A tall, brown-haired man built like a brick wall lies slowly down on a gym bench and flexes his biceps.
Behind his glasses, he carefully contemplates the barbell suspended above his head. He grasps the metal bar, and with a mighty grunt of effort, he lifts the barbell above his chest. A satisfied grin spreads across his innocent face as he realizes he has just lifted 400 pounds of metal.
This is Michael Bierman, a 29-year-old powerlifter with a shy smile and an easygoing gait. What makes him so special is not just his ability to lift 400-pound weights.
Bierman is one of 10,000 athletes who competed at the Southern California Special Olympics at Cal State Fullerton last Saturday. He is intellectually disabled.
Casual in gray track pants and an Orange County Choppers’ shirt, the 6-foot-3 235-pound powerlifter from Thousand Oaks walks into the Titan Student Union Theatre to join his teammates from Ventura County.
“He’s been training for this since last year,” says Bierman’s coach, Brian Koster. “He’s doing really good.”
Bierman confidently says that he has been competing for 10 to 12 years now, and can bench press up to 438 pounds.
“It makes me happy and proud, I believe,” he says with a grin. “I think I just got involved in the different sports that I do, like bowling, tennis [and] skiing.” But Bierman’s true passion is powerlifting, which he started training for in 1995.
“I practice every Sunday,” Bierman says proudly. “My personal best is 438 [pounds]. But my limit is 500 [pounds]. I don’t want to hurt my back.”
Bierman is extremely proud of all the athletic competitions he’s won. “It feels pretty good having all those medals,” he gushes. “I take them out of my closet and count them to see how many I have.”
The athlete has already competed in basketball and volleyball, but mentions that the one sport he would never do was swimming.
When asked about how his diet helps prepare him for competitions and whether he believes in healthy eating, Bierman looks a little confused.
“At my last powerlifting competition, I was trying to lose a lot of weight,” Bierman replies finally. “Then when I get home I eat all the junk food I want.” He also explains that he eats a lot of steaks to stay healthy, but not fish because he doesn’t like fish.
He also says that the one person who really inspires him to improve his sport is his girlfriend, Alison Wilks, who is also a weightlifter. He has his arm around her as he waits fro his turn to compete in the theatre.
“I do my bench press then I go see my girlfriend,” he says happily, blushing a little under his glasses. “She’s my queen [powerlifter] and I’m her king [powerlifter].”
Wilks is one of the powerlifters on the Ventura County team who competed in this year’s Olympics. When asked for more details about his girlfriend, Bierman blushes deeply, covers his face and backs away.
Bierman goes on to say that his role model is Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.
“My favorite Arnold movie is ‘Terminator,'” he adds with a grin.
Tim Redmond, Chairman of the Special Olympics’ Advisory Council, explains that this is because of the Governor’s support for the organization.
“He’s a long-time volunteer,” Redmond says. “And his wife Maria’s mother is the heart and soul of the Olympics.” No wonder Bierman is so hung up on Schwarzenegger.
When asked for his other interests, Bierman talks about his love for motorcycles.
“I love American Chopper,” he says. He goes on to mention all the American Chopper shirts he has, including the one he was wearing. “I even have Mikey Spike,” he adds.
For Bierman, powerlifting bring passion into life because through this sport, he can “just enjoy” himself.
Redmond agrees and explains that this is the very reason why the Special Olympics is held every year.
“These people [with mental disabilities] can do things they could never achieve otherwise,” Redmond says. “It has nothing to do with competition-They overcome obstacles.”
As for Bierman, he is confident that he will do well in this competition and hopes that other people with the same disabilities would overcome their handicap as well.
“Powerlifters should work hard at home,” he says with a gleam in his eyes. “They should get really strong and really, really healthy.”
It seems like nothing on the world can stop Michael Bierman from overcoming any obstacle _” be it in the competition or in life.
This article was written for the on-the-spot feature story contest at J.A.C.C. It won first place.