Nicole Lamartine has two types of strength — the raw, physical kind, and the discipline needed to achieve it.

The University of Wyoming director of choral activities can be found most mornings at CrossFit 7220 with chalk-covered palms and a metal bar loaded with weights. She wears a black shirt with a pink cartoon and one nickname, “Nila,” on the front; the other side bears her other nickname, “Tiny Hulk.”

She takes measured, focused breaths as she completes a series of back squats, resting the heavy bar across her shoulders and raising it again and again as she straightens her legs. As a competitive powerlifter, she often lifts more than twice her body weight during her workouts.

“I just fell in love with being an athlete and being amazed at what my body could do, and how it was changing, and how there were no limits,” she said. “I think it was amazing to me. Every day, I’d come into the gym and my body did what I asked of it.”

Making the cut

Born in Montana 41 years ago, Lamartine was raised in three different states — Ohio, Arizona, then in New Mexico, where her father worked at the Los Alamos National Laboratory.

“I was never an athlete growing up,” she said. “I was always, as I say, the chubby kid who sang in choir. My brother was the athlete. And so, I tried, but I wasn’t talented at anything, really, but I liked bike riding and I liked being active — I just hadn’t found my niche yet.”

In 2008, she and her husband Jeff Selden — a UW academic professional lecturer — moved to Laramie, and she discovered CrossFit 7220. She began training at the gym and noticed she was lifting as much as the men.

Two years ago, after contracting an undiagnosed illness, she ended up with permanent lung damage that prevented her from doing metabolic conditioning exercises. It was then that she began to look seriously into powerlifting.

She entered her first competition, the Wyoming State Open, in 2015 and took first place in her division, qualifying for the world championship in Las Vegas.

At the world competition, she again placed first in her division and took third place in the open division, which lifters of all age can enter.

“In powerlifting, we go by age and weight class, so I compete in the 123-pound weight class, and I compete in the Masters, the 40-45 year olds,” she said. “But I also compete in the open … I want to compare myself to the young whippersnappers.”

Her personal lifting records in the three powerlifting areas — back squat, benchpress and deadlift, are 286 pounds, 155 pounds, and 342 pounds, respectively, she said. She previously worked with Don Robbins, Crossfit 7220’s Olympic lifting coach, and is transitioning to a new coach, Tom DeLong, who is based in the Los Angeles area.

Lamartine typically hits the gym five days a week, lifting heavy weights for three days and doing accessory work the other two.

“It’s a long process, because the main thing to remember is that the body will generate muscle strength much faster than it will generate tendon or ligament strength,” she said. “And when lifting these maximum weights, you have to allow the body to generate strength in those connective tissues, or else you can get injured very easily.”

This year, she hopes to achieve two goals: to be chosen to compete on a USA Powerlifting team and win the open division at a world championship competition in November.

“My ultimate powerlifting goal is to lift as much as I can,” she said.

A musical champion

Lamartine didn’t talk until she was three years old — “I just remember being so shy,” she said — but she sang. And kept singing.

“It was just something that was in my blood,” she said.

Her passion for music followed her into higher education — she graduated from New Mexico State University in 1997 with a bachelor’s degree in vocal performance in music and went on to complete a master’s degree in vocal performance and a doctorate in choral conducting from the University of Arizona — Phoenix.

“I love all types of music,” she said. “I don’t like to pigeonhole myself. I love singing country and bluegrass and I sing backup for the local band Basmati. I just love it, I love it all.”

As UW’s choral activities director, she conducts the Collegiate Chorale and the all-male Singing Statesmen and advises the a cappella group Happy Jacks.

“I think the most rewarding thing is being the students’ champion,” she said. “Just like I have a coach to help me with powerlifting, I want to be their coach and I want to believe in them. I want them to know that I can help them reach their full potential, and we do it together in a choir setting. So, that sense of coming together is pretty awesome.”

Being a powerlifter has helped her connect with the young men in the Singing Statesmen, she said. She is one of only a handful of women in the country to conduct a men’s choir.

“It’s my favorite three hours of my week,” she said. “They’re so quirky, and I feel like after eight years now, I’m able to kind of understand them a little more, and we have so much fun.”

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