By Laura M. Levering
JOINT BASE LEWIS-McCHORD, Wash., March 29, 2011 - At age 54, Leamon Woodley, a civilian employee here, is in better physical condition than many soldiers half his age.
The retired Army master sergeant competed in the 2011 Washington State Powerlifting, Bench Press and Deadlift Championship in Tumwater, Wash., March 5 and 6. The 181-pound Woodley set two national records, including the squat at 640 pounds and total weight at 1,654 pounds. The total record was the combined weight of three separate events: squat, bench press and dead lift.
Woodley also was inducted into the Washington State Powerlifting Hall of Fame for his nearly two decades of participation and recognition in the sport.
Woodley's interest in powerlifting began while stationed in South Korea in 1991, when he became a certified master fitness trainer for the Army. He had just graduated from the course and attended his first powerlifting meet, where he saw a 130-pound woman dead lift 330 pounds.
"I was impressed -- very impressed," Woodley said. "That's what got me started."
He checked out several library books to help get him started. Soon after, Woodley relocated to what was then Fort Lewis, where he entered his first competition. He took fourth place, but if you'd asked him then about his prospects for breaking records for nearly two decades, the then-novice probably would have laughed.
"I said, 'Man, there's no way in the world I could ever break those [records],'" he said. "But through training over a period of time, I got better and started breaking records."
Training and social support are the keys to success and what got him to where he is today, Woodley said.
"If you train, you can be good at anything," he said. "Plus, you have to invest in your equipment and be around good friends -- people that are going to support you, cheer you on -- and just have a good time at it."
Woodley's wife and two children have been extremely supportive of his hobby, along with his longtime friend and sponsor, Tony Suffern, he said. The retired Navy chief befriended Woodley about 12 years ago after hearing about his powerlifting experiences.
Suffern was surprised to learn Woodley did not have a sponsor, so he offered to be his sponsor. He travels with Woodley, offering advice and encouragement, and critiques the powerlifter's every move.
"I'm kind of like a seeing-eye dog for him," Suffern said.
Having been a powerlifter in his younger days, Suffern said, he has the expertise Woodley needs, but is not above learning a thing or two himself. Woodley's work ethic and humility make him an inspiring athlete, he added.
"He's at the gym 5 o'clock every morning, and he works out before he even goes to work," Suffern said. "He has about 15 records at least, and if you didn't know him -- if you just see him lifting at the gym -- you'd have no idea he has that many records."
At this stage in his career, Woodley said, he appreciates the understanding extended to him by former military units, leaders and fellow soldiers who allowed him time to lift during unit physical training time to prepare for competitions.
"I had very supportive units throughout my military career, which made a big difference," he said.
Now, Woodley added, he makes time for training five days a week before work, and believes that if he can do it, anybody can. His attitude has gone beyond powerlifting and has changed his perspective on life, he said.
"When you get up for a competition, even though sometimes you might be in pain, I think sometimes it's a mental and physical matter that you can always overcome certain things -- obstacles in your life or whatever -- to make yourself rise to the occasion," he said.