Califonia Bountiful

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March/April 2019 California Bountiful magazine

Former dairy princess sets world records as champion weightlifter

Natalie Massa is a farmer, agricultural loan officer and former dairy princess who has traded tiara and sash for a world champion medal in deadlifting. Photo: © 2019 Frank Rebelo

Not many who meet Natalie Massa, a petite, 24-year-old former California Dairy Princess from Willows who makes her living as an agricultural loan officer and farmer, would guess she's also a world record-holding deadlifter.

How did you become a California Dairy Princess? During college, I worked in marketing for a local cheese company. In addition, my family has a dairy and I used to milk for a neighbor. That inspired me to apply to the California Dairy Princess Program, run by the California Milk Advisory Board. Dairy princesses are liaisons between the dairy industry and the community. For example, I visited schools and read a lot of books that are informative about the dairy industry.

How did you make the transition from wearing a tiara and sash to wearing a weightlifting belt? I've been working out at least five days a week for about two and a half years. A few of the people I met at the gym were doing a weightlifting competition. The manager of the gym—who is now my coach—talked to my dad about the competition, and my dad said, "No, she won't do that." And I thought, "I'll show you!"

How did you end up setting world records? On Aug. 25, 2018, I had my first competition with the World Association of Benchers and Deadlifters. The women's world record was zero for my age group, weight class and category before I lifted. I went out there and deadlifted—brought a barbell to the level of my hips—around 165 pounds. My second lift was around 185 pounds. My last lift was 209 pounds. That was my third world record. I qualified for world championships in Las Vegas in November, where I went for a new world record and lifted 214.7 pounds. It was amazing. Our team actually ended up being co-champions, which is the first time for us ever. So being world champions is pretty awesome.

Tell us about your day jobs. I'm a loan officer at Colusa-Glenn Farm Credit. I give out loans to farmers and agriculturalists within our community. I also have two older brothers and I lease ground with them. We have 3.5 acres of Manzanilla table olives. I also lease 54.7 acres of rice with my middle brother. I do the bookkeeping and as much labor as I can.

What would you like to tell young girls who want to follow in your footsteps? There are a lot of women who grow crops, raise livestock and work in other aspects of the industry. I was always told by my dad that if my brothers could do it, I could, too. I would tell girls that if they're interested in farming, try it. Try 4-H or FFA. Try job shadowing. Get an internship. See what you're interested in, and go with it. No one is going to tell you no.

Photo: © 2019 Frank Rebelo

What is the atmosphere like at a weightlifting competition? Everyone is super encouraging. Everyone is cheering you on, even if you don't know who they are.

What do you do to prepare to compete? Does your experience with the California dairy business influence what you eat? I make protein shakes with whey almost every day. I need protein in my diet, and I do like my ice cream, so I have a few cheat days.

Who are your role models in weightlifting? My uncle Greg Alves has been bench-pressing for years, and has won state and world records. His oldest son also has world records. I used to see my uncle at the gym when I was growing up, and I thought he was crazy, but it was so helpful for him when he was working in the dairy. Now I look up to my uncle and my cousin as my role models.

You don't look like a stereotypical weightlifter. I'm 5 feet, 3 inches tall and 110 pounds. I don't look like I lift. Heck, I'm going to show people I can do it. My coach calls me "Skinny" because until I started lifting, I would do mostly cardio, running for an hour.

What is something that surprised you about deadlifting? What I didn't realize was that there was no one in my age and weight group that had deadlifted. Deadlifting is seen as a male thing or for somebody who is big and broad-shouldered. But when you go to a lifting competition, there are kids in high school all the way to men and women in their 70s or 80s lifting. It's such a wide array, but we're all encouraging. It's a community. My coach has been deadlifting and bench-pressing for a long time. He's in his 60s now and he has over 100 world records. He has friends all over the U.S. that he met competing.

What do you enjoy most about your role as an agricultural lender? I'm also in charge of our youth livestock loan program. We give out loans to kids in our area raising livestock for the fair. Last year, I worked on 75 youth loans in Glenn and Colusa counties for kids ages 9 to 18, the showing age when you're in 4-H or FFA. I approach it as an educational opportunity. The payment comes to us from the fair when the animals are sold. We pay off the loan, and then the remaining money goes to the youth, and they come to our office to receive the check. They are so excited to get their check and to tell us about how their animal did.

What was the best perk about being a California Dairy Princess? I got to ride in the California Milk Advisory Board float in the Rose Parade! But I also loved just being dairy princess in general, and getting to meet different people in the community and make friends and a ton of connections. It felt good to make a difference to kids who may not have known about the California dairy industry. That will stick with me.

Now for a fun question: If you were stranded on a deserted island with an unlimited supply of three California-grown items, what would they be? The health nut in me would definitely have to think of getting a balanced meal, so I would have to say:

  • Rice. I love rice, not just because I'm a rice farmer!
  • Dairy cattle. They're a great dual-purpose animal for milk and meat.
  • I could live a long time on Brussels sprouts.

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