A heavy burden for charity Power lifters compete to raise money for Special Olympics

by Lee Adams

The hands of Barry Williams, organizer of the First Annual Bench Press Competition held at Greene Street this past Saturday, shake as he signs an autograph for a fan during a break. Williams, who’s been power lifting for ten years now, has just finished pressing 475 pounds.

Williams helped organize the event along with gym AC Fitness to raise money for Special Olympics. Greene Street and vitamin supplement store Be Natural sponsored the event, which brought 38 lifters together and raised over $1,100 for Special Olympics.

Power lifting is one of the fairest sports you can play, Williams says. Its something you can either do or you can’t, he says, and there are no politics involved as with other related sports.

That’s one reason newcomers like Hannah Johnson are giving the sport a try. Johnson, who ties for second place with Michelle Omokiye, lifts 150 pounds in her first-ever power lifting competition.

‘“I like to compete,’” says Johnson, who has been competing in figure shows for women for the past four years. After power lifting for the four months with friends at the gym she decided to give the contest a try. This sport is clean cut, she says, and there is a lot of camaraderie.

Karen White also contends in the women’s, coming in third place with a lift of 110 pounds. This is her first competition too, inspired by her husband, Mike, who’s been power lifting for over a year now. But it is Maria Boyles who takes home first, lifting an impressive 185 pounds.

In the men’s heavyweight division Jason Jennings wins first place, benching 550 pounds. Jennings comes as part of a team, The Unit, a group of five black men dressed in matching camouflage tank tops and sporting huge cannon-like arms. The Unit also takes home a prize for the largest group, a seven-member team.

At the end of the night the audience is in for a treat as big-lifter Chris Cooke takes to the stage. Cooke, who is married to wife Julie and has three children, works full time for RJ Reynolds. For the past 13 years he’s been competing in weight lifting across the United States, in what spare time he has, and was a part of the Arnold Schwarzenegger meet this past March in Columbus, Ohio.

Saturday night he comes out on stage in a tight power lifting shirt that has to be stretched over his biceps, which are larger than basketballs. His wife liberally sprays glue onto his back, coating the hairs in a white, sticky film. This keeps him from slipping on the bench when the massive weights are in his hands. Then he takes several deep breaths of ammonia from a plastic jar. This, he says, helps clear his mind and put him in ‘“another place.’”

Surrounded by a number of spotters Cooke starts out with a lift of 750 pounds, benching the weight like there is nothing on the bar. In between each lift the shirt is pushed back on him, the glue re-sprayed and the ammonia inhaled. The next lift is 850 pounds and the third is an amazing 925 pounds. The last lift, the grand finale, is an astounding 1,005 pounds, over half a ton, something that has been done by few.

And just how did Cooke get to that point?

‘“A lot of help from a lot of people,’” he says.

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