Mike McCoy Jr. of Weddington High School started lifting weights in earnest just about two years ago.
He competed in his first national powerlifting competition only last spring.
And when he traveled to South Africa last month to take part in one of the world's top powerlifting events, he came down with a bad cold, cough and congestion.
He didn't know what to expect: “I've done dead lifts with that and popped out blood vessels in my eye.”
So even this cool-under-pressure 17-year-old was surprised at what happened: McCoy, lifting for the U.S. team, beat competitors from Finland, Poland and the Ukraine. In the three events that comprise powerlifting, he squatted 578 pounds, benched 451 and dead lifted 638 pounds.
On the competition's last day, he got a text message from his stepmom, Janis McCoy. She asked how he had fared in the squat event, in which competitors bend their knees, heft the barbell across their back and shoulders, and stand up. It's McCoy's weakest event.
“I'm a world champion,” he messaged her back. “I fought for it hard. I won by a few kilograms.”
“I was way more worried about it than him,” said his father, Mike McCoy Sr., who coaches his son and also made the trip. “He doesn't even get excited.”
McCoy's total weight lifted actually matched his nearest rival, Potapenko Myhaylo of Ukraine. But McCoy himself weighed less, and that tipped the competition in his favor.
In the end, the Weddington teen seized first place in the 110-kilogram (242.6 pounds) weight class of the International Powerlifting Federation's world championships for lifters under age 18. The contest's official name is the Sub Junior World Championships of the International Powerlifting Federation, which is the sport's governing body.
The event held was held Sept. 1-6 in Potchefstroom, South Africa. Sixty-six athletes represented 22 countries. McCoy made the U.S. team after his performance last spring at the nationals in Kalamazoo, Mich.
McCoy has been around weights his whole life.
Mike's father lifted competitively and was a bodybuilder, as was his mother. Four days each week for 2 1/2 hours, he trains with his father.
“Weightlifting now is time for me and him to spend together,” Mike Sr. said.
The younger Mike's first love was football, but a foot injury his freshman year ended any chance of further pursuing that sport. So he began to focus on weightlifting two years ago. He began winning regional events and soon was ready for the nationals.
The 2008 High School Nationals in Kalamazoo, Mich., this past spring was his first high-profile competition. There, he set American records for his age and weight group in the bench press (452 pounds) and dead lift (628 pounds). It was more than enough to qualify for the world championships.
He was on his way to South Africa, but for one minor snag.
The trip's cost, including registration and drug-testing fees, was more than $6,000. To raise the money, his father sold his Harley Davidson motorcycle for $3,000. The rest was donated by relatives, friends, local businesses and members of the community who had heard about McCoy's shot at a world championship.
McCoy has already moved past enjoying the accolades and is training for the 2009 high school nationals in Killeen, Texas. After he turns 18, he may compete in the Junior age group.
But as much as lifting is a competitive sport for McCoy, it's also a way to escape.
“When I get into the gym, I clear my mind,” he said. “I don't really think about anything. I can just get away from everything.”
Beyond the gym, McCoy, who says he has a 4.0 grade point average, is interested in eventually pursuing a career in medicine.
Travis Poole, who teaches a weight-training class at Weddington, said McCoy doesn't make a big deal about himself or his achievements.
“He doesn't make himself to be better or above anyone else,” Poole said. “But when he gets down in the squat or dead lift, he's not like anyone else.”