N.B. scientist by day, powerlifter by night. Meet Danielle Philibert

·4 min read
Danielle Philibert, a New Brunswick woman who spends her days working as an aquatic toxicologist, has a hobby on the side: winning medals at international powerlifting competitions. (Submitted by Danielle Philibert - image credit)
Danielle Philibert, a New Brunswick woman who spends her days working as an aquatic toxicologist, has a hobby on the side: winning medals at international powerlifting competitions. (Submitted by Danielle Philibert - image credit)

Danielle Philibert spends her days studying marine species in the Bay of Fundy.

When she's not working, though, she lifts weights, and her muscles earned her two medals at the World Open Classic Powerlifting Championship in South Africa this spring.

A toxicologist at the Huntsman Marine Science Centre in St. Andrews, N.B., the 29-year-old spends several hours a week training as a powerlifter.

When she started her PhD almost seven years ago, Philibert was just looking for a physical activity that could balance out the computer work she was doing.

"I found that focusing too much energy on work was really taking a toll on my personal balance and feeling fulfilled," she said.

Submitted by Danielle Philibert
Submitted by Danielle Philibert

She went to the gym with no real plan, just lifting for fun. But one day, she decided to max out her lifts, just to see how far she could go, and realized she was stronger than she thought.

That was when she decided to start powerlifting.

She signed up for her first competition in 2016, again with no real plan or even a coach. From the first moment she stepped on the platform, though, she said she was hooked.

"It's been this journey of constantly adding weight to the bar, learning to improve my efficiency with the movement, and over time, I've slowly gotten stronger and stronger," she said.

Philibert won the national championship in 2020 and broke records. She has the national squatting record of 208 kilograms and the national record bench press of 123 kilograms.

She's been to the world championship three times, an impressive feat given Canada can only send eight athletes to compete across all categories.

Submitted by Danielle Philibert
Submitted by Danielle Philibert

Since COVID-19 disrupted the competition schedule, Philibert also competed at the world championship in Sweden last fall. She called it a rough meet, where she didn't medal.

"I was kind of left hungry for more, so I knew this training cycle leading up to South Africa, I wanted my redemption," she said.

When the day came, Philibert wasn't feeling that strong — the travel had worn her down — but she said she knew if she gave it her all, she would at least be a contender for bronze.

She earned a bronze medal in the squats category and a gold medal in her bench press event — adding it wasn't her best day.

"It completely blew me away. I never thought I would ever achieve this much in this sport, to be honest," she said.
"When I started, I did it just because I enjoyed it."

That's the very reason why her coach, Bryce Krawczyk, thinks Philibert has been so successful.

Ego doesn't get in Philibert's way, coach says

Based out of Calgary, Krawczyk trains Philibert remotely, sending her weekly programs and reviewing video workouts together. He's been coaching her for about four years, he said.

"She's awesome, and she deserves the hell out of anything she ever wins," he said.

He was at the world championship in South Africa, helping her in person.

Philibert was already a good powerlifter when he became her coach, Krawczyk said, and just needed some guidance. He said he enables her to flourish, rather than just telling her what to do.

She also has a knack for knowing her own body and how much weight she can handle, he said, and doesn't let her ego get in the way.

Not being solely motivated to win medals, and instead just enjoying the process of training and improving herself, is what Krawczyk thinks has made Philibert so successful.

"That attitude of being just so in love with it — and it's a very sort of, you know, for the love of the game kind of attitude — I think that allows her to get through things that maybe would deter other people," he said.

A counterbalance to powerlifting

Philibert says science is still her first love, and she would never quit to pursue more powerlifting.

Despite her accomplishments in powerlifting, she said her athletic contributions could never outweigh her contributions to the scientific community, and the physical sport is simply a counterbalance to her work as a toxicologist — and vice versa.

Since her lab is close to the Bay of Fundy, Philibert said she and her coworkers are able to research species like Atlantic cod and American lobster that no one else in the rest of Canada can work with.

Submitted by Danielle Philibert
Submitted by Danielle Philibert

"This gives us unprecedented access to some of the most economically and culturally important species in Canada to do this toxicity testing," she said.

Originally from Alberta, Philibert moved to New Brunswick just to work at the Huntsman Centre a few years ago, and soon enough, her whole family followed.

She's in a bit of an off-season now, and probably won't seriously compete again until the national championship next year. This summer, though, she plans to compete in some local strongman contests, which she called less intense than her on-season training.

"It lets me kind of relax, have a little more fun this summer," she said.

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