Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Female powerlifter with spina bifida eyes Paralympics one day

From WYTV in Ohio:

East Palestine, Ohio, resident Chelsi Figley (pictured) said she has dreams of one day being an Olympian.

The 27 year-old is a powerlifter and makes daily visits to The Workout Center in Columbiana. She’s only been lifting weights for a year and a half, but both she and her trainer, Brian Raneri, are optimistic she can attain her goal of being a Paralympian.

“I just kind of threw myself into it and didn’t really know what I was getting into,” Figley said. “But it’s a lot of fun. I love it.”

Figley was born with Spina Bifida, which is a birth defect that causes her to be paralyzed from her waist-down. She said in her case, she can feel most of her waist, and did not experience many of the side effects that others who have this defect endure.

“I tried to participate in as much as I could, but being in such a small town-type area, there’s not as much that is available to people with disabilities,” Figley said.

While in high school, Figley managed most of the girls’ athletic teams and kept statistics, which allowed her to letter in those sports. Figley has always had a passion for sports because she loves the competitiveness, but also because she desires to be a part of a team, she said.

“I’ve always had a certain feeling of exclusion because of my differences,” Figley said. “Even whenever people try to include me, I still feel very different most of the time because of how I have to do things.”

Figley said she began lifting weights in June 2008 because she wanted to lose weight. She spoke with a trainer and together, they eased into her this life-transition, she said.

“I was intimidated, but I was at a point when I was ready to do it,” Figley said. “…The hardest part about lifting is trusting who you are with, with as much help as I need.”

After lifting for weight loss for five months, Figley said she had decided that she wanted to compete. In Aug. 2009, Figley began training at The Workout Center with Raneri because she needed a trainer who was geared toward competitive lifting.

Raneri said he met Figley through a mutual friend. When he first spoke to her, he was on the way to his son’s baseball game, but was intrigued by her situation.

“I got kind of excited,” Raneri said. “Somebody out there would want to do what she wanted to do in her situation. I was kind of thrilled… You could just tell the energy she had and how excited she was about bench pressing and powerlifitng.”

Figley said Raneri is exactly what she needs in a trainer. Raneri, she said, is very knowledgeable in powerlifting and training.

He also goes out of his way to adapt exercises to make the possible for her to perform. As a team, they take equipment and “rig it up” specifically so it’s easier for Figley to access the machines.

“He is not afraid to try anything with me… He watches all of the movements I make and he can tell by the way I hold myself what muscles are there and what to try. He’s really broadened the exercises that I can do,” Figley said.

Raneri said one of the major challenges Figley faces is stability. He said that without the use of her legs, there are many things she can’t do. He said he spent some time himself trying to lift without using his legs so he could better understand what Figley deals with.

“One thing turns into another and you become very inventive on how you do things and what you do with her,” Raneri said.

So far Figley has competed in three competitions, two of which were put on by Paralympic coaches. Figley still has quite a ways to go before she can qualify, but Raneri said he’s “optimistic” that she can meet her goals.

“I’ve always had a dream of wanting to work up to an elite level with someone who wanted to be there with me,” Figley said. “I think it’s part of me always feeling excluded. I wanted someone who wanted to work that hard and be involved in it enough.”

She said she expects to compete again in April or May. She does many of the traditional exercises, but her main focus is the bench press, she said. She currently maxes out at 190 lbs., she said.

“I do a lot,” Figley said. “Anything that doesn’t include your legs, and some that do because [Raneri] figures out a way to hold me down,” Figley said.

Raneri said Figley has come far in the small amount of time she’s been training. If Figley can bench 217 lbs., Raneri said she would qualify for funding to get to competitions and for training.

“It’s all about her, getting her where she needs to be,” Raneri said. “I get a very big thrill from watching her succeed and watching her weights to up and knowing that I’m her partner in some way and I’m helping her to get where she needs to be.”