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Loyola University Chicago Employs a Rarity: A Female Strength Trainer

By Justin Breen | November 19, 2013 6:26am
 Loyola University Chicago assistant strength and conditioning coach Angie Sorensen is one of the few female strength trainers in Division I athletics.
Angie Sorensen
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ROGERS PARK — One of the very few female strength trainers in Division I athletics is also probably one of the very few Chicagoans who drives an extended-cab Chevy Silverado.

Those are just two of the things that make Angie Sorensen, the director of sports performance at Loyola University Chicago, unique.

Sorensen also competes nationally in Olympic-style weightlifting competitions, the next coming up in a few weeks. She grew up in a town of about 200 and was a two-time high school state female athlete of the year. She earned all-conference honors in the heptathlon in college.

In short, the Edgewater resident simply doesn't mind breaking the mold.

"To know about Angie, it's very important to say that she's just not a strength coach," said Annie Korth, a junior outfielder on the Ramblers' softball team. "She's just a great person overall, and I love her as my strength coach, as my friend and as my model. You can talk to her about anything."

 Angie Sorensen, the Director of Sports Performance at Loyola University Chicago, poses in the school's weightlifting room for student-athletes. Sorensen is part of the some 3 percent of Division I strength trainers who are female.
Angie Sorensen, the Director of Sports Performance at Loyola University Chicago, poses in the school's weightlifting room for student-athletes. Sorensen is part of the some 3 percent of Division I strength trainers who are female.
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DNAinfo/Justin Breen

Finding Her Way to Chicago

There are some 230 student-athletes at Loyola, about 50 people more than the number of people who live in Sorensen's childhood hometown of Albin in eastern Wyoming.

Sorensen, who has two brothers, said she grew up a tomboy, learning barrel racing in rodeo, crashing four-wheelers and generally "getting dirty."

At nearby Pine Bluffs High School, where Sorensen was a star in volleyball, basketball and track and field, she was selected Wyoming's top female athlete in 1999 and 2000 — bolstered by five hurdles state titles and a pair of relay championships. She also began lifting weights at age 16, participating in an Exercise Development Gains Excellence (EDGE) program in Cheyenne, and was immediately hooked.

She had the same reaction when first visiting Chicago as a teenager during a trip to her aunt's suburban home. Sorensen recalls driving down "Lake Shore Drive and seeing all the volleyball nets on North Avenue ... and I just knew this is where I wanted to come eventually."

So after a four-year career at University of Nebraska Kearney, where as a heptathlete she helped guide her track and field squad to back-to-back Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference titles, Sorensen returned to the Chicago area in 2004. She spent about seven years as a personal trainer in various suburbs before building connections and landing the Loyola gig in 2011.

Sorensen's boss, Dave Vitel, said he hired her because "she was tough, but she's got the softness of being able to understand what the athletes are going through."

He also said he was excited to employ a woman, who he said account for only about 3 percent of Division I strength trainers. The National Strength and Conditioning Association in 2012 said women represent 5 percent of strength trainers across all levels of college sports.

Sorensen oversees the Ramblers' women's soccer, softball, and men's and women's volleyball teams. In her two-plus years on campus, Sorensen said she's learned mostly how to be patient, especially with the female athletes.

"I don't have any of my own kids, but I have 230 of them here," she said. "I get to see different personalities and different demeanors. I work out very hard, but here I sometimes just have to learn to step back."

'She Sets The Bar'

Vitel said the first time Sorensen worked out with the women's soccer squad, the players "were afraid of her" because "when Angie works out, she lifts a lot of weight and makes a lot of noise."

On Thursday, Sorensen dead-lifted a personal-best 318 pounds. Sorensen can snatch 78 kilograms (171.6 pounds), and her top clean and jerk is 93 kilos (204.6 pounds).

She will try to eclipse those marks at the American Open in Dallas from Dec. 6-8 when the 5-foot-10-inch Sorensen competes in the 75-kilogram (165-pound) weight class.

"How much she lifts can drive some guys to lift more because they don't want to say Angie can lift more than I can," said Marist High School graduate Joe Smalzer, a senior opposite hitter on the volleyball team. "For the girls, she sets the bar to where some girls want to get."

Said Korth: "To see her lift weights is very inspiring and encouraging. To see her being able to do all those exercises, it shows me I can do that, too. And she's always making sure I have the right form, so I don't hurt myself."

Smalzer said he thinks every collegiate athletic program should have a male and female strength trainer, but Sorensen said there are so few women in the field because "lifting weights is traditionally a male thing."

Sorensen said she loves her job, which is a good thing considering she spends between 12 and 15 hours a day in the workout facility reserved for the school's student-athletes. So tired at night is Sorensen that she sets an alarm to keep herself from falling asleep on the floor at home, which she said still happens about three times a week.

Sorensen said living in Edgewater for the past two years has been a "super-fun adventure," but she still has a great deal of "country" left in her. Sorensen still has never ridden a public bus by herself and much prefers driving "Big Blue" — the name she affectionately gave to her 11-year-old big Chevy truck. The rust-covered pickup has more than 200,000 miles, features a cassette deck, and has weather stripping attached with athletic tape.

"It's redneck to use tape, but it's 'sports coach' to use athletic tape," Sorensen said.

Most of the student-athletes blast rock or electronic dance music into the weight room's sound system, but Sorensen said she's converted a few Ramblers to Tim McGraw and Jason Aldean.

She also called working for Loyola "a dream job" because "even though it's a Division I institution, it still has a family-reunion type of thing."

"This is just fun," she said. "The kids are great, and in the end, if we all just end up better people, then it's been time well spent."