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Inaugural Special Olympics Forsyth County Battle of the Barbells held at local church
Battle of the Barbells
Greg Cloud holds a deadlift on Saturday during the first-ever Special Olympics Forsyth County Battle of the Barbells at Cumming First United Methodist Church. - photo by Kelly Whitmire

Athletes from five organizations came to Forsyth County to pump iron this weekend. 

On Saturday, Special Olympics Forsyth County hosted the inaugural Battle of the Barbells at Cumming First United Methodist Church. The event featured 13 athletes from Forsyth County, along with visitors from the Kay Center Tigers from Fort Valley, Abilities Unlimited from Savannah, Douglas County Parks and Recreation and Henry County Parks and Recreation.

Dana Westbrook, chair of Special Olympics Forsyth County, said lifting has several benefits for the athletes. 

Battle of the Barbells
Andrew Rider performs a deadlift on Saturday during the Forsyth County Special Olympics Battle of the Barbells. - photo by Kelly Whitmire
“It keeps you active not only physical but mentally,” she said. “Especially if you are trying to compete to lift weights, it’s not all physical. There is a lot of mental fortitude that is needed. That they can get together, see their peers and keep active … it’s rewarding and successful for them.”

During the event, powerlifters competed in bench press, deadlift and squat competitions and awards were given individually and on a team basis. 

“A lot of athletes, they participate in other events besides powerlifting,” said Coach Mark Keesee. “So, what we’re trying to do is give each individual athlete a chance to come and participate in a different sport.”

Keesee, who has a background in powerlifting, said he believes lifting teaches competitors to set goals and achieve them. 

“For each one of their lifts, they try to set personal records,” he said. “Personal records lead to self-confidence because they get so excited about increasing all the time.”

Each week, the team practices at Keesee’s home, where he has set up a gym.

“Two times a week they practice,” Keesee said. “They practice on Tuesday and Thursday. I’ve got a gym set up at my house and half my basement set up like a gym. We’re called Team SOForsyth, and that’s where we practice.”

Keesee said lifters commonly tell him they can’t lift the weight when they start training, so coaches write down the weights athletes lift and increase weights in practices until competitors can lift it five times. 

Battle of the Barbells
Competitor Maranda Way, above, performs a deadlift on Saturday during the first-ever Forsyth County Special Olympics Battle of the Barbells. - photo by Kelly Whitmire
“We have very good coaches that know the athletes lifting tendencies,” he said. “We know when to push them in practice and when to back off. We as coaches are always amazed at the meet seeing how much the athletes can lift. We always try to push them to achieve new personal records.”

Competitor Greg Cloud said he liked lifting because it let him exercise, have fun and make friends. 

“My favorite is deadlift,” Cloud said. “I lift some heavier weights.” 

Teammate Maranda Way said she liked all the lifts, and when asked why she likes lifting, flexed her muscles.

Westbrook said holding the event meant competitors had a chance other than Special Olympics to compete and many goals were reached.

“We’ve seen a lot of personal bests today from our athletes,” she said. “Just the joy and enthusiasm they have when they are setting their goals and trying their best, it’s very rewarding.”