In March of this year, Billie Denison of Nikiski was just five months removed from the birth of her second child, had only flirted with serious weightlifting, and was looking for a spark in her life.
It appears she found it.
Denison took a huge stride in her brief powerlifting career two weeks ago when she captured a weight class championship at the USA Powerlifting Northwest Regional meet in Spokane, Washington.
“I realized I could (power lift) back in May,” Denison said. “But I didn’t think I could compete.”
When considering Denison’s transition to a powerlifting champion, what’s remarkable is not how she won it, but how short a path to the title she took.
Denison, a 2008 Nikiski graduate, claimed the title in the Open Women’s 63-kilogram class, a mere eight months after beginning her journey in the sport.
The 27-year-old wife and mother of two kids hooked up with Jerem Feltman, a longtime powerlifting coach in Nikiski, to begin the process. Feltman just recently opened Anvil of Crom Power and Strength, a gym specifically suited for serious powerlifters in Nikiski on Sept. 1, as Denison was on the rise.
“He took me under his wing,” she said. “I was a full weight class up from where I am now, and I was completely the underdog. Every lift that I did was the underdog.”
Feltman’s experience in powerlifting goes back quite a ways. The home-grown Nikiski product began his journey in 1992 with the help of powerlifting coach Dave Curry. Feltman transitioned to a coaching role in the late 1990s, and has been a part of the sport around Nikiski ever since.
Feltman’s pride and joy, Anvil of Crom, is owned by him and business partner Brandon Miller. It serves as one of the only places for serious powerlifters in the state of Alaska to use.
Approximately 30 members are currently signed up at Anvil of Crom, with about half of them competing regularly.
Feltman said when Denison first approached him about competing, he did not know whether she could make it on the big stage, but was happy to give her a chance.
“When she came in, she was overweight, she had zero confidence and she wasn’t quite sure of the direction she wanted to go,” Feltman said. “But she had this desire to power lift.”
One meet at a time, Denison was producing big results. In her debut appearance, the USAPL Alaska State Championships on April 30, Denison placed midpack.
In mid-July, Denison took third overall among female lifters at the Justin Maile Classic in Soldotna.
On Aug. 25, Denison won the 63-kilogram title at the USAPL State Fair challenge in Palmer, third overall among women.
It all led up to a championship belt at Northwest Regionals in Spokane on Nov. 5.
By winning the regional title, Denison now has the chance to compete at the 2017 Raw Nationals in Orlando, Florida, slated for mid-October of 2017. It’s an event that saw 1,100 athletes attend last year.
With the help of Feltman, as well as the support from her husband, Logan Denison, and trainer Rob Schmidt, who Denison credits as her mentor, the Nikiski mom is suddenly staring down a big goal in life.
Back in the day, when Denison was known as Billie Parrish at Nikiski High School, she had dallied in weightlifting class, but she said she never received proper support to reach a higher level.
“It was a place to train your football team,” Denison said about weightlifting class in high school. “So the girls just kind of sat in the corner.
“There was talent there but it wasn’t nurtured.”
In 2014, Denison briefly joined a CrossFit box, but soon became pregnant with her second child.
After her second child was born, Denison lost 35 pounds to reach the fitness level of a highly tuned powerlifter, and began receiving support from friends and family, as well the help of local sponsors AK49 clothing and Febra Hensley Reality.
So what makes Denison a natural? Feltman said it’s her realization of her control and commitment to the sport.
“Billie shows up at the gym focused and ready to execute every time,” he said. “She’s good at following the plan and following the process every time to work toward a goal.”
Feltman said that with each passing competition, Denison’s goals took a massive leap. In the eight months since she began, Denison’s powerlifting total — the combined weight of her deadlift, squat and bench — has rocketed from 470 to 623 pounds.
“Each meet, she has drastically changed when it comes to focus and confidence,” he explained.
Along with competing, Denison also volunteers with area high schools in promoting the sport for interested girls. Every other week, Denison hosts lifting programs at Nikiski as a USAPL certified referee, implementing basic breakdowns of the squat, bench and deadlift disciplines.
Her experience in the sport has also led to her interaction with Cipriana Castellano and Robin Johnson, two international record-holders in specific weight and age classes in the sport of powerlifting. Denison said her experience in the last eight months has given her the opportunity to reach out to the two athletes with local roots, who she described as the teachers.
“It’s turned me around to see how it’s affected my life, as well as teen girls,” Denison said. “I see how it’s changed girls, and how it’s empowering girls.”
Denison said she hopes to someday showcase her talents on a world platform, starting with the Raw Nationals next fall.
“I think that’s an achievable goal,” she said.