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In the Spotlight: Paulette Calhoun

Powerlifting gives Crain Unit
officer Paulette Calhoun a real lift

Nothing gives Crain Unit CO V Paulette Calhoun more of a lift than the sport of powerlifting. Pushing more than 200 pounds of iron off her chest or squatting down nearly to the floor with 350 pounds stretched across her shoulders is actually fun and relaxing for her.
Paulette Calhoun standing in front of freestanding weight bench
While the bench press is her best event, Calhoun also competes in the squat and deadlift competitions.

Photo by David Nunnelee

“It’s just the perfect stress reliever,” said Calhoun, a retired U.S. Army mechanic who has competed with the Phantom Warriors powerlifting team at Ft. Hood near Killeen since 1990. “It gives me a feeling of accomplishment because you’re doing something that’s mostly for you. It helps put the positive in your life. I love it. It’s fun.”

In April, Calhoun traveled to Lake Taupo, New Zealand to compete as a member of the USA powerlifting team at the International Powerlifting Federation world meet, where, with a lift of 240 pounds, she won a bronze medal in her age and weight class in the bench press competition. It was her ninth time to compete on the world stage and the first time she did not bring home an individual gold or silver medal. She and her teammates did, however, combine to win the gold medal in the women’s masters division bench press competition.

“New Zealand was beautiful,” said Calhoun, who has also competed in the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Germany. “The people really loved us. Being able to represent the United States was the biggest thrill.”

Calhoun earned her way to the world tournament by winning the gold medal in the bench press at the national meet in Charlotte, North Carolina last September. She typically competes in a half dozen major meets each year, either individually or as member of the Ft. Hood team. Most of her travel expenses, including the trip to New Zealand, come out of her own pocket.

“The majority of it comes out of my pocket, but it’s not too high a price to pay,” she said. “It’s just the fun of the sport and having the pride in yourself to go for it.”

Calhoun joined TDCJ soon after retiring from the Army in 1998. She works the night shift because it allows her to lift at about the same time of day that she would during a meet. She said her supervisors respect the effort she puts into the sport.

“They do what they can to help me out, even if it’s just saying, ‘I hope you do well,’” she said. “They are very supportive of me, from my sergeant all the way up to the senior warden.”

Calhoun says the heaviest thing she lifted while growing up in Ohio was a shot put and discus as a high school track and field competitor. She was introduced to weight training while rehabbing from arm and shoulder injuries suffered in 1986 when she slipped and fell in the snow while stationed in Germany. There, the base sports director said he would give her a weightlifting belt if she would lift for him.

“I said, ‘Sure, no problem.’ and I’ve been lifting ever since,” Calhoun said.

Calhoun, 50, spent more than half of her 20 years in the U.S. Army stationed at Ft. Hood. Her 15 teammates training out of the Burba gymnasium at the base range in age from 17 to 55. Several are women.

“It’s the perfect sport for women because women have a tendency to be more aggressive,” Calhoun said. “And in the gym, or when you’re in a meet, that’s the best time to be very aggressive, to get pumped up.”

Calhoun says she could barely press the 45-pound bar when she started lifting. She has since pressed as much as 260 pounds, squatted 340 pounds and picked 370 pounds off the floor in the deadlift event.

“Eventually, I want to hit at least 315 pounds,” she said about her goal in the bench press, her best event. “I know that it’s going to take some work, but that’s what it’s about, working toward you goals.”

Calhoun begins training for a national or world meet about 12 weeks beforehand. She typically trains with weights for 90 minutes four times a week and concentrates on cardiovascular exercises the remaining three days. She plans to compete in the national tournament in Cleveland, Ohio later this year and then perhaps go for a gold medal at the world meet in Bulgaria.

“I’m pushing for it,” she said. “If I don’t reach all my goals I’ll still feel good about it because I’m still striving for it. So long as I’m willing to go out and take that chance and go for it, I’ll feel good about it.”

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