Three area athletes prepare for powerlifting nationals

Three local high schoolers are on their way to greater heights, starting this weekend at the USA Power Lifting Raw National Championships.

Kenai Central sophomore Robin Johnson, Kenai Central junior Cipriana Castellano and Soldotna senior Zach Hallford are all making the trip to the championships in Aurora, Colorado, where they will face the stiffest competition yet in their fledgling careers.

The meet gets going Thursday and ends Sunday. Lifters need to have posted a competitive mark in the last 18 months, and with eight weight classes for the women and nine for the men, 17 spots to the world championships are up for grabs.

The group leaves Tuesday, and will be facing 470 other competitors, a steep increase from the 30 or so they saw in late April at the Alaska State Powerlifting Championships in Anchorage.

After the trio all set “raw” records — meaning no special equipment was used to aid the lifts — in that meet, Kenai lifting coach Jeff Baker and state chairperson for U.S.A. Powerlifting Rob Schmidt realized the type of potential that was blossoming in front of their eyes.

“It’s enormous,” Baker said. “The way I try to explain it is it’s like Tiger Woods or Michael Jordan walking around in your school. People just don’t understand the relevance of powerlifting because it’s just not on TV and in the news.”

Baker said he believes all three hold a realistic chance of qualifying for 2015 IPF Raw Classic Powerlifting Championships to be held in Helsinki, Finland, next June.

“We’re talking about the entire nation of people, and two kids that go to the same school, and three in the region?” Baker remarked. “What are the odds of that? It’s unheard of.”

Baker, who won’t be making the trip as he works as a full-time guide operating his own business, Kenai Kryptonite, mentioned that if Johnson, Castellano or Hallford make it to Finland, they will have to move their focus to powerlifting to be successful.

“It’s a matter of what they choose to do,” he said. “Do they focus on powerlifting or high school sports? If they focus on a sport, they won’t do lifting as well.”

Baker also said whatever they choose to pursue, their talents won’t go to waste. Johnson currently holds the American back squat record of 259 pounds in the 14-15 year old age group and 165-pound weight division, a mark she set at the state championships in April, and has since added the bench press record to her resume as well, although it is not official.

“She’s going for the overall,” Baker said.

The overall combined weight between the three lifts is the most important number. Between the back squat, bench press and deadlift, it adds up to a grueling challenge.

In the 16-17 under 165 pounds category, Castellano set new records in the back squat and deadlift in April, and nearly took down the bench press record, too. However, since then, she has unofficially decimated the mark. The old record of 143.25 pounds set in 2011 still officially remains the standard, but Castellano has lifted an eye-popping 180 pounds for an unofficial high.

“I’ve just been full of excitement,” Castellano said. “I really want to do my best.”

In the back squat, Castellano has done 345 pounds, and she has deadlifted 330.

“All I’ve done is work in the gym,” she said. “Four to five times a week, and a minimum of two to three hours.”

Castellano said she is confident in her abilities and the chance she has to make it to Helsinki, and believes she has the right attitude to muster up all the energy she can to hit a new high.

“When you look at the records that are already there, I think it’s a good chance,” she said. “But anyone can show up and have a good lift.”

Competing in the 16-17 under 181 pounds division, Hallford currently holds the back squat record of 475 pounds. He set that mark in April, but has since topped out at 490 pounds, and said he is hoping to hit 501 this week.

Hallford said this meet marks the first time he has had to travel for a competition, and whether or not he qualifies to Finland, he is planning on competing in the Alaska Fitness Expo bodybuilding show in Anchorage this October.

Hallford’s max bench press is 285 pounds, better than the 264 that he set in April, and he said he is trying for 303 this week. In the deadlift, his high is 501, but he hopes to hit 540 or possibly 550 in Colorado.

“I’ve been doing a lot of reps and sets on the back squats the last two months,” Hallford said. “I’ve been heavy squatting three times a week.”

With 2 1-2 to 3 1-2 hour sessions scheduled for his lifting days, Hallford said he is as ready as he can be.

“I’m feeling pretty good, my lifts are going according to plan,” Hallford said. “I just need to rest up, and when it comes time to lift, a little adrenaline should help.”

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