St. Tammany powerlifters overcome challenges, take home gold on the international stage

Published: Nov. 22, 2022 at 10:02 PM CST
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COVINGTON, La. (WVUE) - It’s a solo sport where competitors push themselves beyond their limits.

Three lifts make up a powerlifting competition: Squat, bench and deadlift. You get three attempts for each lift. Three attempts, and that’s it.

However, it takes more than muscle to become a world champion

“The mental side of this sport is just incredible,” Covington High powerlifting coach John Burford explained.

A group of North Shore teens recently proved that on an international stage.

Members of the team took home gold and won multiple awards this summer in Istanbul, Turkey, at the International Powerlifting Federation’s World Juniors and Sub-Juniors Equipped Championships.

The team’s smallest member -- Covington High senior Lola Cheramie -- is only 4-foot-11 and a little more than 100 pounds. But the 18-year-old squats more than 2 1/2 times her body weight.

“A lot of people think I’m tall until they actually meet me, and they’re like, ‘You lift all that weight?’” Cheramie said.

Powerlifting since she was a freshman, Cheramie worked tirelessly for years to get here.

“So, freshman year, I got third at regionals. Crazy for a freshman, I think, and it went on from there,” she said.

From there to Istanbul. She and her teammates said representing their country was a huge thrill.

“I was so excited. I was just proud to just be able to represent America like that,” senior Chase Lawton said. “It was really great.”

The path to the world competition did not come without its challenges. Team member Haileigh Lupo, a Southeastern student also known as “Hailstorm,” had to fight through injuries to make it to this year’s competition.

“The process going into Worlds was actually tough for me, more than other people on my team, because I had a random arm tendonitis injury,” Lupo said. “I was going, hopefully, to win a world bench record.”

Though she did not break that record, Lupo came out a champion. Something she said could not have been done without her team.

“I like to have the screaming behind me. I need the motivation,” Lupo said. “When they’re like, ‘Yeah, let’s get it!’ Then, of course, my boyfriend is my biggest supporter.”

Lupo’s boyfriend -- Chandler Loescher -- another member of the championship team and a senior at St. Paul’s, took home gold in his weight class by lifting more than 1,700 pounds total in Turkey.

“I squatted 617, I benched 545, and I pulled 585,” Loescher said.

Burford coached the US national team, which consisted of the group of 11 from the North Shore and more than 30 others from 15 states. Burford said the journey to a championship started early. They might not have seen gold from the start, but he said they earned those medals through grueling work along the way.

“A lot of these athletes never would have realized (during) their freshman year that, in four years, I’m going to be competing at the world championships,” Burford said. “So, it’s incredibly rewarding to see them achieve those goals.”

Cheramie said she does not know what is next in her powerlifting career, but she does know that if you want to do something …

“Do it! You can do anything, if you put your mind to it,” she said. “That took me forever to learn, but I’m really happy I did the sport, because I got all these medals.”

The US women’s team won the world title. Eleven powerlifters from St. Tammany Parish went to Worlds in Turkey. That group came from different schools, including Covington, Northshore, St. Paul and Northlake Christian.

Burford was assisted by his wife, Coach Casey Calderone of Northshore High School and Coach Tom Beale of Northlake Christian.

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