Damon Cody competes among some of the best powerlifters in the nation at Killeen, Texas PHOTO: SUBMITTED
Damon Cody competes among some of the best powerlifters in the nation at Killeen, Texas PHOTO: SUBMITTED
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When Spring Grove powerlifters Caleb Happel and Damon Cody headed for Killeen, Texas, on March 26, they knew that they'd soon be competing against some of the strongest young lifters in the nation.

For high school senior Caleb, 2014 represented a third-straight appearance in the USA Powerlifting Nationals. And this time, he was bringing along freshman Damon, who made his first appearance on the national stage after qualifying in his weight and age class.

"Mama Jean" Happel is not only Caleb's mom, she's been volunteering at Spring Grove High School for several years, training a dedicated group of young athletes in the sport.

"There were 15 states represented and 320 lifters in attendance," she reported. "We stood next to and were spotted by many of our service men and women. Killeen, Texas, is the home of Fort Hood, one of this country's largest army bases. There was so much pride present, it is hard to put into words."

On Friday, March 28, 36 ninth and 10th-grade boys, and 42 young ladies competed. Lifters get three chances at squat, bench press, and dead lift, totaling their best at each station for a meet score.

Cody met his qualifying weigh-in of 148 by a whisker (.01 pounds). He then made good at 325 pounds in the squat, and barely missed at 355. At the bench, he succeeded at 175, 185, and 190, adding the latter to his score. Damon's best deadlift was an amazing 340, resulting in a total poundage of 855. That was good enough to earn third place out of five competitors in his weight class.

The 11th and 12th graders competed on Saturday and Sunday. Since the 198 and above classes had to wait until the final day, Caleb and company spent Saturday "Enjoying the Texas warmth!" Jean said.

The senior from Spring Grove hefted 485 lbs. in the squat, then "barely missed" at 520. Moving to the press, he succeeded in setting a new personal record (PR) at 365, and nearly hit at 410. In deadlift, Caleb matched his PR of 585, and came close to locking in at 600. Total poundage: 1435. That was good for sixth out of 17 qualifiers.

"Little Spring Grove, Minnesota, stood toe to toe and lifted with the best lifters in the country and we came out with sixth and third place," Jean noted.

"Congratulations to Damon Cody and to Caleb Happel for representing Spring Grove with incredible strength and fantastic attitudes!" she said. The powerlifting road for Caleb has been a bumpy one at times. The first total he had was 950 lbs., he became a National Champion, he finished being the best lifter in southeastern Minnesota and western Wisconsin, with his best total being 1440 lbs. He has many gold medals and helped win two team trophies and made many friends along the way.

Damon "has just begun and has so many accomplishments already!" Jean added. "A national medal, a gold medal and also help with winning the team trophies!

"It was a long trip, but it was worth it."