FORT WAYNE, Ind. (WANE) – Kristine Matthews steps towards the power lift platform, eyeing the barbell at her feet. Her yellow weightlifting belt is wrapped around her lower back. Written on the back of it is her nickname, “Panda.”

Matthews successfully deadlifted 475 pounds moments ago. Now she’s trying to make a 20 pound jump by lifting 495 pounds.

Matthews bends her knees, straightens her back and grips the barbell. The air-tight grip flushes her knuckles white. She exhales.

The bar is lifted inches from the ground. Matthews slowly leans up, but gravity is pulling her back down. Her knees quiver. She tries to muster the will to straighten her back, but it’s too late.

Matthews lowers the bar, unable to complete the deadlift. She waves to the small crowd and other competitors standing off to the side with a look of disappointment.

So close, but there’s much more work to be done.

Matthews’ deadlifting was one of many exercises she endured during April’s “Clash on the Coast” in Hilton Head, S. C. The professional bodybuilder competes in the “Strongman Games,” which consist of lifts and exercises also seen on the “World’s Strongest Man.”

Between competitions, Matthews trains four to five days a week, performing various Strongman exercises like overhead presses, sandbag carries, sled pulls and yoke frame carries.

“Panda” started competing in the Strongman games almost seven years ago after a friend convinced her to start training. Years later she competes in the U64kg (lightweight) division.

As for the “Panda” nickname? That was inspired by the sister of one of her friends. The girl drew an animal that reminded her of Matthews, a panda bear.

“They’re small and cute, but it’s still a bear and capable of ripping someone’s face off,” Matthews remembers.

Matthews hopes to inspire women around northeast Indiana with her own “Panda Power” brand, sharing updates on her training through her own Facebook page.

Now Matthews is starting to gain some national attention. She was featured alongside other Strongman competitors during April’s “Clash on the Coast,” which aired on ESPN2.

“We’ve been digging for years, and we’re finally reaching that landmark,” Matthews said.

Over the years, Matthews has been amazed at what women in her weight class have accomplished. It’s driven her to keep up and eventually surpass her competition.

“If I don’t keep getting better, then I’m not going to be able to run alongside these women who are making such a huge change for us in this sport,” Matthews said. “I want to help be a part of that change.”