Local Power Lifter Belies Jewish Stereotypes
By Tonyia Cone
Lance Olian knows he does not fit America’s stereotype of a Jewish guy. At six foot one inch, weighing in around 240 pounds with about 10 percent body fat, he is a highly competitive power lifter.
But while he was at High Holy Days services last year, he kept running into his power lifting teammates from Austin Simply Fit, the personal training, strength sport and fitness coaching studio where he is co-owner and chief growth officer.
“That is extraordinarily rare in the world of strength sports. To my perception, Jews are not typically known for their physical strength, and here you have a significant group of giant Jewish individuals who are seeing a great deal of success in their chosen sport,” Olian said, adding that the Austin Simply Fit team holds six world records, dozens of American records, and more than 100 Texas state records.
“It dawned on me that it was unique that there are so many people I know at the Temple that I know better from hanging out in the gym,” he said.
Austin Simply Fit’s power lifting team includes members of Austin’s Jewish community David Polisky, Julie Novak. Shira More, Sarah Abromowitz, Brendan Morr, and Olian’s sister Lisa Olian.
Olian was raised in Austin, where he belonged to Congregation Beth Israel. He also played tennis for several hours each day. He ate whatever he wanted, but tennis and his teenage metabolism kept him in shape.
Then he went to college. He stopped playing tennis, adopted a typical college lifestyle, went to the gym half-heartedly and gained 100 pounds.
“Most people gain the freshmen 15. I gained the freshman 60 and kept gaining,” said Olian, who graduated from Texas A&M University in 2006 with a degree in communications and a minor in business.
Olian learned that his blood sugar was out of control and unless he made immediate changes, he would develop diabetes. He did not know much about fitness and nutrition at the time, but he began running as much as possible, lifting weights as best he could and eating less.
A few months later in 2007, Olian traveled to Israel on a Birthright trip, and was struck by the country’s focus on physical strength. A soldier pointed out to him that if Israelis do not fight, they will not exist. So they have to be strong.
“I brought back that mentality. I was really inspired to be Jewish and not only be mentally strong and persevere and seek wisdom, but to have physical strength and be able to do things with my body. It inspired me to get as much physical strength as I could and inspire others along the way,” Olian said.
When his cross-training led to an injury in 2008, Olian hired a personal trainer. He really enjoyed the experience, and that summer earned his certification and began working as a trainer himself.
Olian went back to school and earned his MBA from Texas A&M in 2012, then returned to Austin, to work as a marketing consultant.
At the same time, while he was fit, he wanted to become stronger.
“It was rattling around in the back of my mind, the importance of physical strength and the connection with holistic, full self-actualization and reaching my full potential. If you put it all together, you can do everything you’re capable of doing,” said Olian, explaining that the same is true of studying and knowledge, and connecting with people and being able to love greater and deeper. “The root of capability is strength. If you’re strong, you can do any number of things. “
He started asking around about power lifting, and everyone directed him to Austin Simply Fit. So he hired its founder, Mark Rogers, as his trainer.
Three months later, inspired by the supportive atmosphere in the power lifting community and the idea of pursuing the thing what brings him joy, Olian left consulting and signed on as Austin Simply Fit co-owner in 2013.
His current role is running and growing the business. Olain explains his responsibilities include everything from counseling trainers about best practices, how to help people reach their goals and how to connect with people, to marketing strategy, troubleshooting and planning.
Olian started an apparel brand, Always Be Flexing, a side project that serves as his creative outlet, and he runs and manages a blog, and is a public speaker, mostly on leadership topics.
“If I hadn’t have kind of seemingly jumped around, I don’t think I’d have the combination of skills to be doing what I’m doing now,” said Olian. “I’m in the fitness industry, getting to spend time physically in the gym, but also really getting to flex my business muscles and figure out strategy and the best way to provide excellent customer service and make t-shirts in my free time.”
Austin Simply Fit’s power lifting team includes a couple of professional level power lifters, Olian explained, but most of the people involved in power lifting are hobbyists, doing it for fun, personal development and a challenge. The average competitor trains year-round three or four times a week for two to three competitions each year.
“Our business is centered around the general population and the common things you’d expect -- people who want to lose fat, look better and feel healthier,” explained Olian, adding that those who work out at one of Austin Simply Fit’s three locations do so directly with a coach, by appointment.
Almost all the members of Austin Simply Fit’s power lifting team started that way -- by coming to the studio just to lose fat, look better and feel better -- but then fell in love with the sport and wanted to enter a competition.
In his third year of competitive power lifting, Olian is known for his bench press, which is more than 500 pounds. His squat and dead lift are both over 600 pounds. Olian holds some state records, including the bench press record for his weight class in Texas, 524 pounds.
His goal is to compete at the national level and, between the three lifts, to collectively be able to lift a ton. With his current total at 1755, he has 245 pounds to go and expects to reach his goal in about three years.
“What makes the whole experience enjoyable is I have amazing training partners. Everyone on the team desires for you to win, probably more than you desire for yourself to win,” he said.
Olian’s Jewish identity is also always in the back of his mind.
“I want the things that I’m able to do and accomplish to be associated with my Jewishness,” said Olian, whose family still belongs to Congregation Beth Israel.
When people learn that Olian is Jewish, he said their reactions are almost offensive; they say he does not look Jewish.
“It goes back to the stereotype that American Jews aren’t known for physical prowess. As a representative of the Jewish community, I want to uphold that value,” he said.