Bonica is stronger than all of us

            Let this be a warning to you all, if you ever find yourself near Bonica Lough after she makes a lift, run and hide. This strong woman is going to Bobby Bouche’ your ass and tackle you into the ground in her excitement. With that being said, there were many times this year that Bonica made lifts, historic lifts, huge lifts! Bonica had an incredible year; she became the first woman to squat 600lbs raw, she won her 3rd Classic World Championship, and also won an Open World Championship. Bonica did this all with a smile and with her bubbly personality, she continues to be one of my favorite lifters to watch, and watch out for.

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Mighty Midget

Heather Connor has shown us this year that little people are strong, too. Though short in stature, she has a big personality that commands the room when she walks in. Heather was a part of the dominant USA National Team at Raw Worlds 2016 and won Raw Nationals a few months later. At Raw Nationals this year, she deadlifted just shy of 4 times bodyweight and squatted almost 3 times bodyweight, but most importantly, Heather has shown the world that phenomenal strength can come in small packages.

 

2x IPF World Champion Jona Leo

The world of equipped bench press is a commonly misrepresented side of powerlifting. Clouded by the distaste of individuals who feel that bench press is illegitimate, the beauty of the chess match and brute force that is bench press in the IPF is missed by a lot of people who just don’t know any better. This year the IPF World Bench Press Championships were held in Rodby, Denmark on a lifted stage with bright lights.      Jona Leo joined a select fraternity of men who have won multiple IPF World Bench Press Titles after beating Freddi Smulter by benching 392.5kg (865lbs). He did it in the most dramatic way possible, on his third bench press, with it all riding on the line. Jona was the first USA Powerlifting athlete to bench press 800lbs in 2013, maybe we will see a 900lbs bench press and a 3rd World Championship Title before he retires.

 

Big Mike Z!

Mike Zawilinski's got your back, shown here spotting Blaine Sumner among the many other greats!

Mike Zawilinski’s got your back, shown here spotting Blaine Sumner among the many other greats!

            Big Mike Zawilinski was probably at a meet you competed at this year. He was probably at 2 – hell, he was probably at all of the meets you lifted in. Big Mike is one of the most selfless guys in USA Powerlifting. He travels around helping meet directors from the local level to the international level put meets on. He spots and loads, he platform manages, he programs the computers, runs lights — he does it all. Big Mike is one of those guys who is behind the scenes, who works hard in silence, and he is also a seasoned competitor. Guys like Mike make USA Powerlifting run. Thanks Mike, 2016 was a big year for USA Powerlifting and you played a huge roll all year long.

 

The Man the Myth The Legend Geno

            Geno was at every big meet this year. I imagine his journey took him to 5 different continents and countless meets each month from January through December. We are so fortunate to have a man like Geno to turn powerlifting into a more exciting and easy to digest sport for the masses. One of my favorite moments with Geno was in Rodby, Denmark. Trying to walk anywhere with this superstar is impossible, he has countless people stopping him for autographs and photo ops. Spend some time with Geno and you will learn that there is no one else who loves powerlifting the way Geno loves powerlifting.

 

Sioux-z with that smile

            Across the ranks of USA Powerlifting you see a wide range of time under the bar. Many lifters are green, only a year or so in powerlifting. But others are veterans. They have withstood the test of time and they have earned their place in the history books. Siou-z Hartwig-Gary is one of those veterans. Her presence is unmistakable. She may be one of the smallest lifters in USA Powerlifting, but she is definitely not timid. Sioux-z not only commands the platform as a lifter, but as a coach. She runs the show like no one else’s business and keeps even the biggest guys in line, and she does it with a smile. A good ambassador for powerlifting is someone who is approachable, kind, and who seeks to lead. Getting to see Sioux-z lift and coach this year was an awesome sight. Adam Palmer captured an iconic photo of Sioux-z celebrating after her World Record Squat at the Arnold Sports Festival, and this captures the spirit and love Sioux-z has for powerlifting so perfectly. I love this photo, and I love everything about Sioux-z for the reasons I just listed.

 

Ewa in the clutch

Ewa Januszkiewicz made a statement this year by pulling for the win at the Arnold Sports Festival. The quintessential test for any powerlifter’s mettle is the 3rd deadlift pull for the win. It is a true test of grit, tenacity, and passion. It is the most difficult situation to be in, and calls on all the superlatives of character one can have. Seeing Ewa pull for the victory in the 63kg class at the Arnold gave me an adrenaline rush. Her reaction was so genuine and this deadlift put Ewa in a whole new class in my eyes. She will be a force in the open for years to come.

Joe Pena, Matt Sohmer, Andy Askow- The 800lb club

            With these three-young gentleman squatting over 800lbs raw consistently, it seems we have a new standard for squat strength in the powerlifting world: 800lbs or bust. Both Joe Pena and Andy Askow won Raw Worlds this year at super heavyweight as a Sub-Junior/Junior respectively, and Sohmer walked away with a Silver medal at 120kgs. Later in the year we got to see Andy and Matt smash more 800lb squats at Raw Nationals in Atlanta. Having strong, passionate junior lifters is vital for the future of the USA National Team. I have no doubt we will be seeing Joe, Matt, and Andy on future National Teams as the years progress.

 

The Bub abides

Not many people have bench pressed 700lbs, even fewer have bench pressed 700lbs that weigh less than 120kg. This year we got to see Charlie Conner make history by setting a new World Record Bench Press at 105kg with a lift of 323kg/713lbs! Charlie is a hard nosed hard working equipped powerlifter from Georgia who we all affectionately call “The Bub”. Seeing the bub join the ranks of 700lb benchers was awesome to see this year. Couple that with The Bub securing a World Games spot and a World Record? It can’t be beat

 

The USA National Teams

Members of USA Powerlifting's women's masters team at the IPF 2016 Classic World Championships in Killeen, TX.

Members of USA Powerlifting’s women’s masters team at the IPF 2016 Classic World Championships in Killeen, TX.

            Folks, we dominated the International Powerlifting Federation this year. Our teams won a team trophy at every major international competition. Our ladies secured their first Open Team Championship since 2006, our Raw teams swept the meet, and our Sub-Junior and Juniors had killer showings at Junior Worlds. We all lift in USA Powerlifting in the hopes that we too will one day don the red white and blue team uniform to represent our nation on the international platform. Seeing our boys and girls take home some serious hardware this year is a huge highlight for me and for USA Powerlifting.