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Young weightlifters compete in Spokane during championship weekend

Competitors in the USA Powerlifting youth nationals are coy when asked about their lifting.

“You’re going to have to find out later,” 11-year-old Ty Denges said when asked how much weight he could lift.

Nine-year-old Celeste Godinez had a similar response.

“That’s a secret,” she said, with a wide grin.

The two are in town from Austin and Corpus Christi, Texas, and competed Friday in Spokane.

It’s part of a weekend of powerlifting and weightlifting competitions at the Spokane Convention Center.

USA Weightlifting is holding its national junior championships for lifters under 20, while USA Powerlifting conducts Washington state championships.

In both sports, athletes are grouped by their gender and body weight.

Weightlifters compete using the classic Olympic lifts: the snatch, where a lifter quickly takes the bar from the ground to hold it overhead; and the clean and jerk, where the bar is lifted first to the shoulders and then extended overhead.

Powerlifters compete for maximum weight on the squat, dead lift and bench press.

Priscilla Ribic, executive director of USA Powerlifting, is a Spokane native who now calls Anchorage, Alaska, home. She started lifting at 19, has won two medals at the World Games and was inducted into the International Powerlifting Federation Hall of Fame in 2009.

“It is an intense sport that will challenge you, because numbers don’t lie,” she said.

When she was training in Spokane, she said there were no competitions on the east side of the Cascades.

“It’s kind of exciting to have events in Spokane,” she said on returning to her hometown.

Godinez traveled to Spokane with her parents. She got into powerlifting by way of Crossfit. As a young cheerleader, the 9-year-old said, she had trouble doing a back walkover, so her coach offered to train her at a local Crossfit gym.

“I saw powerlifters and thought I wanted to do it,” she said.

Her best lifts in previous competitions are a 115-pound squat, a 65-pound bench press and a 130-pound dead lift.

Denges said he started lifting because he was inspired by a friend who’s paralyzed from the waist down and bench-presses.

“It’s just fun and motivates me as a person,” he said.

His father, Keone, serves as his coach.

“It’s a great father-son thing,” said his mother, Shannon Denges. The family had shirts made with “Denges Dungeon” written on the back and a verse from Proverbs on the front to raise funds for the trip to Spokane.

It’s the family’s first trip out of state for a competition. The 11-year-old has previously bench-pressed 75 pounds, dead-lifted 150 and squatted 120.

Having children compete in weightlifting is somewhat controversial. The American Academy of Pediatrics says strength training is beneficial for children but cautions against programs that encourage kids who are still developing skeletally to perform maximum lifts.

Ribic said the focus of USA Powerlifting for juniors is introducing them to the sport and focuses heavily on correct form. USA Powerlifting includes many adults who have started lifting before puberty and grown to a normal size, she said.

“We encourage them to lift within their means,” she said.

Kids have a variety of weight bars available to them, depending on their size and strength, and can opt for a bar as low as 10 pounds rather than the standard 45 pounds for adult lifters.

The weightlifting championship will feature 17-year-old Harrison Maurus, an Auburn, Washington, native who in 2017 won the United States’ first medal at an International Weightliting Federation championship in 20 years.

“He’s our bright little rising star,” said Kelsey Kennedy, a spokeswoman for USA Weightlifting.

The weekend events are free to any Boy or Girl Scouts who come dressed in uniform, as well as YMCA members younger than 14, Ribic said.

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