Left, Rebecca Tuft stands outside the Draper Utah Temple, where she serves as an ordinance worker. Right, Tuft prepares to perform a deadlift during the 2023 American Powerlifting Federation National Championships. (Photos courtesy of Rebecca Tuft and David Fitch)
‘Spotting’ Rebecca Tuft: Devoted temple ordinance worker & national powerlifting champ
Latter-day Saint woman to vie for world titles after discovering her hidden talent to lift heavy, heavy things.
By Jason Swensen
22 Jul 2023
Here’s a familiar plot twist you will likely recognize from countless superhero tales: An unassuming “regular” guy — or gal — discovers, to great surprise, that he or she possesses superpowers.
That same narrative has been Rebecca Tuft’s true-to-life story over the past year. The Sandy, Utah, woman realized almost by accident that she is remarkably strong — so strong that she will soon be competing for a world powerlifting title.
Tuft’s story is so unlikely that even the recently crowned, multi-category U.S. powerlifting champ has a tough time believing it.
“It has not fully sunk in,” Tuft said after winning three national titles (bench press, deadlift and full power lift) in her age/weight division at the recent American Powerlifting Federation National Championships in West Valley, Utah.
“It’s a total surprise. This is not something that I ever thought I would end up doing.
“If you had told me a year ago that I would be a national champion in powerlifting, I would have told you that you’re crazy.”
Meanwhile, frequent visitors to the Draper Utah Temple know the friendly Relief Society sister with the preternatural capacity to lift heavy things simply as “Sister Tuft.”
For over seven years, Tuft has served at the Draper temple. She is currently an ordinance worker.
Of course any worthwhile "superhero" tale demands a backstory — and Tuft’s backstory could be lifted right out of a Marvel Universe flick.
Tuft began lifting weights at a local gym about a decade ago to stay fit and healthy. She enjoyed the workouts, made good friends and enjoyed the gym camaraderie.
And pumping iron, she added, “was really beneficial for my mental health.”
She took her unexpected first step to becoming an elite powerlifter last October when her home gym in Midvale, Utah — Anytime Fitness — hosted a “Mini-Olympics” that included a variety of fitness events.
Tuft signed up for the Mini-Olympics with no expectations beyond having fun with her workout friends and trainers. One of the events was a powerlifting segment.
“I outlifted all of the women and most of the men that were competing in the Mini-Olympics,” she said.
Her staggering numbers could not be ignored.
“I had people reaching out to me and asking, ‘Who is this woman that is deadlifting two times her body weight?’” remembered Keegan Jones, a powerlifting coach and the gym manager.
Jones immediately approached Tuft.
“I told her, ‘Rebecca, these are big numbers you’re lifting. You should really look into competing’.” Soon Tuft was one of Jones’ most promising athletes.
“Rebecca has taken to powerlifting like a fish to water,” he said. “She is willing to do whatever it takes to improve… After about a year of training, she’s number one in the nation in her weight class and division of this specific powerlifting federation.”
Rebecca Tuft, right, displays the three championship medals she won at the 2023 American Powerlifting Federation National Championships. Her training partner, Kandise Baird, left, and her powerlifting coach, Keegan Jones, center, join her for a photo. (Photo courtesy of Rebecca Tuft)
Since focusing her training on competitive powerlifting, Tuft has added almost 100 pounds to her squat, 40 pounds to her bench press, and almost 70 pounds to her deadlift.
Strong family stock
Growing up, Tuft had fun playing softball and other sports. She also remembers being drawn to anything that could be climbed: trees, walls or rocks. But she never really identified as an athlete, focusing instead on music and academics during junior high and high school.
In college, she studied English, proofreading and editing. It wasn’t until she started frequenting the gym and testing her limits in the weight room “that I found out I was more athletic than I thought.”
Tuft descends from strong stock, literally.
Her father played football in high school and an uncle played college football. Meanwhile, one of her grandfathers owned a construction company and was no stranger to heavy lifting.
“So, yes, genetics have factored into my powerlifting,” she said.
Rebecca Tuft attempts to squat a stack of weights during the 2023 American Powerlifting Federation in West Valley City, Utah. (Photo by David Fitch)
Now Tuft's extended family is having fun watching her surprise ascent in the national powerlifting community. They root her on at competitions with balloons, flowers and homemade posters.
“But, no, I don’t think they saw any of this coming either,” Tuft said, laughing.
Tuft is also grateful for her many new friends in the powerlifting community. “The spotters at nationals were so supportive,” she said. “They are right up there in your ear, cheering you on and encouraging you. It’s a really positive environment.”
Building spiritual strength at the temple
While Tuft is intrigued by whatever powerlifting adventures await, she remains anchored and defined by her gospel testimony.
“The Church,” she said, “has always been the center of my life and my world.”
Tuft speaks animatedly about the thrills of powerlifting. But her voice softens when asked about her duties in the Draper temple.
“Serving in the temple has been a huge part of my life,” she said.
Tuft appreciates the physical might that she inherited from her ancestors. But she is most grateful for her family’s fortifying legacy of love for the temple. She feels linked to loved ones, both living and dead, whenever she enters that sacred edifice.
“It has been amazing to be inside the temple and to feel them close and to know that they are helping me from the other side,” she said.
Tuft expects to be serving in the temple long after her powerlifting days have become the sole claim of photo albums and trophy cases.
England-bound: World championships await
The national powerlifting champ/temple worker is now focused on claiming a world title.
Tuft will travel to Manchester, England, in late October to take part in her federation’s powerlifting world championships.
“I’m excited to be able to compete and just see what other people from around the world are capable of doing,” she said. “I’ve got some clear goals for this world competition. After that, my eyes are set on some national and world records.”
The iron-pumping temple worker and her coaches aim to increase her powerlifting numbers by at least 20 pounds in each competition category.
“I’m determined to get there and put in the work to do it,” Tuft said.
Tuft is not the only heavy-lifting Latter-day Saint. Several other Church members performed well at the recent APF national championships — including Idahoans Victoria, Jase and Ethan Byrd and Utah’s Adam Gardner.