Show of strength

Powerlifter rises above adversity despite her start in life

Angel Athenas, at five-foot-tall, is a wonder.

She won four gold medals at the 2019 Special Olympics World Games in Abu Dhabi, out lifting all women in her weight class and deadlifting 252 pounds. She’s been on Good Morning America, honored by the New York State Senate, featured on ESPN and in Self magazine, and has friends she can call on in the WWE.

But when you consider what she has faced to arrive at this success, it’s a miracle.

How her story began

Angel’s story began when she was abandoned at birth by a drug-addicted mother. She had sustained abuse and neglect before she was adopted from foster care at age 8.

“She was nonverbal when she first came to us,” said her mother, Geri. Angel has a mix of autism, ADHD, bipolar disorder, and mild intellectual disability. When Geri’s family welcomed Angel into their home, they realized that sports could help Angel work through her behavioral challenges.

Her love of sports

Angel tried many different things, hockey, track, and gymnastics, to name a few sports. When she discovered powerlifting through ACA/NY, she really shined. Her coaches were surprised by her ability and thought she was a natural.

That natural ability led to Special Olympics New York inviting Angel to the state games. She was the only female on the powerlifting team. Then she was invited to join the New York State Special Olympics Team in Seattle for the 2018 Special Olympics Games USA, where Angel won her weight class, earning four gold medals. Then she got a call from Washington, D.C., asking her to represent the US at the Special Olympics in Abu Dhabi. There she added four more gold medals to her collection.

Angel’s future

Angel could easily compete professionally and go on to the Special Olympics games this summer in Berlin. But she’s not doing that. At 34, Angel has a new goal.

“Right now, Angel wants to focus on getting a job. She realizes that she can’t lift forever,” said Geri. “She really wants to earn a paycheck.”

Angel said, “If you have a goal that you want to go for, do not [let anybody] stop you. Go forward and just do the best you can. And don’t let nobody tell you that you can’t do this.”

For Angel, the goal is to be “normal.” Considering all that she’s been through, that should be an easy lift.