Weatherford Democrat

July 7, 2013

Survival of the strongest

Aledo resident converts health-seeking exercise regimen into competitive windfall


Weatherford Democrat

By GREG WEBB

ALEDO – Around 20 years ago, Aledo resident Craig Bowen called upon a past pursuit that had helped him achieve goals as a young athlete. Today, Bowen has excelled beyond what was originally an attempt to regain his overall health, and continues to reap benefits from the perpetuation of the activity – lifting weights.

A former marine who had a service-related disability, Bowen, who is a paramedic for MedStar EMS in Fort Worth was self-admittedly in ‘pretty bad shape’ at 30-years-old when a doctor advised him to find a form of exercise he liked and would stick with as part of his lifestyle.

“Weight lifting was a natural fit for me,” Bowen said, now 51-years-young.

Bowen dove into the activity with relish, gaining strength enough to catch the eye of a fellow gym-dweller, who suggested he take a stab at powerlifting competitively, which he eventually began in 1995.

A fast-forward to the last March reveals that Bowen took more than a stab at the sport, as he won his 19th Texas state powerlifting title at the Natural Athletes Strength Association (NASA) meet. He took the title in his division with a 415 lbs. bench press and curling 175. He also has a national title ‘under his belt.’

Before powerlifting became a prep competition, weight lifting had a practical application to support the physical requirements for other sports, which is how Bowen first took up the activity.

“I actually got involved in weight lifting when I was playing football in high school,” Bowen said. “We were in Class 4A, which was the top classification then, and I understand I was one of the smallest offensive linemen in the state at that time.

“I played at Irving High School, and we were ranked fairly high in the state both my junior and senior years. Although I was one of the smallest, I was also one of the strongest because I worked very hard at the weight lifting. And I was pretty mean, as well, I guess. I loved the contact, and earned my spot.”

Bowen will follow up his March success with a lift at the Southwestern Regionals later this month, sanctioned by NASA. He has already received an invitation to the World Association of Benchers and Deadlifters (WABDL) World Championships, which will be held in November at Reno, Nev.

Similar to boxing, powerlifting has its myriad of federations, which has its degree of competition in and of itself.

“I’m not really interested in the politics of one federation versus another, that can sort of remind you of squabbling kids in a sandlot baseball game, Bowen said. “If there is a meet close to me, I’ll go lift. If it’s a place I haven’t tried before, I will go check it out.

“My mainstays are usually NASA and the WABDL, but they are certainly not the only sanctioned meets I have been to.”

Some of the paramedic’s preferences about the sport reach a deeper, more personal level, as well.

The equipment lifters wear has changed dramatically in the sport, moving from the function of support to help avoid injury, to actually enhancing the lifter’s ability to lift weights beyond ‘natural strength’ capabilities. And though Bowen has used, and plans to use a specially design “shirt” in upcoming meets, he professes he is much more impressed with the accomplishments achieved in “raw lifting.”

“I chose early on never to do steroids and I know it is going to pay off for me in longevity,” he said. “Some of the equipment they are using today has a similar result. I’m just more impressed when I see a lifter’s total pounds and I know it has been a ‘raw lift.’

“I guess I’m becoming more of a purist in that sense.”

Most of Bowen’s success has come on the heels of his own disciplines. Due to the volatile schedule of  his vocation, Bowen has not lifted in a ‘team’ environment and has, for the most part, ‘soloed’ in his workout regimen.

“I just lift on my own, without a lift partner,” he said, “mostly in my back yard.”

Traditionally lifting in the 275-pound class while weighing in around 250, Bowen lifts in an age group spanning a few years below and above his own age. After he retires from his “regular gig,” he plans to continue lifting and would fulfill a dream to expand his involvement as a participant as well as a mentor.

“When I retire, I would like to open a workout facility with the ambiance of an old-style gym,” he said. “I don’t really want a place where people are wearing the shiny workout suits and designer belts, which sometimes tends to be more of a social club.

My son, Zach, who is 21 [years-old], has traveled with me a lot to the competitions. And when we go to a meet, we look in the towns for the older gyms, where they are doing the “hard-core” lifting.

“That’s the kind of place I would like to run, where there are serious lifters – men, and women - who will have a place to work out and improve. I would like to also attract the younger lifters, as well, so they can learn from the older generation, and experience some of the old-school philosophy of the sport.”

Bowen’s exuberance about the sport is evident in his words, and a quick glance at his track record shows he matches his continuing fervor with his deeds, as well.

I’ve always loved lifting, and the notion that I could gain strength,” he said. “I couldn’t help growing up that I was small, but I could certainly get stronger, and hang with ‘the big boys,’ so to speak.”

The age divisions for most of the federations’ competitions extend well beyond Bowen’s 51 years, with a new record set recently in the 90-and-up division of the WABDL. Asked when he might be ready to place his last trophy on the (rather large) mantel, the lifter mentions something about ‘someone having to pry the bar from his cold, blue fingers.’

Guess that means the 90 year-old’s record could be in jeopardy ,,, in 40 years or so.