A movement began in 2006 to build the sport of “strongman” in WV. This movement started with a single annual contest, and has grown today to where there is a contest almost every month. Shortly after a few annual contests had been established, I, with a lot of help and urging, widened my focus to powerlifting. Lo and behold in 2011 the first ever Power for a Purpose powerlifting meet was held, and based on how well the meet went, we knew immediately that we were on the right track.
While I was working on those contests, other parts of the movement were taking flight. New lifters were being groomed by a handful of dedicated coaches, Jay Handley was forming the idea for a new training center, and still others were laying the ground work to run their own contests. This past Saturday, the fruits of this movement were on full display. John Mouser and his lifters showed us that “Strength Matters”; Josh Stottlemire coached his crew through some terrific lifts; Donnie Robbins and the Bluefield gang showed us how Masters can guide Juniors; Jay Handley lead the charge for his Vikings; and Johnny Layne’s lifters inspired us with their performances.
The real results of all this are that lifters in WV now have of a plethora opportunities to test their mettle. As lifters, our cups runneth over! The latest effort to bring out Appalachia’s best was Saturday’s Power for a Purpose. This meet serves as a fundraiser every year in December and this year the charity being supported was Stepping Stones, a recreation and learning center for people with disabilities. Lifters were asked to put as much effort into raising money for the cause as they did into building bigger lifts. They delivered! Over $1500 was raised for the charity by the lifters alone, not counting the concession sales and such at the contest. Our top fundraiser, Ariel Buric, received a special prize for her amazing generosity as she went home with a laser engraved sword that symbolized her efforts.
Normally in these post-meet reflections I like to include at least one highlight of everyone that competed. With 31 lifters (yes!!!) however, I will refrain from such practice this time. Instead, I want to highlight a few folks that stood out to me, and I apologize for anyone that does not get a shout out here; I still love ya don’t worry! Here are a few highlights…
Eleven of our 31 lifters were ladies; incredible! The ladies came out in force and did not disappoint. Gayla Daoust showed her continued improvement by nailing all three squats and all three deads. The first time I saw her lift (not that long ago!) she was so nervous she missed her first squat. Those days are long gone. Gayla’s comrade Patty Hermosilla made her powerlifting debut in this meet after learning that it was for Stepping Stones. The amazing part? Patty lifted in the masters 54-59 class. Want to talk about courage? Try making your platform debut at an age when many of us would be content to simply sit around and talk about the glory days.
Hannah Jennings had redemption on her mind after struggling with hitching (a disqualifying technique) at her last meet. She worked to improve this and her efforts paid off in spades; Hannah nailed a 286.5 deadlift that not only matched but exceeded what had so cruelly eluded her just a few months ago. Speaking of deadlifts, my heart sank when Ileana Ille pulled her opener only to lose it after the down signal when she lost her balance. On her second try, the unthinkable happened and she lost her footing again. I think the whole building said a silent prayer for Ileana at this point. It would have been easy to quit, break down, give up, or go into a fit at this point, but Ileana forged ahead. The air was thick with tension as she lined up for her final attempt. The pull was quick and strong, the lockout was tight, and Ileana stood tall and landed a successful lift. I think I breathed out a few minutes later.
In the men’s divisions, standouts included Brian Taylor and Jake Krabbe. These teenagers traveled from 3-4 hours away to compete and support Stepping Stones, and lifted like seasoned veterans. We’ll be seeing more from these two I’m sure. Some incredible stories arose from the 181’s: 1) Nate Elmond put on an impressive performance while his very supportive wife sat in the crowd with a baby expected to come at any minute! The little one managed to wait until Sunday to make an appearance. 2) Travis Ralston traveled from afar to make his lifting debut, and the 5 hour trip was the least of the obstacles in his way. Travis had his colon removed back in March; it was his third procedure and hopefully the last he will have to endure. He lost 30 or 40 pounds, and felt terrible. These days, Travis does not look sick, tired, or weak. His outside now reflects his inner warrior spirit. For a man with no colon, Mr. Ralston sure has a lot of guts.
One story moved from the 198’s to the 181’s when Colby Gardner surprised himself by weighing in lighter than he expected; he also lifted better than he expected. Colby said his only goal was to make his opening lifts since this was his first meet in 8 years. Well, Gardner went 7 for 9 and won the Best Male Lifter award and had the second highest deadlift in the meet regardless of bodyweight. Also let’s not forget Shaun Swiger who made his debut at this meet. I met Shaun a few years back at the Harrison Co. YMCA (where we used to do this meet until they closed down). I remember thinking, “I’ve got to get this guy to compete” and now a few years later, here he is bench pressing almost 400 pounds at a meet!
Many of us know Jerry “Jay” Handley as the former WVU strength coach and mastermind behind Viking Performance Training. Jay was happy to host this contest at his facility, and even opted to lift in the meet. Jay smashed some big lifts, as most would expect a man who has coached Olympic athletes would. What you may not know is, less than two years ago, Jay suffered stroke-like symptoms and was unaware of the cause. Nearly half of his body began to weaken and atrophy, and the former professional fighter could no longer manage a single pushup. After some time it was discovered that a herniated disc had pinched nerves and caused the problems. The recovery was long and arduous, and truth be told, is still underway. Jay is still much stronger on one side than the other, but because warrior blood flows through his veins, he decided to squat over 500 pounds on Saturday. Remember that next time you’re “too busy to lift”!
There are just too many incredible people with incredible stories that competed Saturday to mention here. Every one of them is a hero to me. The lifters have heroes too though – I think I can speak for everyone when I say that each and every one of our volunteers is greatly appreciated. The loaders busted their butts for hours on end loading and unloading weights at a tornado-like pace. Gage, Isabella, Ethan, Evan, Adam, and anyone I missed thank you! Our spotters did a tremendous job as well – not a single injury that I am aware of occurred on Saturday! Tyler, Johnny, Josh, and the aforementioned loaders and everyone else, thank you. Our judges did a great job as well, working diligently without a break. Kenny, Rick, & Johnny, you guys rule. The ladies at the scoring table are unsung heroes as well. My wife Nicole and Lisa had a ton of responsibility and took it on without blinking. Thank you.
At the end of the day, the meet went as well as we could have possibly dreamed it would have. A great community of people supporting each other in the pursuit of individual goals is what you will find at “PFAP” every year, and really at every contest I’ve hosted or been to in WV. My next stop on the train is February 21st for the Battle in the Blizzard. This will be a strongman contest unlike anything most of us have ever seen. Firstly, it will be set outdoors in the middle of WV winter time. Secondly, the events will not be announced until one week prior to the contest (via the Facebook event page). Third, this will serve as the NAS WV State Championships, which means it will be brutal and heavy. Only the grittiest, toughest, and strongest will come out for a meet like this. The buzz has been tremendous not just around here, but from surrounding states as well. Sign up at www.vikingperformancetraining.com
if you’re brave enough!
Hope you enjoyed a day of rest. Training for the Blizzard begins now!
-Paul Mouser, NAS WV State Chairman