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Strong showing
Strong showing

Men and women of Missoula powerlifting team capture regional title

During breakfast on the morning of the first powerlifting competition of her life, Coty Ginsberg looked at her toast and eggs and figured she was in trouble.

"I was so nervous," said Ginsberg, a 25-year-old Missoula lifter. "And then the waitress screwed up my order. I got scrambled eggs instead of over-easy. And I got white toast instead of wheat. I thought that was definitely a bad omen."

But Ginsberg's interpretation of her botched-up breakfast couldn't have been more wrong.

The rookie lifter from Missoula's Bullet Gym went on to capture first place in her weight class earlier this month at the 10th Annual Rocky Mountain States Powerlifting Championships in Pocatello, Idaho. Ginsberg was one of six lifters from the Missoula gym who performed admirably at the USA Powerlifting competition, propelling Bullet to the team title at the regional meet for lifters who hoist iron without the use of performance-enhancing drugs.

"I never thought I would win," Ginsberg said in an interview last week. "I was pretty naive and didn't pay attention to the other competitors. When my coach leaned over and said, 'I think you placed,' I said, 'Don't even talk about it.' Then I found out I won."

Joining Ginsberg in the team winner's circle at the Idaho meet were Bullet Gym owners and coaches Suanne and Mike Casey, and lifters Dave McCarthy, Ryan Ragain and Holly Oxford.

"This is the first time our team has won a regional competition," said Mike Casey, who trains lifters at the downtown Missoula gym he operates with wife Suanne. "For me, the team winning is as good as doing well myself."

Mike Casey said it was particularly impressive for the Bullet team to win a regional meet with only six competitors.

"We had to rely on a small team," he said. "Generally, the team that wins is from the host gym."

The most impressive performance from the Bullet team was turned in by Oxford, who took first place in the 198-pound female division. In only her second year of powerlifting, Oxford, who ranks 14th nationally, squat-lifted 355 pounds; bench-pressed 205 pounds; and dead-lifted 375 pounds for a total of 935 pounds - enough to qualify her for the national championships next January in Minnesota.

"I definitely will try to go" to nationals, Oxford said.

Oxford, 43, said she got into powerlifting as a way to work out after spending her days sitting in front of a computer.

"I like to feel strong," Oxford said, adding that she works out four days a week for about 90 minutes a session. "I think a woman's body looks good if it has some muscles."

McCarthy, who took first place in the men's 181-pound division, said the reason the Bullet team did well in Idaho was that the female team members turned in top-notch performances.

"The fact that the women placed high really got us a lot of points," said McCarthy, who has been lifting for 30 years and competing for 20 years. "Everybody we took to the meet was pretty competitive."

McCarthy, 43, had only seven weeks to prepare for the meet after undergoing back surgery. But that didn't stop the Missoula parole officer from lifting 500 pounds in the squat, bench-pressing 320 pounds and dead-lifting 490 pounds for a total of 1,310 pounds.

The Bullet lifters gave credit for their success to the Caseys, who opened Bullet Gym a little over three years ago on East Main Street.

"They're the reason I did so well," said Ginsberg, who trained for the competition for only a year and lifted a total of 640 pounds. "They kind of blindsided me into it at first, but I'm totally hooked on it now. … Everybody here works together and helps each other out."

Suanne Casey, who has been lifting for about six years, said female team members got into lifting as "kind of a fluke."

"Then we kicked some butt," she said. "Now we have a core group of lifters who are fun and good at it and are training hard to improve."

Suanne Casey said powerlifting long has been regraded as male-dominated territory. But not anymore.

"If it was girls, the mind-set was no way they can do that," said Suanne Casey, who competed in the Pocatello meet while three months pregnant. "But the whole concept of powerlifting is not what it used to be. Once you get past the misperception that you are going to become a big, bulky masculine version of yourself, women can do quite well. … It's really a totally satisfying experience."

Reporter Gary Jahrig can be reached at 523-5259 or at gjahrig@missoulian.com.

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