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A little after 3 a.m. on any given day 60-year-old Richard “Rich” DeBower has lifted 315 pounds worth of weights in the air and held it with ease during several reps. Believe it or not, that’s just him warming up.

Before his workout at Schuyler’s Anytime Fitness is over, he lifts several hundred more pounds or so as part of his strict routine that sees him hard at work in the gym in the early-morning hours six days per week. The longtime Schuyler resident and former high school wrestler in recent years has committed to becoming quite the athlete in powerlifting, a strength sport that consists of three attempts at maximal weight on three lifts (squat, bench press and deadlift).

He’s participated in competitions all over Nebraska, including in Fremont and Lincoln (at the Cornhusker State Games), having racked up numerous medals along the way. But in just a few weeks DeBower will take things to the next level.

After several years of qualifying but opting not to go, DeBower will make his debut at the USA Powerlifting Central Regional Championship near Minneapolis, Minnesota. There, he’ll take on competitors in the 60-69 age range from Nebraska, Missouri, Kansas, Iowa, Minnesota, South Dakota and North Dakota. It comes on the heels of qualifying and winning a state championship at a competition earlier this year in Lincoln. At that event, he claimed the gold medal in the 83 kilograms weight division by lifting about 385 pounds.

“I was pretty excited to win one of those,” he said, as he picked up six medals he has earned over the years and the trophy he got for his latest accomplishment.

DeBower said he made the decision to head north and compete in the central regional event with some encouragement from various friends and family. It’s also an opportunity to make good on a promise to compete in the event that he made to his late father, Rolland, of Columbus, who passed away late last year.

“He was a da** strong man,” DeBower said. “He was really old-fashioned and just loved to help his neighbors. He would do anything to help out just about anybody.”

The Central Regional Championship will take place July 13-14 at the famed Mall of America. DeBower will make the trek up to Minnesota with a friend who will act as his coach. He said he’s eager to show off what he can do and make his community proud.

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“It will be kind of interesting – I’m big-time excited,” he said from inside Anytime Fitness. “I’m kind of looking forward to it and representing Schuyler, especially Anytime Fitness. They’ve got good people here.”

Kim Ennen, who co-owns Schuyler’s Anytime Fitness at 690 W. 16th St. with her husband, Glenn, said she has loved watching DeBower dedicate himself to the powerlifting sport and get better over time. She said it was apparent he was always some sort of athlete, but that lifting seemed to become a bigger passion for him more recently.

“The last few years something has changed in him. It’s been really fun to watch him. He’s been very dedicated and strict in his lifting and doing very well,” she said. “I’ve been really impressed with him.”

DeBower said he’s hoping he can inspire other local athletes, particularly those who are younger than him, to get into powerlifting and try their hand in competitions like he has been doing. July will be busy for him. Besides the Minnesota competition, he’ll turn 61 and participate in the Cornhusker State Games before it ends. The latter is set for July 19-28 in Lincoln.

Although he doesn’t know how he’ll do in Minnesota, he said he believes one thing is for certain: His late father would be happy.

“He’s going to be with me,” DeBower asserted. “If he were here he would wish me the best of luck and tell me to do a good job. He was just awesome.”

Matt Lindberg is the managing editor of the Schuyler Sun. Reach him via email at matt.lindberg@lee.net.

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Managing Editor

Matt Lindberg is an award-winning journalist and graduate of the University of Kansas.

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