Near Fatal Car Crash to World Weightlifting Championship for American Juliana Riotto

January 3, 2023 by
Photo Credit: Juliana Riotto
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A little less than a month before Juliana Riotto, 24, placed eighth at the International Weightlifting Federation’s (IWF) World Weightlifting Championship, she was in a car accident that left her in and out of consciousness, and her car almost unrecognizable as it was found wrapped around a tree. 

Riotto was in upstate New York at the time and was on her way to training when she tried to dodge something in the road and couldn’t regain control of the car.

  • “I’ve heard some of my friends say I rolled, but what makes the most sense is that I came across and then my passenger side slid into a tree so hard my car wrapped around the tree.”
  • “I remember waking up in my car. I don’t remember speaking, but I remember waking up for a couple seconds and seeing glass everywhere, and my rear view mirror in my lap and super confused.”
Photo Credit: Juliana Riotto

Riotto said she had been working tirelessly leading up to the 2022 IWF World Championship held in Bogota, Colombia in early December. But her accident left her ability to compete in question.

Some of Riotto’s most recent accolades include earning a bronze medal at the 2019 World Cup in China and a silver at the British International Open. She also ended up placing sixth out of 18 women in her weight class at the 2021 IWF World Championships after being chosen as one of two alternates to the U.S. team. 

She was scouted at 16-years-old during 15.1 of the 2015 CrossFit Open where she lifted 210lbs (96kg) during 15.1a, which put her in first place in the teen division for that workout. USA Weightlifting’s CEO Phil Andrews heard about it and reached out to her gym at the time and has since found a love and passion for the sport. 

Riotto recalls being rushed to a hospital after the accident where she received a CT scan and x-rays that came back clear. But she is quite certain further testing would have revealed she had a concussion. Otherwise, the only thing doctors found was that she had a sprained shoulder. 

Riotto reached out to a fellow teammate who was a Division I athletic trainer to figure out how to treat the injury. And just two days later Riotto, with a very bruised shoulder, was at the gym figuring out what she could do. 

  • “Snatches: there was minimal to no pain, squats were ok on my back, but anything in the front rack hurt like a bitch, in plain English, because my collar bone was still so locked up from the whiplash and where the seat belt was and then the pressure.” 
  • Riotto said she recalls asking the athletic trainers around her “‘is this possible?’ I have basically a little less than four weeks to make a full recovery on the world stage.” 

To which they said she could do it if done right. Another hump Riotto had to get over was hitting her numbers for her readiness check each week. When you qualify for a world team you are required to do a readiness check, which entails every week being able to hit 90% of your lifts at least six weeks out from the competition. 

Riotto was lucky given an extra week to recover and build up to those numbers. She was also driven to compete, but recognized she needed to listen to her body. 

“This is my second world team ever. I’m not going to just give up that’s not who I am,” said Riotto. 

The days that followed included a lot of trouble shooting and working back into a training regimen one lift at a time. Riotto was miraculously able to hit her numbers for her readiness check and headed off to worlds where she finished eighth in her weight class (87KG). 

While she didn’t hit the numbers she had hoped for, these were still major accomplishments for Riotto given her accident and how far she had come in such a short amount of time. 

  • “I love competing, especially for the U.S., I have a very good ‘light switch’ I can shut out anything when I’m competing.”
  • “I think the biggest message behind what happened to me is you can truly do whatever you put your mind to. It really is a mindset”
  • “I made 243 kilo total to make the team and I finished at worlds at 225, which was a PR since the accident, but I knew it was so far from my best,” said Riotto. “I was proud of myself just to be able to go through everything.” 

Riotto is excited to get back to training and will be sharing a series about her accident and competing on social media over the next few weeks. She has also started a fundraiser to help her get a new car.

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