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Claremont surgeon strong-arms way to lifting records

America’s top surgeon Dr. Lori Vanyo has been practicing in the Claremont area for 15 years and she continues to raise the bar—both figuratively and literally.

Not only is Dr.Vanyo a diplomate of the American Board of Surgery, a fellow on the American College of Surgeons and the Chief of Surgery at the Pomona Valley Medical Center. She can now add another feat to her list of accolades, gold medal winner and world record holder in the United States Powerlifting Association’s Master Division of Women’s Raw Bench Press.

That’s right, the 5-foot, 4-inch, 132-pound doctor took first place in the 60-kilogram weight class at the International Powerlifting League’s National Championships in Las Vegas last month with her winning lift of 148.8 pounds. And while she was at it, she also set a new state, American and world record. The United States Powerlifting Association named her number one in the world when the two-time defender broke the heavy lifting record.

“There are no words to describe the feeling except maybe complete elation and letting out a loud, ‘Yahoo!’ Dr. Vanyo exclaims.

Dr. Vanyo, 48, is a general surgeon specializing in breast cancer and endocrine surgery. When she’s not seeing patients several times a week at her offices on Harvard Avenue, she’s performing surgery at Pomona Valley Hospital Medical Center (where she was the first female general surgeon on staff), San Antonio Community Hospital and Casa Colina Ambulatory Surgery Center. 

“I try to stress to my patients the importance of health and fitness, so I think it is important to also practice what I preach.”

It seems the same discipline, focus and drive she has in the operating room carries over to the weight room. Not only did she set the bar for women’s bench press, she also did it with a flawless form that earned her three white lights from the judges, which signifies a technically perfect lift. “The lift is very technical, the most of any of the powerlifting lifts,” explains Dr. Vanyo. “For example, the bar has to be motionless at the bottom on the lifter’s chest until a command is called to press the weight up.”

Dr. Vanyo was pretty confident going into the competition that she was capable of setting new records including a new world record, because she was lifting above the prior records about six weeks before the event.

“The lifts are significantly more difficult in competition. However, the encouragement that I received from my trainer, my partner and my parents spurred me on that much more,” she said.

After years of practicing yoga, Dr. Vanyo decided to let her downward dog off the leash and hit the weights. Just four months into her weight training, she was noticed by Louis Hernandez, a USPA judge and hall of famer, while working out at the Claremont Club in 2012.

“He saw me doing my bench press workout at the club one day. He saw what I was lifting at that time and suggested I compete. I was 46 years old, and I didn’t think it sounded feasible,” Dr. Vanyo admits. “He brought me a flyer the following week for the USPA Nationals that were about six weeks away. I laughed and then decided a few days later to enter the competition.” 

Dr. Vanyo ended up taking first place in her division.

Even though she’s a latecomer to the sport, if her father Mike is any indication, she’ll have a long and illustrious career.

“My father has been lifting weights throughout most of his life, so I was around it growing up. He turns 80 years old this November and still uses the 85-to-100-pound dumbbells for his flat dumbbell presses, and he bench pressed 300 pounds every year for his birthday for 48 years straight,” said Dr. Vanyo proudly.

“I watched his example of health and fitness and wanted to follow it. To some extent, it might just be in my blood. I also enjoy the competition of it all, and I love how motivating it is in terms of training.”

Dr. Vanyo spends about two hours a day, three days a week pumping iron at the Claremont Club with her trainer, Matthew Tanoue. He trains her specifically in bench press and really pushes her to an extreme. He emphasizes strength and power techniques with a ton of core, and focuses a lot on eccentric muscles.

“The key is to peak at the right time and to avoid overtraining,” explains Dr. Vanyo. “Adequate rest is crucial to muscle recovery and development. I allow about three months to peak. During that time, I gain about 10-20 pounds of body weight. I prefer to train at a heavier body weight than my competition weight.

“I then drop fat pounds starting about 4-6 weeks out by adding in cardio (incline walking, so as to burn fat but not muscle),” she continued. “I work the cardio in on the days in between weight training. I try to target my competition weight about three weeks out. I don’t lift at all the week before a competition. The weigh-ins are usually 12-24 hours before a competition, so there is time to carb-load and hydrate and gain back some of the water weight before the competition begins.”  

Although some athletes might be satisfied with gold medals and world record titles, Dr. Vanyo isn’t one of them. She will continue on with her training and compete in the 132-pound weight class/master 2 division at the International Powerlifting League World Championships in November. “I took first place the past two years in the 122.5-pound weight class/master 2 division,” she says. “My dad has a lifetime of experience and knowledge, and so I follow his guidance regarding my training. I also train with my partner Christine, who pushes me as well and who makes my training a priority.”

So how does Dr. Vanyo balance a successful career as a power lifter and a power surgeon? “I make time to work out because it is a priority. I am busy, but I still take the best care of my body that I can, and I try to get really good rest and sleep. I find I am more efficient at work and in my career if I take care of myself. I have more to give my patients when I remain balanced.”

—Angela Bailey


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