As Cayleigh Moorhead of Glenville approached the barbell she was about to deadlift, determination settled across her face. She bent down, pulled the 99 pound bar close to her shins and began pulling both herself and the bar up.
She held it for a couple of seconds and then dropped it. She had hit her goal for the day.
Moorhead, 13, was one of 11 people from the Capital Region participating in the Special Olympics New York Powerlifting Teams 3rd Annual Spartan Showdown in Latham on Saturday morning.
Lifters competed in three categories for three rounds–squat, bench press and deadlift.
At first, Moorhead, the youngest and only female competitor, was expected to take part in only the deadlift portion of the event, but her coach felt she could do all three. So she did.
“Just because she’s small doesn’t mean anything,” said Coach John Mendez.
He said Moorhead has a can-do attitude, where if he put a couple hundred pounds of weight on the bar, she’d still at least attempt to lift it.
That’s what the special olympics is all about, said Stacey Hengsterman, the president and CEO of state Special Olympics.
It’s also about inclusion, she said, noting the team trains during the busiest hours at ABC Sports and Fitness, where its members are treated like anyone else lifting at the gym.
Saturday was extra special for Hengsterman who watched her son Alex Hengsterman, an 11th grader at Shenendehowa High School, participate.
“I never dreamed he’d like it so much,” she said.
She said powerlifting raises the spirits of the kids and influences their physical, mental and emotional well-being.
That was prominent throughout the event, as lifters supported and cheered each other on. It also came across the face of lifters as they hit goals throughout the day–some by lifting a certain weight, others by just attempting a lift.
But the amount of weight the spartans are lifting doesn’t matter, Mendez said, “as long as they’re laughing and having fun.”
Watching Moorhead grow in strength over the last two years has been an especially gratifying moment, Mendez said. He said when they first met to train she could bench, squat or lift.
On Saturday she squatted 50 pounds, benched 45 pounds and deadlifted 99 pounds.
“People shouldn’t underestimate people with disabilities,” said Cayleigh’s mom Michelle Moorhead.
Moorhead said while her daughter has down syndrome, it hasn’t stopped her from trying new things.
“If they would let kids do what they can do with the right support they would flourish,” she said.
She recalled how she’s seen others at the showdown grow and change over the years, going from not being able to lift heavy weight, to some deadlifting over 200 and 300 pounds.
While Cayleigh Moorhead was elated to compete in all three areas Saturday, she said just being a part of the team is the best part.
Up next for Moorhead is preparing to go to the 2022 USA Games at the Disney World Resort in Orlando, Florida. Moorhead, who is also a gymnast, said she’s looking forward to vaulting.
Reporter Shenandoah Briere can be reached at 518-478-3320 or [email protected]