28th annual Liftathon highlights personal, communal progress
Huddled in the back, hidden from view--it isn't exactly the first description of a state-class weightlifter that comes to mind, but then a lot has changed since freshman year for Ellen Hickman.
Huddled in the back, hidden from view-it isn't exactly the first description of a state-class weightlifter that comes to mind, but then a lot has changed since freshman year for Ellen Hickman.
Hickman, a senior at Brainerd High School, joined more than 100 of her fellow students Tuesday in the annual Sertoma Sunrise Warrior Liftathon. The pint-sized, 130-pound athlete built upon last year's success, rewriting her weight class' record for the power clean Tuesday-she cleared 155 pounds in 2017, then she lifted 160 pounds this year. She'll be competing in the USA Olympic State Weightlifting Meet this weekend.
Smooth, powerful lifts that bely her petite build may lead coaches to say Hickman is the most technically sound weightlifter in the room now, but when she started as a ninth-grader, she admitted she would hide and wait for the football team to leave before starting her routine.
Hickman used her story as an example of unlikely beginnings that had little bearing on the end of the journey.
"Everyone starts somewhere. Being in the strength room, it really builds your confidence, physically as well as mentally," Hickman said as she cooled down between reps. "You become a more confident person, even outside the weight room."
Scott Parsons, event coordinator, said the Liftathon raises about $15,000 every year-money that goes to the local soup kitchen and food shelf, Kitchen Partners, and Camp Confidence, a retreat for the intellectually and physically impaired, among other causes.
"The main reason for all the kids in it is to help raise money for people in the community. Second reason is to have a payday for all their work they've been doing," Parsons said. "This is just a one-repetition max day, find out what you can do in three events: bench, squat and clean."
And so, student athletes-all 120 of them-gathered together in the Brainerd High School north campus weight room, gunning to set new personal bests. The overriding goal of the event was to push boundaries further than ever before, if only for one rep. Powerlifting, pure and simple.
It's a kind of internal competition that could mean a new name on the record board (which typically favors the largest, burliest athletes), or a high rating according to the PPO (pounds per ounce) system that judges strength in relation to the athletes' weight and size.
The latter system is the domain of athletes like Hickman. The former may be better suited for athletes like Isaak Hines, one of the football players Hickman avoided when she was a freshman.
Sporting a Warrior blue hoodie, Hines heaved his frame onto the bench and proceeded to lift the equivalent weight of a silverback gorilla off his chest --- up and down, one rep-to put his name on the board with 350 pounds, second best all-time for the bench press.
"I love lifting. It's one of the best ways to let go and release some anger," said Hines, a senior nose tackle selected to the North Central Red Subdivision Team and an avid weightlifter since eighth grade. "It makes me feel good knowing that I'm a better person by it."
However, weightlifting wasn't always a staple of high school athletics, or really any level of athletic competition, said Ron Stolski, the Brainerd Warriors Football head coach and a 56-year veteran of coaching.
"Back when I played and your grandpa played and all that, weights were taboo-you'd get too tight and you'd get too muscle bound," Stolski said as he walked the padded training room floor. He described his knowledge of weightlifting as basic and rudimentary in those days. "It wasn't until the early or middle '60s that there was any kind of strength training at all."
But, slowly and surely, by hiring coaches in the early '70s that promoted strength and conditioning practices-a group that included current coaches Scott Parsons and Chet Stevenson-the program has come to embody values of physical fitness and mental acuity, Stolski said, and it hasn't really changed that much since.
"We really haven't changed since '75. We believe in core strength. We believe in strength for women athletes and male athletes," Stolski said. "Our main two lifts have never changed-squat and the power clean, because we've done research. If you look at any college in the country, they squat and power clean."
Currently, Stolski said the school trains students in a hybridized version of the BFS (Bigger, Faster, Stronger) Program, drawing upon aspects of the program while coaches supply their own insights and techniques gleaned after decades of training athletes.
More than the program, it's been the facilities that have seen a marked improvement over the years, Stolski said. In the beginning, weightlifters were relegated to the hallways. Now, they have a large facility all to themselves-with a bevy of experts and trainers on hand to lend their talents, both in the school and outside its walls.
As a result, the Liftathon has seen similar growth, starting with 60 kids in 1991 and peaking with 200 in 2008. 2018 marked the 28th annual event.