Glenville girl competes in Special Olympics powerlifting event on Saturday
As Cayleigh Moorhead of Glenville approached the bar she was about to raise, determination settled on her face. She bent down, pulled the 99-pound bar close to her shins, and began to pull herself and the bar up.
She held it for a few seconds then dropped it. She had achieved her goal for the day.
Moorhead, 13, was one of 11 people from the Capital Region competing in the 3rd annual Special Olympics New York Powerlifting Teams Spartan Showdown in Latham on Saturday morning.
The weightlifters competed in three categories for three rounds – squat, bench press and deadlift.
At first Moorhead, the youngest and only female competitor, was only due to compete in the deadlift portion of the event, but her coach felt she could do all three. So she did.
“Just because she’s small doesn’t mean anything,” coach John Mendez said.
He said that Moorhead has a positive attitude, where if he puts a few hundred pounds of weight on the bar, she would always at least try to raise it.
It’s the raison d’être of the Special Olympics, said Stacey Hengsterman, President and CEO of the State Special Olympics.
It’s about inclusion too, she said, noting that the team trains during the busiest hours of ABC Sports and Fitness, where its members are treated like anyone else. lifting at the gym.
Saturday was very special for Hengsterman who saw his son Alex Hengsterman, a grade 11 student at Shenendehowa High School, participate.
“I never dreamed that he would love her so much,” she said.
She said powerlifting lifts children’s spirits and influences their physical, mental and emotional well-being.
This was important throughout the event as the weightlifters supported and encouraged each other. It also appeared in the face of weightlifters as they achieved goals throughout the day, some lifting a certain weight, others just trying to lift.
But it doesn’t matter how much weight the Spartans lift, Mendez said, “as long as they’re laughing and having fun.”
Watching Moorhead grow in strength over the past two years has been an especially rewarding moment, Mendez said. He said that when they first met to practice, she could sit, squat, or lift.
On Saturday, she squatted 50 pounds, put down 45 pounds, and lifted 99 pounds.
“People shouldn’t underestimate people with disabilities,” said Michelle Moorhead, Cayleigh’s mother.
Moorhead said that although her daughter has Down’s syndrome, that hasn’t stopped her from trying new things.
“If they let the kids do what they can do with the right support, they would thrive,” she said.
She recalled how she saw other people in the showdown grow and change over the years, from being unable to lift heavy weights to deadlifts over 200 and 300 pounds.
While Cayleigh Moorhead was thrilled to compete in all three areas on Saturday, she said just being on the team was the best part.
The next step for Moorhead is preparing to travel to the 2022 US Games at Disney World Resort in Orlando, Florida. Moorhead, who is also a gymnast, said she can’t wait to jump.
Journalist Shenandoah Brière can be reached at 518-478-3320 or [email protected]
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