Local High School Powerlifters Elevate to All-American Status
by Ivan Sanders
Seven local high school athletes left as qualifiers for the National High School Powerlifting Championships in Alexandria, LA and all seven came back with All-American status with two adding the title of national champion to their power lifting resume.
Coach Alex Campbell and Coach Chad Salyer were all smiles as they talked about the hard work their athletes had put in and the joy of seeing them prove not only to those in attendance, but more importantly to themselves how the blood, sweat, and tears they have put into their workouts have resulted in etching their names in the top echelon of powerlifting at the high school level.
"This was the most we ever had to go to nationals and the most we ever had finish in the top five hitting a perfect 7-for-7," said Campbell. "Its a great mixture of girls and boys that have worked hard and come a long way.
"My goal every year is to have more and more qualify and go to nationals. This is just an exceptional group of kids."
Two of Campbell's squad returned to Elizabethton wearing the crown of National Champions as Elisa Bird (girls 97 lbs.) and Bryar Siebenthal (boys 114 lbs) captured the title for their respective weight groups. Both athletes are only freshmen.
"It was exciting being a freshman and making it," said Bird. "It was a once-in-a-lifetime thing for me because it not only proved the guys wrong that a girl can be a power lifter, but I went further than what I thought I could ever go.
"I feel like other people are looking at me as a role model because of what I have done in power lifting. There have been about five of mine friends that want to start powerlifting next year."
Bird's numbers were impressive as she squatted 150 lbs., benched 80 lbs., and dead lifted 200 lbs., which was over double her body weight as a freshman. When Bird first started lifting her parents were concerned for her safety, but those fears have been far removed.
"At first, they were nervous and afraid that I was going to hurt myself," added Bird. "They have supported me throughout and are proud of me getting the first place."
Campbell said that what was most impressive about Bird's effort was how many of her lifts she hit.
"They get nine lifts total, three in each event, and Elisa hit eight of nine," stated Campbell. "I've never gone nine for nine in my whole life and that's very hard to do, but she hit eight of her nine which is amazing."
Siebenthal hadn't even thought about capturing the top spot in his division â€" he just wanted to do the best he could.
His best resulted in a national championship in the boys 114 pound division with a squat of 225 lbs. and a personal best of 140 lbs. on the bench. "It was wild â€" there were a bunch of lifters there," continued Siebenthal. "When I first started spotting in front of all those people I got a little nervous, but after I got my first squat of 200 lbs. out of the way the nerves went away.
"I had a lot of fun and was totally surprised that I finished first. I look forward to going back next year."
Chelsea Williams captured All-American status with a second place finish in the girls 132 lb. division. Williams lifts were 75 lbs. in the bench press, 180 lbs. in the squat which was personal record, and a deadlift of 235 lbs. which also was her personal best.
"Most people don't think powerlifting takes a lot of effort, but it takes a whole lot of effort," said Williams. "It feels good and makes me feel like I have accomplished something.
"The girl that beat me only beat me by 30 lbs. I am just going to train harder and get better so I can win next year."
On the boys side, Tyler Whitlock seized a second place finish and title as All-American as the senior, who qualified at the last event of the year before the nationals due to coming out late from football, made his lifts look easy according to his coach.
"It was exciting for me to be lifting in front of all those people because I was doing something I really love," stated Whitlock. "I told coach it's just me and the bar, and I was going to let the scoreboard and where I fall take care of itself.
"I knew I was going to fight for it. In powerlifting, if you don't give everything you have, that weight isn't going to move unless you want to make it move."
Whitlock, who is going to walk on and play football at Tennessee Tech says that after graduation he hopes to continue weight lifting in the Marine Corp. as an officer and member of the military team.
Alex "Hair Bear" Smith, as his coach so admirably calls him, had his work cut out for him in the Super Heavyweight division and came out with a third place finish as an All-American.
"Around here you don't get a whole lot of support in the sport of powerlifting, but down there all kinds of people are into the sport," said Smith with a smile. "We were the only ones there from Tennessee, and we got to meet a lot of people.
"The guy that won it all was a lot bigger than me, and he made me look like a toddler."
For Smith, the All-American status was like sweet strawberries on top of a piece of warm pound cake. Yet, beyond that, the sport of powerlifting has been a life-changing experience.
"Powerlifting has changed my life," added Smith. "Two years ago, my head was up my behind and my life wasn't where it should have been. Now, I am a totally different person. I hope to continue pursuing powerlifting."
Smith's herniating lifts for most were outlandish. He accomplished the squat of 600 lbs. with ease and bench pressed 315 lbs. His deadlift was an outstanding 465 lbs. but according to his coach could have easily been 500 lbs.
Cerri Bradley, whose fourth place finish in the girls 123 lb. class gave her All-American status, said that even though there were a lot of people at the championship, when you get to the bar everything else goes away.
"When I got to the bar, I didn't see or hear anybody," said Bradley. " I wouldn't even let them tell me what weight I was lifting.
"I have never done sports before and this was the first time that I have actually been part of a team. I saw a T-shirt quote that I really love about powerlifting. It says "Powerlifting is not about being the best or strongest â€" it's about being the best you can be". That's my motto."
Bradley had a bench press of 65 lbs., a deadlift of 205 lbs., and a squat of 150 lbs. She tried to reach 170 lbs. on the squat, but her shoulder came out of socket on that lift and she couldn't finish it.
Happy Valley's Sarah Kapoor was no stranger to the championships as the senior made her third trip this year and left with a national bench press record of 145 lbs. for the girls 114-lb. weight class in tow for her effort.
"I knew what to expect when I went down there," said Kapoor. "I knew I wanted to get the bench press record, and I kind of knew I had the record when I did the lift.
"I plan on continuing to powerlift in college and compete in the collegiate nationals."
Kapoor will be attending ETSU and will be working on her own in her quest to reach the nationals. She wrapped up her appearance at the high school level with personal best in the squat and deadlift to go with her record-breaking press.
Kapoor hit a 260 in the squat and a deadlift of 255 lbs.
When asked about overcoming the naysayers that say that a female cannot be a good power lifter, Kapoor had a simple response.
"Come watch me."
Coach Salyer said from a coaching standpoint that what this group of kids accomplished on their own merits is what makes the hours of work worthwhile.
"What we do is volunteer work, but when I see kids like Alex Smith succeed in something like squatting 600 lbs., it makes it worth all the time we spend with these kids," added Salyer. "Especially since each one started out with very little ability. It just makes me want to pass on more knowledge of the sport to others who want to achieve something they can be proud of."