February 2021 – I have mentioned before how many amazing people are part of my family. I bring here another special interview. I had the wonderful opportunity to invite my cousin Alex to a cup of coffee on my blog, and he graciously accepted.
I’m working together with my cousin Auranyd, known on social media as Una Boricua en Louisiana. As part of this adventure, we bring you interviews with friends and family who deserve to be recognized, so we are putting them in the spotlight. Alex is Auranyd’s brother; he is son of my late auntie Nydia. If you haven’t, read more about her here A Wonderful Woman, A Wonderful Mother.
Alex graduated as Electrical Engineer from the University of Puerto Rico, Mayaguez Campus. Then completed a Master of Science Degree in Electrical Engineering from the John Hopkins University of Maryland.
Well, not everything is work, right? Alex became interested in weight lifting and began training as a hobby. He eventually began to practice powerlifting and began participating in tournaments and traveling to represent Puerto Rico. Today, he is the President of the Powerlifting Association of Puerto Rico, Secretary General for the North American Powerlifting Federation (NAPF), and an official Referee for the International Powerlifting Federation (IPF).
I looked up what differentiates powerlifting from weightlifting. I found out that weightlifting is about lifting weight, and building muscle (bodybuilding); it’s about who looks like they can lift the most weights whereas powerlifting is who can lift the most weights in the three main lifts (squat, deadlift, and bench press). Powerlifting training aims at increasing weight lifts maximal strength, and bodybuilding training is less concerned with how much weight is lifted but aims to maximize muscle growth as much as possible. Read more Powerlifting vs bodybuilding.
I do have a story to share. I hadn’t seen Alex since I moved to Florida, and he had just moved back to Puerto Rico (he was lived in Maryland for a while). He came to Orlando for a competition in 2017. He was feeling sick during that visit, so sick that he was considering not participating. He reached out to me and I drove him to a walk in clinic to get checked out. Turned out he had flu symptoms and was given prescribed medications to make him feel better. He was feeling much better the next day, he was able to participate and win a medal.
That day, we were talking and catching up, and I remember asking him how he got interested in powerlifting and how he got into competitions. Keep reading then, because I asked him again. Here is our conversation:
Alex! You’re finally here to have a cup of coffee with me! I know you love coffee as much as I do, since we grew up with coffee always brewing in our houses. First question for you is how do you like your coffee?
- I love black coffee, especially after dinner, but I also like it with milk at breakfast, and then I’d drink coffee with a piece of bread or a pastry at any time of the day.
I love this! It reminds me of my mom Raquel, your godmother. She’d drink coffee with milk at breakfast, and then she’d drink black coffee all throughout the day. And, yes, I too love my pastries or bread with a cup of coffee. It also reminds me of every time we came to visit your parent’s house, how your mom had coffee brewing, ready for us. My dad Neco always came in asking if coffee was ready. You probably started drinking coffee like me, when you were young. Any story about how you started drinking coffee that you want to share.
- I was too young to remember how I started drinking coffee, but I want to share with you something I saw because that easily could have been my case too. I want to talk about a little girl that right now is in her twenties. You know her very well because it is your niece Adlih. She was around three years old when I visited her in Pennsylvania. When I got into the house she was walking back and forth with a tiny coffee mug dipping a cracker in the coffee and eating it wet (as we do).
Wow! You’re absolutely right! I personally do not like the wet crackers in the coffee, but I know my siblings do. And yes, we were given coffee with milk when we were kids. I know where you grew up, as we are family after all, and we grew up spending time together. Tell me about your childhood.
- As you know, we grew up in a rural community, far from people beside our relatives and people from school. I liked meeting with my father customers (most of them family members) when they went to our house to order wood furniture. As you know my father spent most of his life making wood furniture. By the way, every time a customer came by, my mother had to make coffee, not only for them, but for my father who was (still is) addicted to black coffee. It was a good life.
I miss those times. Now, let’s talk a bit about your career as an Electrical Engineer. How did you become interested in engineering? And, how was your college experience, in terms of learning about the topic? Was it what you expected?
- Was it what I expected, yes and no. Yes, because I liked it, but no because I expected more hands-on experience. The story of how I became interested is one you will like because it involves someone close to you, I’m sure you knew something about this already. When I was maybe nine to eleven years old, I got interested in electronics. I connected batteries to toy motors, speakers, light bulbs, etc. I used to break apart not working radios and TVs, and switched components between them to the point that I was able to fix some of them. One time our grandfather, Abuelo Gaudio, gave me two non-working tube TVs and using tubes from one TV I made the other one work, so I had a TV in my room during my middle school years.
- That is one part, the second part is that your brother Frankie was about to start college around that time (he is older than me) and I asked him all kind of questions because I did not know what engineering was. I can say your brother was my first influence to become an engineer. Funny story, I ended up staying in the same place he stayed at, and I ended up playing the trombone for the university marching band as he did.
I didn’t know that abuelo did that for you! And I figured that Frankie was your influence on becoming an engineer, but I didn’t know you had “interviewed” him about his choice. I think when we were in high school, Frankie and I, engineering degrees at the Mayagüez Campus of the University of Puerto Rico had become very popular. How was your real-life experience? Was it what you expected?, and have you gotten to use what you learned?
- Something I did when I was in college was take a lot of computer programming classes. I ended up working more from the computer side of engineering. Right now, my work consists of system configuration in a pharmaceutical company. Funny thing is that I have used what I learned a lot, but not for work, but to help students, I have helped so many students that I lost count. I even worked as a professor at the Inter American University for two years.
I’ve asked you about this before, how did you become interested in weightlifting and powerlifting?
- When I was little I admired Arnold Schwarzenegger (I still do, for so many reasons), and I also liked The Incredible Hulk, of course the one with Lou Ferrigno. I tried to lift weights in college, but I didn’t see too much improvement, especially strength-wise. One day, many years later, I watched a video of a man squatting 800 lbs. I said to myself “that is impossible”, but it was possible, because I watched him do it, so I started searching for what I needed to do to be stronger. I found a guy from Belgium (around 2008) who was in the same quest of becoming stronger and he was my guide to start. At the beginning it was hard to do it because of what happens to everybody that go to the gym: they are not consistent, they expect to get results, but end up making excuses. I was one of them until I said “I will commit”. In 2011, I said no more excuses and started training consistently and with more knowledge on how to do it. That was when I started to see a significant increase in strength.
Wow, Alex, I have to say commitment has really paid off for you. Tell me about your first competition.
- I found the Puerto Rico Powerlifting Federation on Facebook and went to a meet to see how it was, and I liked it, I registered for the Novice Championship in 2013. I won my weight class, and I even set a couple of novice national records.
- Now, funny anecdotes from that day: my wife Edlyn and my sister Amnerys with her daughter Anahara went to the meet with me, it was in Aguadilla. Anahara was three years old and in one of the videos you can hear her saying out loud “uncle Alex, uncle Alex, uncle Alex” and Edlyn shushing her so I wouldn’t get distracted. I was nervous and I guess I was so concentrated that I did not hear anything. Another funny thing happened because of nervousness, the previous two days I was so nervous that I ended up drinking a lot of water, I don’t know why, I guess it calmed me down. The day of the meet I went to pee 22 times! I had to wear a tight suit, which was hard to take off, I don’t know how I did not pee on myself haha.
When you started competing outside of Puerto Rico, in the United States, and then visiting other countries, you started meeting people from around the world. How has this experience been?
- It’s incredible how many good people you meet from other countries. I used to be an introvert, but when I go to international competitions, I like to talk to everybody, and I mean everyone, from competitors, organizers, taxi drivers, people in the street, etc.
I’ts interesting when we get to know people from other countries and realized we share many common traditions. Plus, you have created a good group of contacts and friends from everywhere you travel to. Tell me about all the countries that you have visited by now.
- I have not been to the “Old World” yet, I had plans to go to Mongolia, South Africa, Spain, Sweden, and other countries, but many things including the pandemic happened. The good thing is that I have gone to many countries in the Western hemisphere including Uruguay, Mexico, Costa Rica, Panama, Anguilla, US Virgin Island, Canada, and the United States of America.
What’s the category or division you compete in? Do you hold any records?
- I don’t hold any international records… yet, but I hold most of the national records in the 120 kg (up to 265 lbs) Masters 1 division.
That’s impressive! You became Secretary General for the NAPF, and an official Referee for the IPF. Tell me a bit about both experiences.
- I got so interested in powerlifting and the organization, that I was recommended to occupy the position of Secretary General in 2015. I love working for the NAPF and for the sport. I help organize Championships in the North America region. I also help the Spanish speaking nations of South America with administrative work. Being bilingual has helped me work with many countries and get to know a lot of good people.
- I became an international referee in Canada five years ago, and I work in all championships I go to, even if I compete. I like to work in competitions, that is something that I really like doing. Last year in Costa Rica, I got my Cat 1 accreditation, so right now I can be a referee and also a judge in international competitions. My last experience was this year, precisely in the last competition of this hemisphere where I was a judge in the Powerlifting competitions at the Arnold Sports Festival in Columbus, Ohio.
Here I share a video of the competition in Orlando 2017 NAPF Championship. To see Alex’s participation, skip ahead to the 1:19 mark. It’s awesome! He got a gold medal!
You are now President of the Puerto Rico Powerlifting Federation. Your functions as president have been limited because of the restrictions of the pandemic, but I’m sure you’ve been busy working. How has it been?
- To be honest, sad; we have not been able to run any meet. Not only the pandemic, but the earthquakes of early January in Puerto Rico made us postpone our plans until we had to cancel because of the pandemic. And every time there is hope of doing something, things with the virus get worse. Now with a vaccine in the horizon, I hope everything can go back to normal soon.
I also know you run your own gym, Caciques Powerlifting, where you train and help others interested in powerlifting. And I also know that many of your trainees have won various medals, doing great in competitions.
- I still have the gym open. I started it in 2014. I love helping and guiding others interested in the sport. It gives me great satisfaction to see how well they do.
I know the Covid pandemic has put on hold many projects and travel plans. Any future projects you want to talk about?
- I really don’t know how this year will treat us, but the plans are to get back in track at the middle of the year. We’re planning to go to Miami in July (for the Pan American Championships) and have a busy second half of 2021.
I hope that trip to Miami gets to happen, so I can plan to go and see you there! Thank you for sharing your story with me (and with all of my readers). I have to say I am very proud of you and all of your accomplishments.
I also hope everyone enjoys this interview as much as I have enjoyed writing it. It’s a great opportunity for me to be able to introduce you to all these amazing people.
I’ll keep writing and I’ll keep bring you more great people for you to know. I have some more pending projects to work on. Thank you for reading! Time for my tacita de café. Salud!
Para la versión en español, vea https://fullofcoffeeblog.com/como-llegue-aqui-una-taza-de-cafe-con-mi-primo-el-levantador-de-potencia-alex-alvarado-alvarado/.