Deadlift meet lifts up Rowan County Special Olympics

Published 12:10 am Saturday, June 8, 2024

SALISBURY — Multiple groups and individuals from the community came together on June 1 to lift up a special cause through a deadlift meet.

The meet was the third annual event hosted by Rijk’s Strength and Performance, 105 W. Corriher Ave., Salisbury, with proceeds going to benefit Special Olympics. They do this event in conjunction with the Salisbury Police Department through funds raised from the Law Enforcement Torch Run.

Rijk Zwaan, who along with his wife Jenni, are partners with the gym and both personal trainers, said, “this was the best one yet.”

There were 46 participants in this year’s event, said Jenni, with all levels welcome to compete.

Different age brackets were represented in the meet as Rijk said they had teenage, juniors, open and seniors. Those four categories are based on age and then there’s male and female, he said.

“But what we’re doing is we’re going to pull until the heaviest barbell is pulled and that will be the winner of the contest,” Rijk said. However, if a tie happens, then they will do it by weight class. “We just try to make it as simple as possible.”

He did mention that not a lot of their accomplished lifters take part in this competition “because we like to try to keep it something for people that are brand new to the sport of powerlifting where they can come and show off their work they’ve done in the gym and have a safe environment, a positive and encouraging environment to get them more involved in the sport of powerlifting.”

Diana Morales, who said she had only been training for a short time, decided to compete, because, “I felt like I needed to get out of my comfort zone a little. In front of everybody seemed like a good way to do it.”

Morales trains at H.T.P.!!! High Performance Training in Kannapolis and her trainer, Sondra Merill, who also owns the gym, was with her for the event. 

The competition was held in the fitness center’s back parking lot, providing a place where family and friends could gather and cheer on those competing as well as support the business and the cause.

The youngest competitors were the first to take their turn at the deadlift, and Rijk pointed out they are very mindful of the weight for this young group and watch out for how much they lift because “growth plates in the children, they don’t harden until they hit puberty and if you place them under a compressive load prior to that you will potentially harden the growth plates and stunt their growth.”

Two of the children who participated, Rylee, 11, who ended up lifting 115 pounds, and Scarlett, 7, are sisters and are members of the gym with Jenni serving as their trainer. The girls said they had fun and had just been doing this for about a year.

Their mom, Kristina Rosalez, said her son Dominic also is a member of the gym but was unable to participate this time.

But, she said, “they love it, it’s something they’re always looking forward to. They’re competitive cheerleaders and gymnasts, so Jenni’s main focus with them is building muscle to prevent injuries in the future since they’re in such high-intensity sports.”

When the youth competition was complete, weight was added to the bar and when explaining the rules, Rijk said weight would be added “until the bar could not be picked up, and that competitors could have as many chances as they want to try to pick up the weight.” 

At the end of the day, Jenni said that the top weight lifted for males was 635 pounds, and the top weight lifted for females was 385 pounds.

All of those competing in the meet were given a T-shirt, and medals were presented to those doing well in the event. Food was provided by Il Colosseo Italian Restaurant and vendor, Salisbury’s GNC, which supports them every year, was onsite.

Those competing were not the only winners, but Special Olympics was a winner as the money raised from the deadlift went to this cause, one that is dear to Rijk and Jenni as he has a niece with Down’s Syndrome, he said and who has competed in Special Olympics, and to Salisbury Police Chief P.J. Smith, who has a brother with special needs and the cause is very dear to him as well. As he addressed the crowd, Smith said that his brother was actually competing in bowling that day at the state games.

The Salisbury Police Department participates each year in the Law Enforcement Torch Run to raise money for the North Carolina State Special Olympics.

The partnership between the local law enforcement and the gym began three years ago, when Rijk and Jenni were just opening up and considering doing a fundraiser and Smith, who joined the gym, responded with “I’ve got one for you.” 

Rijk said there are many worthy causes in the county and several that are dear to them including the homeless, veterans and the animal shelter, and they wanted to help locally, so they decided to go with Rowan County Special Olympics, because, he said, “very often the Special Olympians are, not necessarily forgotten, but maybe a little overlooked and the funding helps them get from wherever they’re staying to the events,” as well as lodging, food and entered into the events.

As for how they selected this particular type of event for the fundraiser, Rijk said he and Jenni and several lifters in the gym are competitive powerlifters, taking part in big federations through the state and country.

Two of the three big lifts, a squat and bench press, are fairly technical and a little more high risk, whereas “the deadlift is a more simple movement and pretty much anybody can do it. It’s a lot safer” with participants basically picking the barbell up from the ground standing up with it and putting it back down without dropping it.  

The funds from the meets over the years have gone to this cause, and Smith said they vow to match that money and thanked everyone who was there competing and who had donated and they would continue raising money and assisting these Special Olympic athletes.

Kathy Shields, who was there to support her husband Monty Shields in the competition, was also appreciative of all who attended because of their sons who are special needs and was there to support the cause as well.

“I really do appreciate everybody showing up,” she said.

Showing their support for Rijk and Jenni brought people together as Mary Rosser said she was there to support the gym.

“Rijk and Jenni are special to my heart,” she said.

Kari Rankin, a member at the gym, said this wasn’t her first time and said, “I like it. I got into lifting and I just do what I do. I do what I love.”

During his opening remarks, Rijk thanked their sponsors and everyone for being there.

“Thank you so much for your kindness, your generosity and for your donations and for your support. It means the world to us. It’s a very big event for us,” he said. 

In addition to the event, Rijk said this day was special to he and Jenni for another reason as they were married two years ago on this date, there at the gym.

“I do want Jenni to know that we appreciate all she has done to put this together for us,” he said. “It’s quite a bit of work. It’s totally worth it. It’s for a great cause.”