Beyond Strength: Knox College Powerlifting, 2020

The energy in the E & L Andrew Fitness was palpable. Winter sunlight cascaded through the expanse of windows in the Knox College weightroom to highlight a bar loaded with almost 600 pounds. GiHo Jeong was approaching the platform.

One year prior, GiHo was leading the Whitney Young High School powerlifting team to its first appearance in the Illinois High School Powerlifting Association State Championship meet. His team competed well and GiHo took 1st Place in his weight class, setting a few state records along the way (including multiple state records in the 181 lb. weight class).

On February 8, 2020, GiHo was older, wiser, and impressively well-trained. The Loyola University Chicago student was competing along a few of his classmates, as well as athletes from Knox College, the University of Iowa, North Park University, McKendree University, and Albion College at the 2nd Annual Prairie Fire Powerlifting Meet.

As the day progressed, so did GiHo’s total. He was now on to one of his final deadlift attempts.

All in attendance were cheering in both support and awe as GiHo approached the fully loaded bar. With the support of those around him, and with countless hours of diligent training to lean on, GiHo lifted that 575 lbs. to raucous applause.

It was one of many highlights in a fantastic day.

GiHo’s teammate Al Dines, a Criminal Justice and Poly Sci major, was impressed by the camaraderie between opposing lifters. She said there was something special about “being supported by people I just met this morning.”

Svea Hammarlund, another LUC athlete, majoring in Theater and Psychology, was proud of the effort she and the other lifters were putting in. She suggested that there was something empowering about going for a personal record attempt (which she did on almost all of her lifts), even if the lift didn’t go as planned.

There was clearly something valuable about pushing personal limits while feeding off of the positive energy of the environment.

Jonathan Suppelsa, an Exercise Science major from Albion College, said that he “loved it.” Noting that there are very few environments in which you can push yourself to the limit physically while feeling “welcomed, not intimidated,” and excited to see all of the other lifters do their best.

In powerlifting, Suppelsa noted that you don’t have to root against your opponents – you want everyone to succeed, and if your training was good enough, you will win. Suppelsa’s 500 lb. squat and optimistic attitude helped him come away with 1st place in the 308 lb. division.

Awards are given out at Good Athlete Project meets. It is acknowledged that when one willingly enters competition in life that there are winners and losers. But in typical form, the meet organizers highlighted the fact that trophies and medals should not determine the overall value of the day.

“Healthy competition is a great thing, but I want you to recognize the idea that the stuff we talked about over the course of the day is what actually matters. Your effort, your grit, your resilience, your ability to perform and focus in the midst of a chaotic moment, your willingness to support one another and be your best self in the moments where it matters most… that is the value.”

Still, those who worked hard and performed well enough to win earned their awards.

The top three Wilks scores of the day went to Jeong, Brandon Derrick (McKendree University), and James Dinaso (Knox College).

Derrick represented McKendree University like a champ, making HUGE weights move with ease. His story is an amazing one – read up on it here: https://beyondstrength.net/2019/12/27/bulldog-strong/

Dinaso, also a defensive lineman at Knox College, has been an essential part of the Knox Powerlifting Club. His energy and passion are one of the clear reasons the club in Galesburg, IL is thriving.

But the energy of the day can ultimately be traced back to Coach Andy Gibbons. After a 27 year career as a football coach at the college, Gibbons took on his new role as Head Strength Coach. His passion for strength and interest in seeing young people reach their potential have made him the perfect fit for the job.

There are great things going on at Knox College, which is ahead of the curve in the Midwest Conference, using strength as a platform for performance enhancement and character development.

It was the 2nd annual Good Athlete Project Powerlifting Meet at Knox, and the positive feedback has already led to the planning of the third event. Gibbons said, “It was just a great event overall and I cannot wait to do it again next year,” said Gibbons. “These guys do a fantastic job, and it’s always good to have alumni back. I have to thank the athletes who traveled to compete, and everyone with the Good Athlete Project who worked so hard to make the day a success.”

“I was so pleased when Jim reached out and proposed using our Prairie Fire weight room for this competition,” said Director of Athletics Daniella Irle. “We were excited to host the event. Anytime you can bring like-minded participants together to compete and learn from each other that’s a win.”

There are a lot of wins coming out of Knox College these days. And with an ahead-of-the curve commitment to strength and conditioning, undoubtedly more to come.