Jennifer Thompson got into powerlifting almost as a lark – to make her college boyfriend happy.
It quickly became more than just a hobby. If anything, it’s become a second career for the ninth-grade math teacher at Lincoln Charter.
The 42-year-old Thompson won her third straight International Powerlifting Federation World Classic Championships all-around title, June 5-14 in Salo, Finland.
There, Thompson set two world records in the women’s 63-kilogram weight class – 310 pounds in the bench press, and 1,060 pounds in the all-around, which combines the competitor’s best lifts in the bench press, dead lift and squat.
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“It’s on such a big stage,” Thompson said of the IPF World Championships. “There’s all these people there, watching and cheering you on. You almost feel like a rock star; it’s a huge rush. People like to see other people lifting big weights. It’s impressive.”
Thompson – a native of Rochester, Mich., just outside of Detroit – was a long-distance runner in high school, but was beginning to get bored with it when she entered Oakland University to get her degree in education.
“I was living in a rental house with a bunch of people,” Thompson said. “One of the guys, who is now my husband (Dr. Coleman Thompson), had a weight room in the house. Every day, he and his buddies would go lift, and every day, they’d go ‘Jen, come on down and lift with us.’ Eventually, I did it here and there, but once I started getting strong and seeing some muscle, I was hooked.”
So Thompson gave up running and took up weightlifting, and was soon lifting almost as much as the men.
“I was starting to lift some huge numbers, and started thinking ‘I really need to do something with this’,” Thompson said. “I did not want to be a bodybuilder, I did not want to do the fitness stuff, so I wasn’t really sure what I was going to do.”
It was on Thompson’s honeymoon in Venice Beach, Calif. – home of the famed “Muscle Beach” – that she finally found her calling.
“We saw a competition on Muscle Beach, and I talked to some of the guys,” she said.
It just happened that Thompson found a powerlifting competition in Detroit on the same weekend she was planning a visit to her family, still living in Rochester, Mich.
“That was in 1999,” Thompson said. “I did that competition, and met some people who said I was doing the American record, so I should go to the nationals. So I went to the nationals, then to the worlds all in that year. It was a whirlwind.
“That was it for me. I met the coolest people, and learned a lot about the sport. There was a huge learning curve, but once I went to the worlds, that was it.”
Thompson took the bronze medal in the bench press at the 1999 IPF World Championships, and hasn’t looked back.
She set her first world record at the USA Powerlifting Nationals (a 272-pound lift in the bench presss), and broke that record in winning her first gold medal at the 2001 IPF World Championships.
The workout room at her home is lined with the medals and trophies she’s won, and she’s traveled the world to take part in competitions and powerlifting clinics.
Thompson’s success has even started to rub off at Lincoln Charter. Her students regularly follow her events, many of which are broadcast online. She even started a powerlifting club for students, teachers and parents at the school several years ago.
“It’s funny. The kids that end up powerlifting are the ones that aren’t involved in another sport,” Thompson said. “I don’t know if it goes back to the skill thing or the individual thing … but it’s something that anyone can pick up and do it. You just need someone to show you the ropes, and just do it.”
Bill Kiser is a freelance writer. Have a story idea for Bill? Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.