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Living Her Best Life – Brendan Higgins

By Brendan Higgins

     The first thing I noticed was her muscular physique covered in tattoos. The second thing I noticed was a shy, humble tone in her voice. Her name is Jes Swisher. Her story begins in North Conway, New Hampshire. She grew up a tomboy. She proudly announced to me she still is a tomboy and always will be one. She attended Conway Elementary School and graduated from Kennett High School in 2003. She also attended the School of the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston.

     After she finished school, she returned to North Conway to begin an apprenticeship to become a tattoo artist at Xtreme Ink. It was there she met her partner, Aaron Marco. He was originally from Rhode Island and the two made plans to return to the Ocean State to open a tattoo studio of their own.

    They made the move to RI and opened Marco’s Tattoo in 2007. Over the next several years Jes worked at CVS in Wakefield. She also worked at George’s of Galilee while the pair established their new venture. The studio became a successful well-known business in Wakefield and still is today. It’s located at 473 Main Street on the 2nd floor. Jes needed to complete her tattoo apprenticeship, so she resumed it in Rhode Island under Aaron and eventually became shop manager and a full-time artist.                            

     As Jes moved into her mid 20’s she started asking herself the questions, “Who am I and who do I want to be?” At the time she was a self-described meek redhead. She had a specific look in mind, and she was about to turn the volume up to maximum making that look a reality. She dyed her hair black. She started getting more tattoos and piercings. Soon she was heavily tattooed. She can look back now and see this was a transformation into the look she always wanted, and more importantly becoming the woman she had always wanted to be. She was living in a new state with a new life, and she was ready to discover who she was and what direction she wanted her life to go in.  

     With her new look on display for the world to see it didn’t take long before Jes started hearing the question, “Have you ever thought about modeling?” I asked Jes if she had thought about modeling prior to friends suggesting it. In her typical humble, low-key voice she said, “Yes, but not seriously.” Fate was already casting its shadow on Jes. This was around the time the Suicide Girls burst on the scene and Jes already had that Alternative Tattooed look. Modeling agencies and photographers quickly began to notice her. She would go on to work with the likes of Greg Easton, Myke Yeager, Ian Travis Barnard, Keith Selle, Art and Discord, Tiffany Ann, Roy Vega, Twisted Image Photography, and others.

    Some of the highlights from her modeling career include appearing in the music video for the song Long Road by British recording artist Hollowbelly. A photo of Jes was featured on their 2010 CD release Punk, Northern and Blue. In 2013 Jes was the featured model for the Rhode Island Tattoo Expo. Jes also appeared on the Christmas card for Hollywood legend Danny Trejo. When she met him in person, she showed him the tattoo of his face on her arm. He looked up and down her arm and he was blown away by her tattoo of his likeness. He was so impressed he asked Jes if he could use a photo of her on his personal Christmas card. Jes was a big fan and was happy to say yes. In her own words, “It was all really cool.”

Jes modeled from 2008-2019. She looks back fondly on those years and occasionally gets a call to do a shoot. She leaves the door open for future modeling opportunities.

     In 2019 Jes began to notice something was missing from her life. She looked good on the outside but didn’t necessarily feel healthy. She had always been athletic. As a young girl back in New Hampshire she played little league with the boys until junior high school at which time they wouldn’t let her compete against boys anymore. She played softball. She was a soccer player. She was a competitive skier. She was a ski instructor. She personally felt modeling was for younger girls. She could tell she was falling out of shape and even felt a bit soft. She knew she needed to do something about it. In true Jes fashion she was about to embark on the gutsiest thing anyone could ever do. She began trying different extreme fitness programs like Insanity, P90X, DDP Yoga and Zumba. Although she enjoyed all of them, she simply got bored standing in front of her television and kept looking for that one activity that was going to be her passion. After getting to know Jes it’s very easy to understand her thought process on this. Her dedication to whatever she sets her mind to is undeniable. It was only a matter of time before she would find that one thing that she would be 100% all in.

     In May of 2016 she created a Facebook post with a selfie in that moment. She promised herself she would figure out weightlifting. She had always wanted to try it but didn’t know much about it or how to start. At this point she had never stepped foot in a gym. She knew a client from the tattoo studio named Joe who was a former professional bodybuilder. She decided to ask him about what she wanted to accomplish. She was only asking Joe for advice. That was all she wanted. One day Joe came to the tattoo studio and Jes expressed her desire to get into weightlifting, He immediately said “I do not train people.” She replied, “I didn’t ask you to train me.” Joe suggested a person for Jes to contact. At this point Aaron chimed in and said “No, I want you to train her.” The two went back and forth on the subject but Joe insisted he doesn’t train people and the conversation ended there or so they thought.                                    

     In time Joe agreed to train Jes on a trial basis. In his experience people couldn’t survive his training. He is very intense and serious about it. When he trained other people in the past it was not uncommon for someone to quit after one session. He takes no prisoners. He predicted Jes wouldn’t last either. Joe felt the sooner they got it over with the better.

     Jes walked into the former River Bend Athletic Club with Joe for the very first time on October 2nd, 2015. He was a member of this gym, so Jes had to join if she wanted Coach Joe to work with her. Joe told Jes they would be training legs on the very first day. Jes reflected on the day saying, “It was intense.” So much so she had a difficult time getting out of bed the following morning. On her second day of training Coach had Jes do a bit more of a leg workout perhaps thinking if the first day didn’t run her off, this definitely will. Instead, Jes completed the second day of training and was ready for more even though she could barely walk.

     The two established a workout schedule consisting of 6 days per week early in the morning. Jes kept showing up to train. She showed her coach that she would not be quitting. While most people were still in bed sleeping Jes and Joe were already in the gym working out. He began to pay less attention to if she was going to bow out and more attention to her ability. Over time they transitioned from him training her to training partners. At one point Joe said, “As training partners I’m always going to be 51% and you’re always going to be 49%.” At that moment she knew he was starting to believe in her.

     Jes traded in her lipstick and make-up for wrist wraps and weightlifting chalk. She definitely found the missing ingredient in her life. She was receiving guidance from a man with decades of experience. Her strength and conditioning improved rapidly. Her body became more muscular quickly because she had a coach who knew exactly how to train her to gain optimum results without typical setbacks experienced by someone with no background attempting to train on their own. In fact, Jes got in such good shape she could have stepped on stage in a bodybuilding competition. This idea didn’t really feel like something Jes was interested in pursuing. Still Joe noticed serious potential in Jes and told her she should compete in a powerlifting meet. Jes revealed to me that she didn’t realize they had such competitions. This definitely got her attention and being the excellent mentor that Joe is he took Jes to observe a powerlifting meet to see other woman compete. During the meet Jes watched closely observing the other competitors. She felt confident she could excel and told Joe ‘Let’s do this” and from there as they say the rest is history.

     Her first meet took place at Next Level Fitness in Johnston. This gym has always been a serious proving ground for powerlifting. Its where true warriors are made. At her very first meet Jes Swisher accomplished a remarkable achievement as she broke all the state records in the USAPL for 114lbs and opened the eyes of a lot of people as to who she was. Those records still stand today. This was only the beginning. There were much bigger and stronger things on the horizon for Jes.

     The long-time South County landmark River Bend Athletic Club closed its doors for good at the end of 2020, due to the effects of COVID 19. It marked the end of an era in South County and left Jes and Joe without a place to train. That problem would quickly be solved when the two attended an Ed Coan powerlifting seminar in New Hampshire. Coan is widely regarded as the GOAT of powerlifting. During the seminar they noticed a group of people across the room. Although they did not speak that day, they would connect shorty after on Instagram. A man named Mike invited Jes to check out his gym. He told her it was in Rhode Island. Jes smiled and told Mike she was also in Rhode Island. Jes and Joe paid a visit to the gym in Coventry named Rhode Island House of Pain. It wasn’t long before they joined the RI HOP family.

At her new gym Jes set her sights on becoming the best she could be. She likes goals. That’s why she loves powerlifting so much because the goals never end. She loves being strong and she wanted to be stronger, and she put in the necessary work to achieve her goals.

     Outside the gym Jes and her coach have a close friendship. They go to powerlifting meets together to support other people. They hike Mt. Washington every year. One of the most fascinating things they do is jumping in the ocean once a week from November till May.

This started out as a technique Coach Joe implements to teach mind over matter. Joe explained to Jes if the mind tells the body to do something the body will follow. This was a definite challenge for Jes. She shared with me that the ocean can be scary to her under the best of conditions, so, entering the water in the dead of winter was terrifying at times. She faced her fear head on, and the ritual transformed from something she didn’t want to do to something that helps her recover, similar to an ice bath. She began to video the adventure of cold weather swimming at Narragansett Beach, and it quickly became a social media phenomenon. People from all over the world tune in to watch and cheer on Jes and Joe enter the freezing cold ocean water during the winter months. They do a weekly Penguin Plunge.

     Over time Jes embraced jumping in the frigid water. It took on a much higher meaning for her. If she feels angry or frustrated about something she will jump in her black Toyota Tacoma truck and drive to the ocean and go for a winter swim. She describes it as cleansing her soul.

     Her journey and personal transformation has been astounding at times. My first impression was how quiet and shy she is, but in reality, she is as fearless and fierce as anyone I have ever met.

     In 2022 Jes is in her powerlifting prime. She is 37 years old. She currently competes at 148lbs. Quite a difference from when she first began this journey at just over 100lbs. She currently holds the world records for the Southern Powerlifting Federation in all lifts including Squat 375lbs Bench Press 232lbs Deadlift 420lbs. for a total of 1003lbs. Her personal records took place in the gym. Squat 407lbs. Bench Press 232lbs. Deadlift 457 lbs. for a total of 1096lbs.

Jes has a unique pre lift trademark. She wears a rubber band around her wrist. Just before she attempts a lift, she stretches the elastic band out as far as it will go and then releases it sending a snapping pain to her system. She explained it’s a way to trigger herself to get ready for a lift. She went on to say just prior to a lift it can get pretty crazy in the room. Many people screaming and offering encouragement. Jes puts her mind in a state that she can hear the sounds but can’t make out what anyone is actually saying. She stays focused on the task at hand and lets nothing infiltrate her personal process to ensure a successful lift. That’s when the rubber band comes into play. Just before she grips the bar, she snaps the band and then it’s game on. She usually can’t feel the pain at this point.

Jes is a true role model. She currently holds 22 world records in powerlifting. She is the SPF 2020-2021 148lb Open/Submaster World Champion. She is not afraid to go after what she wants in life. Weather as a model, a tattoo artist or a world record holding powerlifter, she achieves success through hard work and perseverance. When she looks at photos from her modeling career, she described them as memories from another life, and a girl she vaguely remembers. She also recognizes that time period as a turning point. In her own words, “This was the moment the model was fizzling out and a strong ass woman was emerging.”  

You can contact Jes for tattoo and piercings at (401) 782-2465. Follow her on Instagram @jeselyn49. She might even give you a tip on weight training.


Brendan Higgins, writer and author, RIPTA bus driver, former professional wrestler (Knuckles Nelson), and North Kingstown resident.

We welcome Brendan as a contributing writer to RINewsToday.

To read a story about Brendan, from our sports department, go to:

Higgins is the author of “Waking Up: From the Wrestling Ring to the Yoga Mat”

1 Comment

  1. John Monast on January 6, 2022 at 2:12 am

    Jes has been my tattoo artist for more than a year. She’s as talented at her art as she is with her powerlifting and I’ll have no one else work on me. I have to say that I’ve experienced a lot of vicarious joy through her powerlifting championships! I’m glad to see her getting some exposure; Rhode Island should be proud to have a World Champion Power Lifter among its citizenry.