Penn junior feels right at home after making the switch from track to weightlifting
Now, weightlifting is her end - her sport.
Traveling to Vineland, N.J., for her third-ever weightlifting competition this past weekend, DeBenedetto saw immense success. In addition to winning her weightclass - 53 kg - she collected best overall lifter and best junior honors.
One weekend's competition, however, fails to capture DeBenedetto's true athletic prowess, and the unusual path a young runner chose to tread.
Not so long ago, DeBenedetto was receiving her diploma from Mountain Lakes High School in northern New Jersey, just months away from attending the University of Virginia. Her high-school athletic career was illustrious, to say the least. Three times, she earned All-State honors in the long jump and twice in the triple jump. She earned All-American honors twice in the long jump and once in the triple jump.
At first glance, her dominance in these events was surprising. The traditional jumper has a tall physique and long legs. DeBenedetto stands five-feet, two-inches short. Her prowess demanded incredible strength - strength a small team of competitive lifters did not want to see wasted.
"Over [this past] summer, the gym by my house is where an Olympic weightlifting team, Team New Jersey, trains," said DeBenedetto, who had already transferred to Penn for her sophomore year, ironically, to run track and field. "They always tried to convince me to join. … I think I was scared of change."
Encouraged by her father - who also used to lift weights competitively - and lured by Team New Jersey, DeBenedetto was persuaded to train with the 12-person squad in Madison, N.J. In the weeks that followed, she prepared for two specific types of lifts, both fast and explosive.
The power snatch is simply lifting the bar from the ground straight up over your head. Meanwhile, the clean-and-jerk entails taking the bar from the ground, raising it to your collar bone, pressing it over your head, then jerking it above your head as your split your legs as if lunging.
Weightlifting is as demanding as it gets, but still the junior can find herself having to defend the sport, at times.
"It's pure strength," she said. "It's a community, like any other sport [but] it doesn't get the recognition that other sports get. It ties into all other sports - it builds strength and power."
In her lifting debut at July's Garden State Games, DeBenedetto made prophets of her teammates, winning her weightclass and best overall lifter - an honor derived from the Sinclair formula, which takes into account age, body weight and weight lifted.
"I feel like this is what I want to do right now in my life, so I switched to lifting after ten years of track," she said.
Soon after, DeBenedetto entered the Connecticut Open, where she set personal records and was named best junior lifter. After returning to Penn, DeBenedetto trained with the East Coast Girls in nearby Morristown, N.J., and, at Vineland this past weekend, she lifted 45 kg in the snatch and set a personal record for the clean-and-jerk with 65 kg.
Now, DeBenedetto is looking toward the future.
She has "two more meets to qualify for the US Open," DeBenedetto said.
"After December, I really want to do that; that's the next step for me. Once I do that, I can gain some national recognition on the senior circuit and then I can qualify for senior nationals in May.
First, however, there's the matter of qualifying for the U.S. open - but for DeBenedetto, it's well within reach.