Pennridge powerlifting team muscles its way into record books
Coach Steve Pattison, or “CP” for short, recruits Pennridge students for his powerlifting team by walking up to them in the school hallway and asking, “Hi, how are you? How much do you weigh?”
Unmoved by the brazen question, about 35 students and parents have joined CP in his gym in Perkasie for intense one- to two-hour lifting sessions four times a week. And whatever he’s doing, it’s working because the Pennridge powerlifting team has beaten not just school, state and re- gional records, but 26 world records. Going up against about 40 other countries, the team beat others and its own past world records in bench, squat, dead-lift and total — the best of all three — at the world championships in Las Vegas in 2012.
“Coming from a town like Perkasie, what these guys have accomplished really is unheard of,” CP said. “It’s just not done.”
The team is on its own for finances, which can add up to large amounts quickly. This year the team had to pay its way to Las Vegas, and
two years ago team members paid their way to the Czech Republic.
CP said that the team fundraises with bake sales and car washes. After sending out letters to people and doing all he can to gather more funds, he “finds a way,” meaning CP covers the rest of the costs.
Though the team does have some tall, brawny characters, the majority of them look like normal Pennridge students until they flex.
“It’s not necessarily a body builder strength,” CP said. “Your body does get bigger, harder, firmer but it’s more power. That’s what it’s all about.”
Danielle Tasher, a Pennridge student who weighs 97 pounds, can dead-lift 230 pounds, but no one would guess it with her petite frame.
Johnny Hess, a 92-pound member of the team with bright blue eyes, broad shoulders and a constant smile, can bench 135 pounds. What makes Hess even more impressive is that the 16-year-old sophomore can bench that much while paralyzed from the waist down, a result of spina bifida, a birth defect.
CP said usually your legs are your base of everything, your drive for power.
“He’s doing it all from just the upper body,” CP said.
CP said he treats Hess no differently from the other members of the team, and Hess competes in the same meets as the others, not in handicapped powerlifting meets.
“I don’t look at him as handicapped — I yell at him just the same as anybody else,” his coach said.
Hess’ first meet was at the world championship, where he benched 135 pounds and got a standing ovation — something CP said never happens. As emotions ran high, CP said he got a little teary-eyed watching Hess compete.
“I think we all did,” said Christle Chapman, Hess’ mother.
Hess and CP met in the school hallways, where CP would often ask Hess to flex for him. One day, CP asked Hess to join his powerlifting team. Hess didn’t hesitate to say yes.
“Mom was a little nervous about me joining at first,” Hess said.
Chapman agreed; she was a skeptic at first. She was used to seeing her son on the sidelines, acting as scorekeeper. When Hess told her he wanted to join the team, she didn’t consider it seriously, but when her son brought her paperwork to sign, she called CP to talk about the possibility.
“I promised I would take care of him,” CP said.
Then, Hess began working out at the gym, getting bigger and stronger. At first, he could bench 80 or 85 pounds. CP has even higher hopes for Hess, even beyond the 135 pounds he can bench now.
“We’re going to have him up to a 250 bench in another six months,” he said. “He hasn’t even touched what he’s going to do. None of these kids here or the moms have touched what they’re going to stop at. We’re just getting started.”
CP says he recruits families, not just students. He ropes in parents whom he invites to visit his gym.
“You walk by and he traps you in,” Tasher said, whose mother is also a record holder.
“I need their trust. Next thing you know I suck them in,” CP said, as he pointed to Chapman as his next potential recruit. “She doesn’t know it yet, but she’ll be involved too.”
Anne-Marie Kemmerer, whose son used to lift, came into the gym and couldn’t even lift the bar. Now, she has set records in the masters division and is unbeatable, CP said. At 132 pounds, she can dead-lift 314 pounds.
CP said the secret to the team’s success was its hard work and members’ willingness to do what he asked of them.
“I put them through the ringer,” he said. “I demand the best from my best. Every single one of them gives 100 percent.”
Some of the parents at the gym, however, said CP de- served just as much credit.
“It takes hard work and commitment and dedication on the kids, but it takes as much hard work and dedication from the coach,” Chapman said.
CP recently won Coach of the Year at the world championships this year, which is an award that all the coaches involved voted on. CP said he received it since his team had won the world championship two years in a row, something that just doesn’t happen, he said.
“We’re going to win it again next year. I know it,” he said. “These kids work extremely hard. They’re very dedicated. They do everything we ask. I couldn’t be more proud of what they do.”
Coach Steve “CP” Pattison, center, poses with the Pennridge High School powerlifting team.
Kelly Hennigan, a Pennridge High School freshman, lifts 135 pounds as her coach and teammates watch.
Steve “CP” Pattison, owner of Metal Health Gym and coach of the Pennridge High School powerlifting team, flexes his muscle with sophomore team member John Hess, 16, who is paralyzed from the waist down as a result of spina bifida.
Steve “CP” Pattison, coach of the Pennridge High School powerlifting team, stands with several of the awards, medals and trophies he has won.