you believe in and fight for what you love. I wanted to become an advocate for that, and girls I was in treatment with message me saying I've inspired them to really want to get recovered and how proud they are of me. I cried every time I got one of those messages.
"It makes me happy to know I can reach out and unintentionally do that. Now, I'm purposely doing that and it's given my life so much purpose and I'm so grateful for it."
Costolo, 22, said her goal is to deadlift 300 pounds — her highest is 280. She squatted 220 at the gym on Friday morning, good for a personal best squat. The bench press is not as easy for her, and her best is 95 pounds. Her next step is to break 100, she said.
Scott Bixler, Costolo's lifting coach, has been mentoring her for the past year and a half. Bixler met Costolo at Athens Gym and said he is proud of how much she has bettered herself in lifting through such a short period of time.
"She's excelled and increased her poundages every time she's gotten in a meet," Bixler said. "That's what you want, you want to do better each meet. She's a deadlifting machine, she's never missed a deadlift in a meet. With three attempts, she's never missed one. She loves to deadlift, it's like a 50-yard dash — total psyche. It's different than squat and bench press because it's all or nothing. You either have it or you don't."
Costolo said her favorite thing about powerlifting is intimidating men with her strength and proving people wrong by doing what she is able to do. She prevailed over an eating disorder as a high school student and continues to push herself to new heights every day.
"I think it's very important," Costolo said. "Test the waters, break boundaries. Our generation has been doing that for a while now and we should continue to do that because not one gender is better than the other. Women shouldn't have to feel like they're the weak ones. If you can prove the boys wrong, go for it. That's amazing."