Jun. 3—Lauren Sparks hates missing a weight-lifting session.
After three years in the Mitchell Powerlifting Club, the recent Mitchell High School graduate has seen the gradual development of her muscles, which have made her feel healthy and confident in her abilities as an athlete.
It also made her a state-record holder.
Sparks was the lone Mitchell High School student to qualify for the United States Powerlifting High School and Teen Nationals held on May 30 in Aurora, Colorado, where she lifted a total of 622.7 pounds in three events — bench press, deadlift and squat — to place fifth in the 63-kilogram (139 pounds) weight class.
In the process, Sparks also broke South Dakota records in the bench press (137.7 pounds) and the squat (248 pounds) to cap her high school career, although she is far from finished with powerlifting.
"I never thought I would be doing as good as I have been," Sparks said. "I didn't think I was that strong when I started, but my numbers kept increasing over the years."
Sparks' powerlifting career began by happenstance and maybe a bit of smooth talking by former Mitchell three-sport standout Carson Max. At a school club fair, three years ago, Max was working the powerlifting booth and Sparks wandered over to speak with him.
He convinced her to sign up, but it did not take much convincing as Sparks had participated in the school's strength and conditioning program, and at the time, she was looking to improve her athleticism for volleyball.
She enjoyed weight lifting from the jump, but it was not initially a routine priority. With a natural aptitude for lifting, Sparks began to love her five-day-per-week sessions in the gym, which led to increasingly heavier weights and ever-increasing goals.
"She had some good motor patterns to start," Mitchell head coach Andrew Priebe said. "Some of us walk in with the ability to pull, squat or bench press, and as coaches, our job is to augment strength to build around it. She had a little predisposition to squat, so we went over a few technique changes over the years. We built on some of her squat and made her bench press and deadlift a little more proficient."
When she first began to work with Priebe, Sparks was deadlifting 200, squatting 185 pounds and benching less than 100 pounds. Eventually she set goals to bench her body weight, while deadlifting and squatting double the amount of her body weight.
"Last year she was moving into that realm where I was beginning to look at qualifying standards to see how close she was," Priebe said. "It started to look like she was going to be there and she was all in. She doesn't take any time off. Other than standard deload (lighter weights) weeks and a vacation, she's been a year-round lifter."
At nationals — which featured 655 athletes from around the country — Sparks eclipsed her bench press goal and drew close to her other marks. Sparks has improved so much that reaching the qualifying weight of 500 total pounds was a breeze, but breaking state records was never a thought.
"I didn't think I was going to do this well because I had 18 girls in my weight class and I was in the first flight," Sparks said. "I didn't think I was lifting as much as the second flight, but it got very exciting when it got to that point of finding out the results."
As Sparks heads to the University of Sioux Falls to study nursing in the fall, she anticipates continuing to powerlift with Priebe, while attending competitions when feasible. It has become a hobby she can pursue for the remainder of her life.
"I love the days I get to spend an hour in the gym just getting myself better," Sparks said. "There were some days in the beginning that were a little tougher. Some days it was like, 'You have to get up and go here,' compared to going to the gym because I like to now."