All Ben Howard was looking for was a way to break 40 feet in the shot put.
Stuck on 39 feet, 11 1/2 inches last spring, his track and field coaches at Everett High School recommended last June that Howard begin a powerlifiting program in an effort to increase his strength, a step that would lead to improved performance in the shot put.
Little did Howard realize that moment would open a door to a whole new sport in which he’d be competing at the national level in less than a year.
Howard’s introduction to powerlifting set him on a path that led him to a fourth-place finish at the 2017 USA Powerlifting High School Raw and Equipped Nationals, representing a meteoric rise for someone who hadn’t really ever lifted weights before.
“It’s so much fun,” Howard, a junior at Everett High, said about powerlifting. “It’s probably one of my favorite sports I’ve ever done, and I’ve played just about everything.”
But powerlifting wasn’t one of them until early this year. Howard’s previous experience with lifting weights was the informal lifting that came with being a member of Everett’s football program. However, Howard took to the lifting program he was given by his track and field coaches immediately, and when EGO Fitness and Performance in Everett held a rookie powerlifting event in January, Howard decided to give it a shot.
“It’s pretty cool,” said Howard’s father, Chuck. “He’s done all the sports, and for his stature he’s been looking for something to excel in. I had no idea what powerlifting was all about until I looked into it last summer. As the weeks progressed, he just got stronger and stronger and we thought, ‘Well, let’s give the rookie meet a try.’ ”
Despite having no idea how powerlifting meets worked, Howard finished first. Based on that performance Howard decided to attend the state championships in Tacoma on March 19. He won that, too.
“I thought I’d place in the top five, but I ended up blowing away my own expectations,” Howard said about winning the state meet.
“I didn’t even know there was a national meet,” Howard said. “I just thought it was cool that there was a statewide meet. When I got the e-mail about the national event I was stoked.”
Howard was one of 433 participants across all divisions and genders at nationals, which took place March 29-April 2 in Scranton, Pennsylvania. He was also just one of two competitors from Washington.
He was probably one of the least experienced competitors, too, considering he only began lifting seriously last June, he didn’t have a coach and he competed in his first powerlifting meet just two months earlier.
But Howard more than held his own at the national competition, which was comprised of three attempts at three different lifts: the bench press, deadlift and squat. Competing in the 125-kilogram Boys Raw Varsity division — Raw only allows minimal wrapping of the wrists and knees, while Equipped allows for braces — Howard lifted 125 kilograms (279 pounds) in the bench press, 212.5 kilograms (486 pounds) in the deadlift and 197.5 kilograms (439 pounds) in the squat. The numbers were then added together and scaled to Howard’s weight to produce a Wilkes Score, a number that placed Howard fourth.
“I was definitely nervous,” Howard said. “We flew in the day before on the red eye, with the flight being after a long day of school, and then we got there and had to drive for a while, so I didn’t get much sleep before.”
But despite those conditions Howard was able to set a personal best in all three lifts.
“The stage was bigger and there was more riding on it, so I had a lot of adrenaline going,” Howard said. “I had my dad there to support me, and there was so much going on around me that I was able to push myself to the limits.
“The nice thing about powerlifting competitions is that everyone who competes and is spectating, they’re all friendly and super supportive of each other. It’s a great environment.”
Powerlifting has even had its intended effect in the shot put, too. Howard smashed through the 40-foot barrier this spring, with his best throw so far being 47-8.
But the shot put may have to take a back seat to powerlifting for Howard in the future, with the Seattle Summer Classic in Lynnwood in June his next powerlifting event.
“For sure,” Howard answered when asked if he intended to continue competing in powerlifting. “In some meets there’s people all the way up to 70 years old. I aspire to still be doing this the rest of my life.”
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