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'Competing against yourself' - United States Powerlifting Association’s ND Open held in Dickinson

Damien Pezzuti successfully bench- presses 402 pounds during the United States Powerlifting Association's North Dakota Open held at the National Guard Armory in Dickinson on Saturday, Oct. 6. Photo by James B. Miller, Jr. / The Dickinson Press.

A sizeable crowd gathered at the National Guard Armory Saturday to cheer on competitors during the United States Powerlifting Association's North Dakota Open, held in Dickinson over the weekend.

The gymnasium's dated Arnold Schwarzenegger posters and protein powder vendors served as backdrop for the 2019 Drug Tested National Powerlifting Qualifier. Each of the nearly

60 competitors aspired to be one of the few earning a summer trip to the championship

in Las Vegas.

"We always say that you aren't competing against the other people or the weights, you're competing against yourself," Wendy Clem, coach of the local Pit Strength & Barbell powerlifting team, said. "Our motto is: Go out there and beat yourself."

Dawson Richter, a 14-year-old Dickinson High School freshman weighing 108 pounds, was the smallest competitor on his team competing in a competition featuring competitors in weight classes exceeding 300 pounds. Richter's coach said that while it was his first-ever competition he felt confident that he would perform well for his weight class.

By the end of the day he would set three state records and break the national record in the deadlift. Richter squatted 203 pounds, benched 126 pounds and successfully deadlifted 297 pounds.

Another local powerlifter, Kelsey Craig, set three state records of her own. Craig squatted 240 pounds, benched 115 pounds and deadlifted 314 pounds en route to being named the best overall junior female of the competition.

Both competitors are members of the Pit Strength & Barbell powerlifting team, which garnered acclaim at the competition.

"We're so proud of everyone. They were a great group to coach," Wendy Clem, co-owner of The Pit, said. "We train five times a week. We film each other, correct each other. It's like a family."

For many of the competitors, this was their first official competition.

Gracin Clem, son of Pit owners Dave and Wendy, placed third in the open division, surpassing personal and competition records.

"Powerlifting is more than simply lifting heavy weights. To me, it's just as much about inner strength and mental fortitude," Gracin Clem said.

The United States Powerlifting Association echoes that sentiment as they promote more than just strength and healthy bodies. Steve Denison, president of the United States Powerlifting Association, said his mission and expectation is to provide the highest quality education and competition for members.

"I have trained and competed for 30 years," Denison said. "I love the sport of powerlifting, and I look forward to meeting and introducing people to the sport every year."

The USPA are the leading powerlifting organization in the United States, with a mission to provide education, affiliation and support for the competitions they host annually. A full list of upcoming events can be found on their website at

Other stand-out local competitors included Ty Buckman, who placed first in both the junior and open raw divisions; Jamie Moreno Jr., who placed second in his division; Karter Davis, who placed first in both the junior and open classic division; Jennifer Joe, who set state records in the open division; and Kyle Heiser, who performed well against stiff competition.