BEAVER DAM, Wis. (AP) - Powerlifting comes naturally for Ariana Guerra, but it's about more than just getting a good workout or competing against other lifters.
For her, it's also therapeutic.
"It helps with relieving stress with school and just at home and everything," said Guerra, who will be a senior at Beaver Dam High School this fall. "My mind can go somewhere else."
In other words, it's an escape.
When she has her weightlifting belt on and the chalk is out, nothing else matters. She's in her own little world.
Next month, though, she'll actually be in a different world. Well, a different part of the world at least.
Because Guerra is so good at her craft - she took second in her heavyweight class at state in early March and then nationals in late March - she has been invited to compete in the North American Powerlifting Federation regional championships from Aug. 5-10 in San Jose, Costa Rica.
And it's a dream come true.
"I started crying when I got the email," she said, "because this is what I've been waiting for, is something like this."
Guerra is currently fundraising on GoFundMe.com to help cover the costs of the trip. As of last week, she had raised nearly half of her $2,000 goal.
Beaver Dam High School powerlifting coach Bill Nowak isn't at all surprised that Guerra has made it to the North American regional meet. In fact, he'd have been surprised if she didn't.
"She's stronger than she thinks she is - she's really strong," he said. "Just the way she carries herself - it's hard to describe.
"The first time she lifted, most of her form was really good; her technique was really good, so she could push up a lot of weight."
A lot of weight.
"At her first meet her freshman year, she qualified for the state meet, so that's how gifted she is," Nowak said.
Guerra has, of course, come a long way since then. She's gotten better. She's gotten even stronger.
And after taking second at nationals, that's when the United States Powerlifting Association invited her to the regional championships in Costa Rica. She also was invited to the USA Powerlifting Bench Press Nationals that will take place Aug. 31 and Sept. 1 in South Dakota, but she has opted not to take part in that competition.
However things turn out for Guerra - who wants to continue competitive lifting when she gets to college and may even be interested in making a career out of her interest in lifting - there's no denying this has been a positive experience for her, in more ways than one.
"This is what really makes her buckle down and go to school and succeed," Nowak said, "because she's got something to look forward to."
Powerlifters at Beaver Dam High School are subject to the same athletic code as student-athletes who participate in WIAA-sanctioned sports, meaning Guerra has to maintain a certain grade-point average, not get detention and stay out of trouble away from school.
"It's helped a lot with that - with keeping me on track," she told Daily Citizen . "It makes me want to do good in school and have everything in line."
Her favorite discipline of the three that make up a competition - the squat, the bench press and the dead lift - is the squat. Her personal record so far in that is 365 pounds, and she's shooting for 405.
One thing's for certain - she's going to push herself to the limit trying to hit that mark.
No pain, no gain, as the old adage goes.
"It's part of it," she said. "If I don't feel sore, I don't feel like I worked hard enough. Some days my legs feel like Jell-O; some days they don't. It depends."
Guerra, whose interest in lifting dates back to fifth grade, might just be scratching the surface of how good she can be, too.
"The sky's the limit," Nowak said. "She's on the radar list of potentially going to worlds, so that's the next phase for her."