3 area powerlifters lift at Alaska State Fair

Two area powerlifters continued to show the sky is the limit in the sport, while another area powerlifter got his career back on track Saturday at the 2014 Alaska State Fair Meet in Palmer.

Kenai Central junior Cipriana Castellano, Kenai Central sophomore Robin Johnson and Soldotna senior Zach Hallford last competed in the USA Powerlifting Raw National Championships in Aurora, Colorado, in late July.

While all valued the experience of competing at altitude with hundreds of other lifters, all also enjoyed getting back to a small meet contested in front of familiar faces.

“I would love to say the support from this town is absolutely incredible,” Johnson said. “There are not enough fingers on my hands to count the number of people I knew cheering while I lifted.

“A lot of people I see at the gym drove up to watch us. I thank a lot in town for believing in high school students.”

Rob Schmidt, the state chair person for USA Powerlifting, wrote in an email that the crowd at the event was amazing.

“For most of the event we had several hundred people watching,” he wrote. “The crowd was so loud the lifters had difficulty hearing the head referee’s commands.”

Castellano and Johnson picked up right where they left off at Raw Nationals.

At Raw Nationals, Castellano set American records with her opening lifts in each of three lifts contested — squat, bench press and deadlift.

She also qualified for the International Powerlifting Association Raw Classics Championships in Finland in June 2015 and the Arnold Sports Festival in March 2015 in Columbus, Ohio.

But Castellano was able to follow up that performance with a meet where she again improved on all three of her lifts.

“After four competitions, including a national championship, we still don’t know how strong she is,” Schmidt wrote.

At 167 pounds, Castellano competed in the under 181 weight class for 16- and 17-year-olds.

In the back squat, Castellano cranked up 325, 347 and 369. At Raw Nationals, her best squat was 331.

Schmidt said the 369-pound squat is 6 pounds over the world record, but those records can only be set at international meets.

In the bench press, Castellano put up 165, then 176 and 186. At Raw Nationals, her best was 176.

“Just like the squat, I shot it up and know I have more in me,” she said.

In the deadlift, Castellano went 310, 333 and 363. Her best lift at Raw Nationals was 342.

Schmidt wrote that Castellano’s three-event total is only 28 pounds off the world record.

“CC’s first international meet is the Arnold Sports Festival on March 6, where I fully expect her to set several world records,” Schmidt wrote.

As it was, Schmidt said that even American records could not be set at this particular meet, because of the lack of national-level judges.

Castellano said her training program, which Schmidt said is written by Russian strength coach legend Boris Sheiko, just happens to be working really well for her.

“The funny thing is that on Friday was my very first Olympic lifting meet,” Castellano said. “It was tough and I did great. I was wondering how I would feel after competing on Friday and Saturday, but I felt great.”

Johnson also qualified for the International Powerlifting Association Raw Classics Championships in Finland after her performance at Raw Nationals.

Johnson, competing at ages 14 and 15 and under 165 pounds last weekend, also had personal bests in all her lifts. Schmidt said all of Johnson’s lifts would have been American records were the right judges present.

In the squat, Johnson nailed 264, 281 and then 303. Her previous best was 286.5.

“The world record is 330,” she said. “I only have to gain 27 pounds. That’s doable in two months, in three it’s definitely possible and in a year most people PR 100 pounds.

“So I have eight months, and that’s definitely enough time to gain 30 pounds on my squat.”

In the bench, Johnson did 148 and 159 before missing 170. At Raw Nationals, Johnson had benched 149.

Johnson also made a big leap in the deadlift, where she nailed 286, 308 and 330. At Raw Nationals, she topped out at 308.5.

“The Wednesday before last Saturday, almost two weeks ago, I hit 325 in the gym and it was ridiculously hard,” Johnson said. “I really had to muscle it up.

“Then in competition I hit 330, and PR’d 5 pounds in a week.”

Johnson said she and Castellano are proving to be great training partners.

“Outside of working out, we’re good friends,” she said. “I look up to her as an athlete and I think she respects me as an athlete.

“When she sees me go, that gets her going and I do that, too.”

Both Castellano and Johnson will compete in the second Top of the World Powerlifting Classic in Fairbanks on Sept. 20.

Unlike Castellano and Johnson, Hallford was not completely happy with his performance at Raw Nationals, where he hit just three of nine lifts but still won the 16 to 17, under-183 pounds division.

“I basically didn’t plan on doing this meet, but I did so bad at nationals I wanted to get my confidence back,” he said.

Hallford accomplished that by coming in third out of five in the 198 class, competing against adults.

In the squat, he did 435, 457 and 468. He considered that a success after changing his form to rest the bar lower on his back, to not look up so far during the lift and to narrow his feet more for the lift.

Hallford had set an American record with his squat of 475, but at nationals he did just 457.

In the bench, Hallford did 255 and 264 to tie his personal record, then missed on 270.

“My bench isn’t cooperating too much,” he said.

In the deadlift, Hallford hit 435 and 468 before just missing on 502. He had deadlifted 463 at nationals, but his best in the deadlift is 502.

Hallford will compete in bodybuilding at the Alaska Fitness Expo on Oct. 11, which means there is no way he can compete in powerlifting in Fairbanks in September.

After nationals, he was not sure about his powerlifting future, but this meet encouraged him.

“I’m definitely going to do another meet in the future, I just don’t know when,” he said.

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