Weight of world on their shoulders: Senior powerlifters show strength of character in competition, supporting teammates

Beads of sweat break out across their brow. Their jaws are clenched as each second ticks by until they are clear. The judge signals that it was a clean lift and they drop the bar to the ground with a resounding crash. Seniors Kaywin McCall and Mark Vavra work day in and day out to perfect the craft of powerlifting and push themselves further than they ever thought possible.

“Last year as a junior, I had really high expectations for myself,” Kaywin said. “I really wanted to go to state, and to do that, I had to do really well at the regional meet. However, I got last place and was heart-broken.”

Kaywin didn’t take the disappointment lightly and used it as motivation to push herself forward immediately following the event.

“I was in the gym the next day and have been in it every day since; sometimes twice a day, sometimes three times a day,” Kaywin said. “I don’t ever want to feel that kind of disappointment again – I beat myself up over it, and then I took that negative energy to the weights. Now I’m so much better from that defeat.”

Although powerlifting is an individual sport, there is still a team component when it comes to working together and motivating each other. Kaywin sees senior teammate Mark Vavra as one of the many people who pushes her to be successful.

“Mark and I both had disappointing regional meets,” Kaywin said. “We worked out together every single day last year. We spotted each other, motivated each other, and we made each other so much better.”

Like Kaywin, Mark struggled during his junior year after sustaining several injuries before the region competition.

“My sophomore and junior year, I tore my labrum in both my shoulders and I fractured my right one as well,” Mark said. “I bombed out at region and didn’t get passed squat, they called my first and said I didn’t get low enough. I got disqualified for my last lift.”

Mark looks to Kaywin for support during powerlifting as well and sees team unity as an important part of the sport.

“Kaywin helps spot me and wrap my knees,” Mark said. “She records my lifts so we can watch over it and see what I did wrong. She’s always there for support or if I ever need anything.”

As an individual strength event, Mark sees powerlifting as a sport focused on hard work and determination.

“Powerlifting teaches you a lot about commitment and work ethic,” Mark said. “As far as powerlifting goes compared to other sports, it doesn’t require a lot of talent. It’s more about who actually goes in and works hard at it every day.”

Kaywin echoes the benefits of powerlifting in her own life and believes she’s a better person because of the sport.

“Powerlifting has shaped me into a stronger person all around,” Kaywin said. “Physically, mentally, emotionally, I’m a lot more resilient. It’s taught me a lot about work ethic, and to appreciate the little victories.”

Powerlifting to Kaywin isn’t a chore or a requirement, it’s a hobby and she has invested her time into bettering herself and her technique, which is one of the factors that has put her at the top and helped her train other students who look up to her.

“Powerlifting is more of an investment,” Kaywin said. “I’ve invested so much time into powerlifting. From waking up and being at the gym at 5 am, to going to the gym after a long day at school or work. I’ve had to skip hanging out with friends because I needed to rest, I’ve had a good diet, and invested in others to lean on and learn from.”

It’s very rewarding for Kaywin to help her team succeed as she cherishes each moment with her team.

“The everyday moments are cool,” Kaywin said. “The workout from day to day, the moments you spend with your team and challenging yourself in the weightroom, that’s what it’s all about.”

Powerlifting is an endurance sport that requires dedication while providing a place to set and achieve goals.

“It takes time,” Kaywin said. “Strength is a process. It’s not an overnight thing, you have to be willing to work for your goals. It’s supposed to challenge you, and you’re going to be sore.”

Mark isn’t the only one who has seen Kaywin grow mentally and physically in the weightroom. Her coach, Robert Jesurun, has mentored her from the very beginning and recognizes what makes her an outstanding athlete.

“Kaywin has grown emotionally and physically stronger since I have started coaching,” Jesurun said. “Kaywin’s best trait is that she refuses to quit.”

Jesurun has noticed how Kaywin is with the other weightlifters and appreciates how she helps coach them, giving him more eyes in the weight room.

“I think Kaywin’s role is definitely as a mentor to the other kids, especially the girls,” Jesurun said. “She knows lifting very well and does a great job of encouraging and helping me coach during meets.”

Jesurun recognizes the growth that has occurred in both athletes and believe powerlifting played a role in that growth.

“Mark has grown emotionally stronger and he’s also gained a lot of weight,” Jesurun said. “I think he’s also become a better student.”

Teamwork is evident among all of the weightlifters, but it’s especially evident with Mark and Kaywin.

“Mark and Kaywin work great together, they always spot for each other and they pull for each other, cheer for each other,” Jesurun said. “I think they both do a great job helping the younger lifters as well.”

Having older, more experienced athletes benefits the team by creating a good foundation and Jesurun sees how both Kaywin and Mark have played a part in that role.

“I think Mark’s role on the team as the captain is being a leader for the boys side,” Jesurun said. “He is an inspiration to some of the other kids trying to gain strength like he is. Marks best trait is his work ethic. He is tirelessly working.”

Although Kaywin is unsure if she’ll do powerlifting at the collegiate level, she is sure that weight training will continue to be a part of her life.

“My plan is to go to Texas A&M and be in the Corp of Cadets, and eventually contract with the Navy,” Kaywin said. “The lessons I have learned in powerlifting will continue to help me in the future.”

Mark plans on doing powerlifting in college and has trained these last few years to be able to have that option.

“I plan on competing at Texas State and going for collegiate nationals,” Mark said. “I hate losing and being in second place. I don’t like to have excuses and am excited to continue lifting in college.”

The lessons both athletes have learned will go with them throughout their lives as they have worked on endurance, determination, and what it means to support each other as a team in an individual sport.

“Squats are a lot like life,” Kaywin said. “You get that heavy barbell on your back and go down, then on your way up, you reach a point where everything goes blank and the only thing you’re focused on is getting that bar up. Like in life, when you’re at the bottom, all you have to do is focus on getting up. Everything else is blank. Just get the bar up and don’t bail.”