The weight room echoes with the clanging of heavy steel and the hard work of Chico’s lady powerlifters. At first glance, it might be hard to believe these young athletes house so much strength.
The girls’ lifting program has turned from nearly non-existent into a 1A powerhouse in only one season under the tutelage of coach Heath Tullous, who is in his first year at Chico after spending eight in Decatur.
On March 16, six Chico girls are heading to Corpus Christi to lift against the best Texas has to offer. Alli York, Jordan Vidal, Cheyenne Hale, Breann Hall, Charlye Biggerstaff and Ali Galindo all have rocketed past the competition in their first season as powerlifters.
Tullous has seen a lot of powerlifting success so far in his career. He said he had taken lifters to state in the last six consecutive years at Decatur, and he didn’t want his first year in Chico to be any different. He felt good about taking six of Chico’s 16 powerlifters to state.
“This is my first year here after being at Decatur for eight years, and I never got that many girls to state there,” Tullous said. “They were scared, and at first they all told me ‘No, we’re not powerlifters.’ They didn’t think they were very strong, but I just kept pumping them up. I kept telling them ‘You got a chance. You got a chance.’ I didn’t want this to be my first year not to go to state, and now I’ve got six of them.”
Tullous said telling them about the state competition and the experiences they could have at the “whole Corpus Christi thing” is what got them to finally compete.
“It’s at the American Bank Center, and it’s hockey season, too, so there will be ice on the floor with mats on top of that. It will be cool,” Tullous said. “They’ll get to see themselves on the Jumbotron, and it’s awesome.”
The fact that Chico never had a state qualifier, and now they were having quite a bit of success spurred the girls even further.
“I compared numbers to last year’s state qualifiers to what I thought they could do,” Tullous said. “When I did, they started thinking they might have a chance. I’ve got a record board up and they started seeing all the records they’ve broken. Each one of them has a school record.”
Before now, the best Chico’s female lifters have done is go to regionals. He said the work has been hard and sometimes half the battle was getting them to wake up at 4 a.m. and on a bus to get to a meet. On top of that they all have to practice each afternoon and push themselves to stay strong.
“It is really a mental thing and you have to push yourself to really do that,” said Breann Hall. “It’s more weight than you’re used to lifting so you have to push through it, and you feel really great when you do something that hard.
“When you lift something heavy like that you kind of go numb for a bit, but you just have to push.”
Beside the physical and mental needs, time is a factor. The powerlifters compete in several other programs that all require practice and training, but in the end powerlifting has been a great way to improve in other areas.
“It’s really hard keeping up with all the sports, and you have to find time,” Hall said. “It helps in the other sports. It makes you stronger and lets you jump higher. When you’re lifting, most of the weight is on your legs, and in volleyball that training helps you jump higher to hit the ball.”
Tullous said the lifters have to use quite a bit of strategy to compete effectively. He said first the lifter has to make a weight class, and then the athlete has to watch what they eat because a pound either way could affect their weight class.
“You don’t have to be that strong or weak. You just have to beat the other lifter in your weight class and that is what we did in regionals,” Tullous said. “We didn’t go out there to be the strongest. Strategically, we made sure we were better than this girl or that girl.
“There are 11 classes and we took eight girls to regionals – and we have six girls going to state.”