Felix Cat


The student newspaper of Imperial College London

Menu Icon


Issue 1765 (PDF)
The student newspaper of Imperial College London

Keep the Cat Free

An Interview with Melissa Hexter, star Imperial Athlete

This week we had the opportunity to interview one of Imperial's star athletes, Melissa Hexter, who has spent the past few years smashing records and seems in no hurry to stop.


Sport & Societies

in Issue 1765

Who are you? More specifically what sports do you do and at what level?

I used to run track and field for many years and then I switched to powerlifting in 2015 to become a stronger athlete during my brief participation on an American football team. I am a 57kg powerlifter who competes at the national and international level in the International Powerlifting Federation.

What’s your university academic background?

I did my undergrad in biochemistry and my master’s degree in biotechnology at the University of Maryland in the United States. While I completed my master’s degree I was employed as an Oak Ridge Institute for Science and Education fellow for the Army Public Health Centre. I started my PhD in the bioengineering department in fall 2019 for the Hashemi lab.

[I] set a British National Bench Press record of 105.5kg for a few minutes before it was broken by Bobbie Butters

What’s your sport background?

I started running cross country and track and field in 2007 and then continued throughout high school until the end of my first year at university in 2013. I briefly also played American football while I was at university which is when I started powerlifting in 2015. I took two years off from powerlifting to focus on my career from 2017-2019 and started powerlifting again in September 2019 when I started my PhD at imperial.

How do you balance university and sport?

I find that taking a few hours 4 days a week to train actually increases my academic productivity beyond what it would be if I had just spent my training hours working. If I have a big deadline or project, sometimes I will have to sacrifice training, but for the most part, I am consistent. Occasionally, I will read documents in between my sets while I’m lifting if the session is an easy one.

Melissa Hexter competing at the British National Championship in March 2020

Can you tell us about your sporting achievements and what they mean to you? We heard you temporarily broke a record?

In high school, I was a cross country and track and field all-conference athlete and came in 3rd in the conference championships in the mile and 2nd in the 4x800m relay. I also went on to compete in NCAA division I cross country at Bucknell University.

it is much harder to put myself in the mindset to train at high intensity when I am lifting in my bedroom

When I started powerlifting, I did well at the local meets and set a few state records in Maryland and Florida, but it wasn’t until spring 2017 that I became the American collegiate national champion and set a national bench press record that still stands today. This was one of the happiest days of my life! When I returned from my hiatus in 2019, I trained for 8 weeks to win the London Divisional and qualify for British Open Championships. This set the stage for my current momentum with training. A few months later in February 2020, I won the British Bench Press nationals and made the national team for the world bench press championship. Two weeks after bench nationals, I came in 4th at British open nationals and set a British National Bench Press record of 105.5kg for a few minutes before it was broken by Bobbie Butters with 106kg.

My 402.5kg total at British Nationals made me eligible to compete internationally for a full power meet (squat, bench, and deadlift) as well as bench only. In addition to bench worlds, I was also supposed to represent Britain at the Arnold Classic in Spain, but because of the pandemic, all international and British meets were cancelled. I was itching to compete again, so I went to the united states to compete in a local meet in November 2020 where I set a new state bench record of 110kg in the 63kg class. I also won best lifter and qualified for American Nationals. My best total so far has been in the gym (due to COVID) and is 456kg (163kg squat/117.5kg bench/175kg deadlift). I look forward to being able to prove myself on the platform again, hopefully at the world bench press championships and Arnold classic this year.

My love for powerlifting and my achievements in the sport give me a sense of drive and purpose that propels me forward in life, even when everything around me is in a state of chaos.

What’s next for you in powerlifting then?

I just signed up for the White Lights Media Competition in Southampton that takes place during the weekend of May 1st. The meet director let me know that I will be competing in the primetime session, which is a showcase of 14 of Britain's most elite powerlifters from all weight classes with a cash prize. 

How has COVID and the long lockdown affected you?

Aside from COVID preventing any international competitions from occurring, I had to scramble to find kit to train with at home to ensure I could continue training. There were a few weeks where I couldn’t train at all during the first lockdown. It is much harder to put myself in the mindset to train at high intensity when I am lifting in my bedroom versus at a gym where there is tons of positive energy around. Additionally, I don’t have a variety of equipment so I have to get creative with variation movements to ensure that I am training all my muscle groups.

What advice do you have for aspiring athletes who may want to follow in your footsteps?

I would tell them to be patient with themselves and to understand that progress is never linear. Sometimes, I will see massive improvements out of nowhere after a long period in a plateau. There are just so many factors that affect your ability to lift on a given day. I would also tell them to not be afraid to switch things up when training gets stale to maintain your passion for the sport and challenge your body in new ways.

What’s your favourite thing to do outside of sport or university work?

I love so many things it’s hard to pick a favourite but my top 5 would be going to concerts, hiking, travelling, playing the flute, and horseback riding.

Top Stories