Back in 1968, Eunice Kennedy Shriver founded the organization that became Special Olympics, the world's largest sports organization for people with intellectual disabilities. The first official Special Olympics Winter Games were held in 1977 in Colorado. Since Eunice's daughter Maria Shriver was married at the time to a former Mr. Universe, Arnold Schwarzenegger, it makes sense that powerlifting was added to the roster of the Special Olympics competitions.

Powerlifting consists of three lifts: squat, bench press and deadlift, all with the maximum weight possible. In a typical competition, an athlete has three attempts at each lift. Since Special Olympics athletes have a range of abilities and disabilities, they can choose to attempt all or only one of the lifts during the competition.

Southside Strength and Fitness is an Anchorage gym that specializes in strength training. Hal and Marvel Lloyd have volunteered the gym and their time to help train the Special Olympics powerlifting team since becoming owners of Southside in 2010. The gym is its own little community, and the athletes working out there show support for their Special O colleagues. Bobby Hill, who has Down syndrome, has been powerlifting 15 years and is a top competitor in Alaska, with a cumulative lift of about 830 pounds over all three events during last year's state competition. He's also known and loved in Anchorage as the mascot for the Anchorage Aces hockey team. Richard Renwick, another top Special Olympics athlete, is good pals with Bobby, and it's not uncommon to hear them trash-talking as they recover from a set of lifts.

Renwick has been powerlifting for 16 years, and over all three events in last year's state Special Olympics competition, he cumulatively powerlifted 924 pounds. Renwick began weightlifting in high school and says it helped him "get more stronger, more endurance, and more in shape." The competition makes him happy. "I hear people cheering me on and stuff, and I feel that," he said.

Southside Strength and Fitness will host the qualifying meet for the 2014 Special Olympics state competition on May 10. The state games will be held at East High School in Anchorage on the first weekend in June. The Special O powerlifting team coaches are all volunteers. You can help by coaching, sponsoring an athlete, or by cheering them on at the competitions, which are open to the public.

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