Weightlift and BBQ in the good old summertime

Athletes have competed under the open skies in Perham nearly every summer for a decade, at the Power Works Gym's "Annual Push and Pull and Barbeque," which was held July 31. Only in Minnesota would there be a weight-lifting competition with such ...

Field of competitors
The entire field of competitors, judges and volunteers posed for this photo following the Power Works Gym Annual Push and Pull and Barbeque meet, July 31 in Perham.

Athletes have competed under the open skies in Perham nearly every summer for a decade, at the Power Works Gym's "Annual Push and Pull and Barbeque," which was held July 31. Only in Minnesota would there be a weight-lifting competition with such an unusual array of features:

--Down the road from several of the state's 10,000 lakes

--Right across the railroad tracks from the Burlington Northern-Santa-Fe line, where coal-hauling freights rumble past at least once an hour-whistle blowing at full steam.

--A stone's throw from the St. Henry's Catholic Cemetery; and on the other side of the parking lot from the Northwoods Assembly Church.

--A few dozen paces from a charcoal grill, loaded with hotdogs, brats, burgers and rib-eye steaks.


The Perham power-lifting meet has a ten-year tradition, and it's one time of year when dedicated weight lifters from throughout the region have an opportunity to work out in a "Lake Wobegon" setting-rather than in the confines of the gym.

"This has always been a favorite event for lifters-in the heart of the lake country, with great hospitality and good food," said Paul Whitney, a longtime lifter from Breckenridge who has been a familiar face and voice behind the microphone; serving as announcer for nearly all of the Power Works "Push and Pull Barbeque" meets. Whitney's commentary clips along all day-interrupted only by the howl of the train whistle.

"One year, we had to tone it down for a while, when there was a burial across the road at the cemetery," recalled Whitney with a smile.

Sixteen lifters from as far as the Twin Cities Metro Area, northwestern Minnesota, North Dakota and Otter Tail County hoisted heavy metal under the hot sun.

Founder of the summer meet is Tom Hagenmiller, owner of the Perham gym. He has competed nationally in Florida, Las Vegas, Portland, Chicago and other cities. He holds a number of state and national records, and has won four world championships.

Not only does Haggenmiller serve as meet director, he was the oldest competitor in the field, which was comprised of mostly 20-and-50-something lifters.

Competition was in two lifts: The bench press (push) and the dead lift (pull). Longtime East Otter Tail resident Haggenmiller, weighing in at 198 pounds, benched 264.2 pounds. His top dead lift was 446 pounds-but missed his final dead lift, at 500 pounds.

The lone female competitor was Kathy Leither, Fargo, who is ranked fourth in the nation in her age and weight class. As a Cold Spring high school student, Leither set several national high school records. Her top bench press was 203.7 pounds, and her best dead lift was 352 pounds. At 21-years-old, she is a student at Minnesota State University-Moorhead.


"I like to go to the gym and out lift the guys," laughed Leither, a feat she is often able to perform, at her home gym, Dakota Barbell in Fargo.

Anthony Carlquist, a teacher and coach at Shanley High School, who hoisted 727.5 pounds, completed the best dead lift of the day. The 31-year-old's personal record in the dead lift is 781.

At the bench, 20-year-old Nick Boll, Fargo, lifted 529 pounds for the top weight of the day. So heavy was the weight, it took three assistants to lift the barbell to Boll.

Competing at the meet was a 19-time Minnesota state champion Brian Hudyma, who traveled to Perham from Lakeville. Brian, 58, was a gold medal winner for the U.S. at the world championship in Argentina in 2005. He has competed at nine of the ten Power Works barbeque meets.

Lifting from the area was former Ottertail resident James Wang, who lifts at the Pain Factory in Fergus Falls. Wang benched 308 pounds; and his dead lift was 464.

Owner of the Fergus Falls gym, Jesse Canton, 31, weighing only 216, broke the 600-pound mark in the dead lift.

The competition was topped by several fun events, including the "dumbbell carry," where lifters tote a pair of 100-pound dumbbells around a course. Gary Grahn, a 55-year-old lifter from Atwater, won the event. Grahn completed two laps around the grounds.

The sled drag event features lifters, towing their body weight on a cast -iron sled. Carlquist pulled 260 pounds for two full laps to win the event.


Also in the post-meet strength events was the "bench press of your body weight." Winning was Lee Huckle, Fargo, who completed 25 repetitions of his body weight of 200 pounds.

The event concludes in good Minnesota lake country fashion-with an outdoor steak barbeque.

"Putting on a meet of this caliber is very time-consuming, but it's always great to attract some of the best lifters in the five-state area," said Haggenmiller, who owns and operates the Power Works gym at 949 W. Main Street, next to Northwoods church. The phone number for Power Works is 651-366-1595.

"Freak Show"
Marshall "Freak Show" Johnson, intimidating in appearance but a gentleman in person, was one of the top lifters at the Power Works meet.

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