As a high school senior, Anthony McNaughton was crushed when his doctor advised him not to play football at SUNY Cortland because of a history of head injuries. But he is happy with the way things have worked out.
McNaughton is now the world’s second-best powerlifter in his weight class.
He achieved this last month at the International Powerlifting Federation (IPF) Powerlifting World Championships in Istanbul, Turkey, competing against young men from all over the world in the junior 105 kg. (231 lbs.) weight class.
“Obviously plans change between high school senior year and college,” said McNaughton, a physical education major from Miller Place, N.Y. “And I came to Cortland kind of looking around to find something, and what do you know, I found this sport. And I’m forever thankful for that.”
SUNY Cortland doesn’t offer powerlifting as a varsity sport, but some students compete on their own. McNaughton adopted the sport three years ago as a sophomore, training under a master lifter and Doctor of Physical Therapy, Johnathan Song.
“He’s my online coach. He’s in Long Island. When I’m home, I meet up with him and go though some game time tactics.”
McNaughton works out with barbells, plates, weights and various cable machines to achieve what powerlifters call extensor movements.
“I’m basically using everything a normal gymgoer would use, except to a higher degree to get my compound lifts, my squat lifts, my bench and deadlifts stronger,” he said.
But don’t expect to see the SUNY Cortland senior physical education major wowing onlookers by deadlifting more than 700 pounds in the Student Life Center’s weight training area anytime soon.
That’s because McNaughton is probably practicing his Herculean squats, bench-presses and deadlifts with quiet concentration at Iron Mind Performance and Fitness in downtown Cortland, owned by Cortland alum Aaron Newman ’02.
“I love the Student Life Center, I’m a huge enthusiast, it’s just that sometimes it gets a little too packed,” McNaughton said. “Because I have to load a lot of weight sometimes, and the plates run out pretty quick.”
Powerlifting, McNaughton’s chosen sport, shouldn’t be confused with Olympic-style weightlifting, which tests the snatch, the overhead clean, and the clean and jerk. Powerlifting involves the squat, bench-press and deadlift.
McNaughton chose SUNY Cortland as a place where he could play football, his high school passion, while studying to teach physical education. A doctor advised him against continuing the sport, however.
Matthew Milano, his hometown buddy and a SUNY Cortland senior adaptive physical education major, is proud of his friend since middle school.
“He competed against lifters from all over the world and, astoundingly, placed second in the world in his weight class,” Milano said.
“Matt has been there since day one of my powerlifting career and definitely has seen the ups and downs through it all,” McNaughton said. “Without support from him I wouldn’t have been able to reach it this far.”
Earlier this year, McNaughton won first place in his weight class at the a state meet in Buffalo by squat lifting 673 pounds, bench-pressing 463 pounds, and deadlifting 689 pounds.
In June, he became the national champion in Orlando, Florida, with a 705-pound squat lift, a 485-pound bench-press and a 705-pound deadlift.
Then it was on to Istanbul, Turkey, for the IPF Powerlifting World Championships.
“That was a big hike across the world,” McNaughton said. “It was a little nerve- wracking at first, but it was an incredible experience.”
Powerlifters get three tries for each type of lift.
“So, for the first attempt, it’s what you could do in your sleep,” he said. “If you start too heavy and let’s say you don’t hit that lift for the three attempts, you get disqualified essentially.
“Especially at the worldworld level, you have so many people that are just as strong if not stronger,” McNaughton said. “It really comes down to each attempt.”
McNaughton’s performance in squat lift didn’t meet his expectations.
“I was planning on lifting 750 in squat,” McNaughton said. “I was strong enough for that. But I had little technical breakdowns that just weren’t on my side that day, which hurt a lot.
“If there was a moment in my powerlifting when I felt that I was in a really, really bad situation, it was at worlds,” he said.
McNaughton’s safe, 673-pound squat lift kept him in the competition and a top contender, but he needed to make up the weight on the deadlift.
“I was strong enough for a 780 deadlift that day,” McNaughton said. “What we had to do that day to get the winning total — because I didn’t do so well on squats — was we loaded up with 804 pounds so I could hit it. And it was so, so close.”
In the end, McNaughton bench-pressed 501 pounds and deadlifted 727 pounds at the world competition, surpassing his national records. That meet’s international champion, Corentin Clement of France, lifted 1,973 pounds to McNaughton’s 1,900 pounds.
“After the meet, he told me, ‘For your first international meet, you should really be proud. … The fact that you’re placing second on your first time around, means that you have a really good future.’ That meant a lot to hear that from somebody else.”
This fall, his final semester at SUNY Cortland, McNaughton is training himself toward capturing — for a second time — the next national championship in powerlifting that will take place next June in Orlando, Florida, while also student teaching sixth- through eighth -grade students at Boynton Middle School in the Ithaca, N.Y., city school district.
A second win would set him up for another shot at becoming a world gold champion.
“I’m working day in and out until that point,” McNaughton said. “And I’m going to take that first-place gold next time I go to worlds.”
“I’m so confident in my ability to do that. I am so close, so close.”
Paul is a producer responsible for production of podcasts and streamed content on our network. This includes Finger Lakes Today, FingerLakes1.com’s flagship daily live program. He hosts the Concrete Jungle podcast, too. Have a question? Send it to [email protected].