Meet Superwoman

This salsa dancing powerlifter crushes stereotypes about strength.

Photo: Rae Huo

Upon first glance, Jonna “Jojo” Ocampo looks like any other fit 39-year-old woman. But although she’s only five feet tall, Ocampo could probably hoist this writer into the air without breaking a sweat. Ocampo is a professional powerlifter.

Ocampo began her powerlifting career in 1998 in Texas, after meeting the powerlifting coach for the U.S. Army team. She had previously been competing in fitness competitions, but wanted a different kind of competitive experience. “I wanted to be a little bit bigger,” she says. “I ended up liking powerlifting better than I did fitness and figure [training and competition].”

She went on to win gold medals for the U.S. teams at the Pan American championships, Tournament of the Americas and the North American Championships in Miami. This month, Ocampo will represent the U.S. again at the World Powerlifting Championships in New Delhi, India.

“It’s a complete honor,” she says, and a big responsibility. “It gives me a reason when I’m in the gym to train harder when I don’t feel like training, when I’m tired, when I just don’t want to put all that weight on my back anymore.”

Ocampo is the only team member from Hawaii and will complete the team of seven other women from the U.S. as a competitor in the 105-pound weight class—the lightest division.

Though she’s at the bottom of the list as a contender, she says she’s up to the challenge and feeling lucky. “Looking at the stats, I’m ranking pretty low [compared to] the top five,” she says. “However, in power lifting, anybody can have a bad day, anyone can have a bad lift.”

At her last competition, Ocampo squatted 231 pounds, bench-pressed 115 pounds, and dead lifted—lifting the weighted barbell off the ground to a straight standing position—286 pounds. “I’ve gone into competitions before being the underdog, and came out winning first place, and that’s what happened to me in Miami. I ended up winning three gold [medals] in three competitions.”

With so much training to do for the upcoming event, most would put all their energy into that and preparing for their trip.

Not so for Ocampo. By day she may be a mild-mannered powerlifter; but by night, she is a fiery salsa dancer and choreographer for Rolando Sanchez and Salsa Hawaii. 

“I find myself so fortunate to pursue everything that I’ve ever dreamed of,” she says. Ocampo got her first taste of salsa dancing two months before she moved to Hawaii. “I ended up falling in love with it,” she says. “But when we moved out here to Hawaii, I thought, ‘that’s it, it’s all hula from here.’” How wrong she was.

Meeting up with local salsa sensation, Rolando Sanchez, at a special show for Hawaii Public Radio—where Ocampo also has a part-time gig as a back up soundboard operator—she was invited to become a regular dancer and choreographer for his band. She now dances regularly for the salsa band at various venues all over town, such as the recent Salsa Under the Stars show at Aloha Tower Market place.

For more information on Ocampo, her dancing schedule or news on her India trip, visit