Caleb Happel spends a lot of time in the weight room with his coach, Jean Happel, who he also calls mom.
Caleb Happel spends a lot

of time in the weight room with his coach, Jean Happel, who he also calls mom.
Imagine lifting 10 average-sized kindergartners at one time with each weighing an average of 46 pounds... that would be a lot of weight, but for Spring Grove High School sophomore Caleb Happel, it is practically nothing.

Caleb just completed his second season as a powerlifter and qualified to compete in the National High School USA Powerlifting competition in Wisconsin Dells, Wis., on March 23.

A meet consists of lifters completing three different types of lifts - squat, bench press and deadlift. They have three tries at each lift with their highest completed lift counting towards their overall total.

Heading into the national meet, Caleb was ranked first in his weight and age class with the second-place lifter only 25 pounds behind.

He was slated to lift at 3 p.m., but prior sessions took longer than anticipated, and his session was pushed back until 5 p.m.

It was the biggest national meet there had ever been with 440 lifters competing, both guys and girls.

Lifters came from Texas, Illinois, Iowa, Georgia, Alabama, Indiana, Tennessee, Pennsylvania, Indiana, South Dakota, Idaho, Michigan, Wisconsin and Minnesota.

"He was so excited to lift, and every time it got delayed he had to get warmed up again, which takes a lot of energy," his mom and coach, Jean Happel, explained.

His first lift was the squat lift. His best squat lift was 430 pounds, which tied him for first place. Next, he completed the bench press lift with his highest lift of 305 pounds, which gave him sole possession of first place. His third and final lift was the deadlift.

His highest weight was 480 pounds - the most he had ever lifted - locking in his first place finish. The three lifts totaled 1,215 pounds - his personal best - increasing his previous best by 55 pounds.

"The greatest part of the meet besides taking first, were the compliments Caleb received, not only on his technique, but his strength," added Jean.

"My adrenaline was just pumping all day," Caleb remarked with a big smile. "It was a great feeling to get those lifts completed and especially to have hit my personal best!"

How he started

Caleb started routinely lifting when he began playing football in the seventh grade. In ninth grade, he began lifting year-round and competing in powerlifting competitions.

"I started lifting to get in shape for football and found that I really liked it, so I decided to pursue it even more," he explained.

Jean had grown up in a family of powerlifters. Her brother competed and held a record in Wisconsin for many years. She never competed, but lifted for fitness.

"My brother began lifting in our basement when we were growing up, and I helped spot him and learned the right and wrong way of doing it," Jean explained.

She's taken her experience and knowledge and continued to build on it, always learning from reading and talking with others.

She works with many students after school in the weight room. "When I start teaching kids how to lift, I pay close attention to their age and how quickly they are growing. The muscle strength they gain from lifting helps protect them from injuries as they compete in sports.

"We focus on different techniques that work different muscles so that every day is different and interesting, and they become well-rounded.

"We also focus on flexibility, which is important in sports as well as lifting, so that they use the correct form.

"They don't have to plan to be powerlifters; lifting also tones muscles and increases their strength."

As a powerlifter, Caleb spends two hours a day, Monday through Friday, in the weight room with his coach by his side. He competed in meets about every three weeks.

The space in between allows his body recovery time and time to build up more strength. The week before a meet, he pushes it as hard as he can.

A positive sport

"We really enjoy the meets because of the people that are involved in the sport," remarked Jean.

"It doesn't matter where a kid is from, everyone cheers for them. There is nothing better than hearing a whole gym cheer when someone does something great! There is great sportsmanship. You never hear any booing or anything negative."

"The USA Powerlifting organization really promotes clean lifting. They do drug testing on the lifters. If you place first, they test you on the spot for drugs because they want all the lifters to be completely clean," added Caleb.

"I have goals set as to where I want to be next year; reaching those goals will be fun!"

If someone is interested in lifting weights, Jean encourages them to start.

"It doesn't matter what you can lift right now, everyone has to start somewhere. It is a great way to tone your body and be physically fit for life, but it is very important to know how to do it the right way - so just come in [to the school weight room] and ask!"