Powerlifter Defies the Odds, Earns Bronze in Bench Press

By Karina Jennings

July 5, 2018

Six years ago David Paul spent most of his time in a wheelchair. Today, the 22-year old won bronze in Powerlifting by bench pressing 95 kilograms (209 pounds) at the 2018 Special Olympics USA Games. It is his first national competition and his first medal.

David has Cerebral Palsy, a congenital disorder that affects body movement and muscle coordination. According to his coach, Bill Newby, David’s father, Tim, has been relentless in helping his son improve his muscle strength. “There was a time when David couldn’t make it up stairs using his legs. Today, we walked together to the venue and he won the bronze medal,” said Bill. “It’s a huge achievement.”

During today’s competition, Tim and David were recognized as leaders paving the way for others to use strength training as a way to help those with Cerebral Palsy remain active. For Tim, he initially looked to strength training as a way to reduce the medications David took as a child. “He was being given Botox and Phenol Block injections and I thought strength training could get him off those medications. I lifted in my younger years and I remembered how it helped me get stronger,” he said, “so I thought it could work for David.”

Tim and David’s doctor agreed they would wait until he stopped growing. So, when David turned 17 his doctor said it would be OK for him to try it. At a follow-up appointment six months later, Tim recalls the doctor asking what he had done. “I thought I was in trouble and had done something wrong,” he said. “Instead he told me, ‘whatever you are doing is more effective than what I could do for him, so keep doing it.’”

That was the start of David’s journey as a Special Olympics powerlifter. “He was doing bench press in his training and after I saw a Special Olympics powerlifting competition I thought he could do the squat and deadlift too.” David agreed and they added leg strength to his upper body training. David would go on to become the first powerlifter for his Indiana delegation. The team now has five to six competitors in powerlifting each year.

As he has gotten stronger, David has added other sports, including snowshoeing and bowling. He has also participated in an annual Special Olympics Indiana fundraiser, walking a three-mile course and completing it each of the last four years. “Each time we have another idea or another activity comes up, he says yes and he does it,” said Tim. “I have never heard him say, ‘I can’t do that.’”

During today’s competition at the University of Washington’s Meany Hall for the Performing Arts, David fought to complete his targeted weight of 105 kg (231 pounds) in deadlifting. While he didn’t medal in the event, he failed in his first two lifts and was successful in his third and final attempt. After the competition, David hugged and cried with his family and coach in celebration of his achievements.

“I’m so proud of him,” said Tim. “He’s incredible.”

David Paul of Indiana fights and succeeds in lifting 231 pounds in his third and final deadlift attempt.

David Paul of Indiana fights and succeeds in lifting 231 pounds in his third and final deadlift attempt.