Rachel Klein didn’t know the impact powerlifting would have on her.
“It’s honestly changed my life in the best ways possible,” she said after a workout at the Abington Heights weightlifting gym.
A senior, who joined the powerlifting team at the beginning of her sophomore year, has developed into a state champion and one of the strongest female high school athletes in the country.
Recently, Klein, Ayana Rivera, Kate O’Brien and Kaylee Mann each won their respective weight classes at the Pennsylvania State Teenage Championship in Class 5A-4A at Parkland High School.
Klein is the leader of this group of athletes at Abington Heights who are building strength, gaining confidence and collecting titles under the guidance of coach Claude Welcome.
But the sport has as big an impact on the athletes as they have on it.
“Powerlifting has helped me travel to new places, and I love traveling, and I got to meet new people and overall it has been so rewarding for me,” Klein said.
Klein, who has competed since the beginning of her sophomore year with the encouragement of former teammate and past champion Arla Davis, turned to powerlifting after closing out her career as a gymnast at United Sports Academy.
She also is a pole vaulter for the Lady Comets track and field team, using the strength and power developed through her weight training.
In her junior year, Klein competed in the High School Raw 47 kilogram class (104 pounds) at the USA Powerlifting High School National Championships on Friday in Alexandria, Louisiana. She finished third overall with a three-lift total of 227.5 kilograms (501 pounds). She had a squat of 80 kilograms (176 pounds), a bench press of 40 kilograms (88 pounds) and a deadlift of 107.5 kilograms (237 pounds).
“It was a really different sport,” Klein said. “I had never done anything like competitive weightlifting before, where there is competition, but also a lot of support from the lifters.
“Once, I started to have success, I got driven to keep gaining more success.”
Seven months after the national championship meet, Klein, as a member of USA Team, won the 47-kilogram weight class in the Open and Sub-Junior levels at the 14th annual IPF/NAPF North American Bench Press Championships in Panama City with a lift of 52.5 kilograms (116 pounds).
“I was nervous at first because it was such a big meet,” Klein said. “It was a big deal to me to represent my country at a big meet.”
Capping her senior year, and most likely her powerlifting career, Klein added the state title in the 16-17-year-old division in the 105-pound class with a squat of 180, a bench press of 115 and a deadlift of 200 for a 495 total.
“It was very rewarding to come out first in the state,” Klein said.
For O’Brien, who also copped a state title, joining the powerlifting team has been equally rewarding.
She had dabbled in CrossFit training with her mom, Mary, and enjoyed mountain biking and skiing with her father, Joe.
“My mom really wanted me to do it,” O’Brien, 15, said. “She supported me and there was no hesitation to give it a try.”
In her sophomore year, O’Brien earned first place in the 13-15-year-old, 132-pound class with a squat of 155, a bench of 90 and a deadlift of 195.
“Joining powerlifting has been one of the best things to ever happen to me,” O’Brien said. “Before this, I didn’t have much going on outside of school, now I look forward to practice. It has strengthened me physically and emotionally.
“I realized that I could do this and it was fun at the same time.”
Kaylee Mann is a legacy.
Her father, Steve, is a multiple-time champion and is one of the most well-known advocates of the sport, often organizing lifting competitions nationwide.
Last June, Steve and his son Jacob, who is also a member of the Comets powerlifting team, competed at the International Powerlifting Federation World Men’s Equipped Bench Press Championships in Tokyo, Japan.
Kaylee, a seventh-grade athlete, started her career with a title in the 13-15-year-old, 198-plus class. She had a squat of 245, a bench press of 140 and a deadlift of 250 for a 635 total.
She already owns several state records for her age and weight classes.
“It’s extremely fun to lift with my family,” Kaylee said. “It has inspired me to do a lot with lifting. It’s really exciting.
“Me and my dad were training to the point to set meet records. It was very exciting to also win the state title.”
In addition to Klein, O’Brien and Mann, Rivera won the 13-15-year-old division in the 105-pound class. She had a squat of 160, a bench of 90 and a deadlift of 180 for a 430 total.
Overall, the Lady Comets finished second in the team standings at the state meet.
Olivia Lam placed second to Klein with a squat of 200, a bench of 90 and a deadlift of 255 for a 545 total.
Lyndsey James finished second at 123 pounds. She had a squat of 155, a bench of 70 and a deadlift of 190 for a 415 total.
In the 11-12-year-old division, newcomer Mallory Knott won the 97-pound class. Her squat was 85, bench 50 and deadlift 135 for a 270 total.
“I am so glad that I joined the powerlifting team,” said Knott, whose brother is a member of the boys team. “I really like learning and lifting the weights.”