She doesn’t look like a weightlifter. Her biceps don’t bulge and look more suited to carrying a tray at her dad’s restaurant. But as Rachael Ellering, of Grey Eagle, points out, she’s not a body builder, and she doesn’t lift the type of weights that Olympian competitors do. She is, in fact, a power lifter, and she recently took bronze at the World Power Lifting Championship at Potchofstroom, South Africa.
Rachael Ellering, of Grey Eagle, prepares for a deadlift at the World Power Lifting Championship in South Africa. Ellering is the daughter of Paul Ellering, a wrestler and dogsledder, and Deb Ellering-Rosenberg, a power lifter and fitness competitor. Contributed photo
“Power lifting is a sport in itself. It’s squat, deadlift and bench press,” she explains. “In the Olympics they do the snatch and the clean and jerk. So I don’t lift above my head. Squat, deadlift and bench press are the three most basic lifts. They are the foundation for all fitness programs.”
Both men and women compete in power lifting. At Rachael’s event, the youngest competitor was an American girl of 13 or 14, and the oldest was a 62-year-old man. Thirty-two countries were represented at the championships, which, like the Olympics, feature opening ceremonies and medal awards at the end of each day. A banquet caps the last day. Rachael’s award ceremony was made doubly sweet because the winner, Mickelina Belaineh, was from the USA, so she got to see two American flags fly as the national anthem was played.
“I got to hold the flag. It was very, very cool.” For the record, Rachael lifted 140 kilograms or 310 pounds in the squat and deadlift, and 70 kilograms or 154 pounds in the bench press, for a total of 345 kilograms or 760 pounds.
Rachael comes by her talents naturally. Her dad, Paul Ellering, otherwise “Precious Paul,” was a wrestler and dogsledder and held a world power lifting record. Today he is the owner of the Rock Tavern near Grey Eagle. Mom Deb Ellering-Rosenberg held several power lifting state records and was a fitness competitor.
“My dad helps me train. I can ask him anything because he’s very well-versed in all of it. I lift four days a week, and I kind of piece together things from everybody I’ve talked to. You’re always trying to train heavier and harder, and you’re always changing what you’re doing, so I never just do one thing.” She points out that lifting with the legs is most important, so power lifters never put their backs at risk.
It is easy to imagine a power lifter all by herself or himself in a gym, working alone, with no teammates to toss a ball around or challenge to a race. In fact, Rachael says, the gym atmosphere is very team-like, with everybody willing to help everybody else. She says that big universities have power lifting teams and hold nationals every year, but her school, St. Catherine’s, St. Paul, does not.
One of the perks of the competition was an all-day safari.
“It’s so cool because you’re in the animals’ home; they’re not in a zoo where you’re there to see them.” She spotted rhinos, elephants, water buffalo, zebras, and warthogs. It was her first trip out of the country, but not the first time to travel for her sport. She has won back-to-back state championships, the Twin Cities Open, the Hudson Open, and the Twin Ports Open, among others. Rachael is a senior, majoring in communication studies. She will have to figure out a career path, as power lifting, as she points out, unlike sports like figure skating or basketball, pays nothing. She paid for her own trip to worlds, as she does to all her competitions. As for her future in her sport, Rachael says that studies have shown that strength trainers don’t hit their peak until their mid-to-late 20s, and some keep at it much longer.
“It depends. You have to stay healthy. As long as it’s still enjoyable and I’m still getting stronger, I’ll stick with it. No matter what I do, I’ll always be doing some form of power lifting. It’s a lifetime sport. I’m always training for something, if not always for worlds.”