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This Middle Schooler Can Move Mountains

Amber Grace, 13, preparing to squat with a 121-lb barbell on her shoulders. – Courtesy Photo
Amber Grace, 13, preparing to squat with a 121-lb barbell on her shoulders. – Courtesy Photo

Amber Grace is a typical Temple City middle schooler in many ways. She loves to swim, ride her bike, play with her cat and her seven-year-old brother Devon, and talk to her friends on her new phone. But in early October she did something that few other 13-year-old girls even dream of attempting: She set California state records in the sport of powerlifting.

Amber’s parents, Chris and Wendy Grace, own the Mission Fitness Center gym in San Marino. So Amber has always spent a good amount of time there – but not working out. Until recently, she just played on the equipment, or did her homework in the office.

Until one day this past summer. Amber recalls watching her father Chris, 43, lifting heavy barbells in preparation for a powerlifting competition. Chris is a state champion powerlifter. She was suddenly inspired. “I asked my dad if I could do it too, and he said’ yes!’ It took off from there!”

For two months, Amber worked with her dad, primarily working on posture and form. The sport of powerlifting involves three exercises:

A deep squat, in which the hips descend below the knee, with a barbell resting on the shoulders.

A bench press, done lying flat on one’s back on a bench, lowering and raising a barbell above the chest.

A deadlift, leaning forward to pick a barbell off the ground, then standing up straight, holding it with arms extended downward.

Amber and her father Chris Grace. Both set state records for powerlifting. – Courtesy Photo
Amber and her father Chris Grace. Both set state records for powerlifting. – Courtesy Photo

Judges tell contestants when to pick up the barbell, when to move, when to pause, and when to let go of the weight. Obeying these complicated cues, and maintaining balance, are as important as muscle power. In general, the larger a competitor is, the more he or she can lift, so participants are sorted into different divisions depending on gender, age and weight.

Amber was the only girl in her age group (13-15) and weight category (under 97-lbs.), at that particular meet. But there have been others in the past. Amber broke their records for each of the three exercises. She squatted with a 121.5-lb barbell on her shoulders; benched 66 lbs., and deadlifted 153 lbs. She was awarded a giant gold medal for her efforts. The crowd loved her. “Big huge men were giving her high fives!” noted Chris Grace.

She was so excited about the medal that she wore it to school the next day. “There were lots of surprised kids,” said Amber. “They asked, ‘How much did you lift?’ and they congratulated me! They think it’s really cool.”

Amber feels that powerlifting is a good sport for children and adults of any age. “I would recommend it, because you have to lift things all the time, and it makes lifting and carrying easier.” She has already begun to train for the next USPA meet, in March, where she hopes to break the American records.

Meanwhile, she reports, her 7-year-old brother Devon is jealous and has begun training with 5-lb weights. (He has to wait until he’s 13 to compete in USPA meets.)

Chris, by the way, also participated in the meet. He did a 407 lb. squat, a 407 lb. bench press, and a 578.9 lb. deadlift, which earned him a gold medal in his age and weight group. Her Uncle Alex Acosta, 22, also of Temple City, did a 469 lb. squat, a 330 lb. bench press, and a 512 lb. deadlift

For more images and videos of Amber and the Mission Fitness team in action, go to https://instagram.com/missionfitnesscenter/. Information about the gym is at http://missionfitnesscenter.com/index.php.

Amber Grace, 13, with her gold medal for powerlifting. She recommends powerlifting to everyone! - Courtesy Photo
Amber Grace, 13, with her gold medal for powerlifting. She recommends powerlifting to everyone! – Courtesy Photo

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