As love lessons go, the boy shot Cupid’s arrow straight into his own foot.
“A couple of years ago my boyfriend at the time told me I wasn’t making enough time for him,” Kelsi Hoops said with a faint smile and a definite shrug as she took a break during a workout at Pacifico Power on Wednesday evening. “He said I was going to the gym too much. He said, ‘It’s either going to be me or the gym.’
“I was like, ‘OK.’ I didn’t even think twice about it. I went to the gym.”
Friday, Kelsi graduates from Vandalia Butler High School and it’s a certainty that there won’t be another girl quite like her walking across that stage to get her diploma.
She’s a 4.0 student. She’s been a popular varsity cheerleader the past three years and she’s a two-time Ohio high school powerlifting champion who had shattered every record there is in two separate weight classes.
She also said she’s not much of a “girlie girl” and then explained.
“Every day at school this year I’d wear leggings and a T-shirt and my Converse (sneakers),” she said referring to her look at the classes she took at the Miami Valley Career Training Center (MVCTC) where she studied sports medicine, which she’ll continue with at Ohio University beginning next winter.
She did dress up for the prom.
“Afterward she was asked to spend the night with the other kids but she didn’t want to,” said her mom, Teri. “She didn’t want to miss coming to the gym for her Sunday morning workout.”
At Butler football games this year, while the rest of the cheerleaders did back handsprings to punctuate the Aviators’ scoring, she went up into the stands with the mascot, dropped down and did pushups for every point scored.
A big reason for that is that she shattered her arm doing a back handspring as a seventh grader and is still a little skittish about it. But her push up power – “one game we did 42 in a row,” she grinned – quickly caught the fancy of the crowd which would count off her efforts.
Tuesday she signed her papers for the Ohio National Guard and was sworn in. In August she heads to basic training at Fort Leonard Wood in Missouri.
In early December she’ll return home and start at OU the next month. She chose the school over some others because it offered her course of study and it has a powerlifting team.
“She’s already plotting it out,” said Darin, her dad. “She got her dorm room so it would be close to the gym,”
Kelsi is serious about powerlifting. She said she eats about 2,000 calories a day spread over 5 or 6 meals. She works out at least seven times a week and most specifically every Sunday morning and Wednesday and Thursday evenings at Larry Pacifico’s fabled gym off North Dixie Highway.
Near the front door there, on a shelf above a wall covered with clippings and photos documenting some of Pacifico’s world championship exploits, you notice the statue of an archer done by the talented Spaniard Adolfo Robles.
If nothing else, you get the feeling that Cupid’s aim may be a little more on the mark here.
That came though when Kelsi’s parents were talking about their 18-year-old daughter not having girlie girl affectations.
“She’s the way you see her here,” her mom said. “Her hair’s usually up in a ponytail. She doesn’t worry about make up.”
Just then David Weherley, overhearing the conversation as he walked past, leaned in: “She doesn’t need it.”
Teri smiled: “Aaaaw David.”
Pacifico grinned: “That’s her training partner…and her admirer.”
Weherley is a standout 285-pound junior offensive lineman at Northmont and a state powerlifting champ.
“He took Kelsi to a dance at Northmont,” Darin smiled.
Another gym admirer – in a grandfatherly sort of way – is the 72-year-old Pacifico who, with the help of head coach Mike Wall, himself a world champ in his age class, has developed Kelsi into a top teenage powerlifter.
After he retired from competition in 1985 and regained his health following a pair of heart attacks, Pacifico began putting his full effort into training powerlifters. One of his prize students was his son Jimmie and now Kelsi is one, too.
“When she takes the platform or she’s in here training, she’s just so focused,” Pacifico said. “She takes on whatever challenge you ask and does it with a smile.
“She just makes you feel good and feel young. Everybody likes being around her. She’s a big part of my heart. And my heart doesn’t get that way anymore because I’m an old man.”
Darin and Teri understood.
“Both our dads are deceased and so Kelsi looks at Larry as her grandpa,” Teri said. “She told us that.”
When Pacifico heard that, his emotions welled up and he waved a hand at them and got up.
He didn’t want them to see his tears.
Learning from one of the best
Pacifico is one of the greatest powerlifters in the history of the sport. Just 5-foot-6 and around 200 to 220 pounds, he had competition lifts of 885 pounds in the squat, 592 on the bench and deadlifted 771. His best competition total was 2,061 pounds. In exhibition numbers were even greater.
He won nine straight world powerlifting titles from 1971 through 1979, 54 world championships in all and was inducted into the York Barbell Hall of Fame in 1998.
In recent years, he’s especially trained powerlifters from several area high schools. Over 50 have won state titles at the annual meet held each March in Kenton.
Although Darin and Teri have lifted weights for years, Kelsi didn’t follow them to the Huber Heights gym where they work until a few years ago. And when her older brother Tyler began training at Pacifico’s, she eventually followed and quickly blossomed.
Just four months after she began powerlifting, Kelsi won the 145-pound state championship while smashing all the existing records.
This year, as one of the lightest competitors in the 155-pound class, she won again and set more records with a 500-pound squat, 170-pound bench, 385-pound deadlift and 1,055 pound total.
She and Vandalia Butler junior Hayden Edgell also set the age group world record at the Arnold with a 700-pound Double Deadlift.
Kelsi was recognized last Friday night for her academic efforts at the CTC ceremony at the Nutter Center. Friday she marches at Vandalia Butler and then on June 10 she has one final powerlifting completion in Grove City before she heads off to the service.
‘Part of my family’
The scene at Pacifico’s gym the other night was a mix of muscle and love.
The music was loud, a throbbing backdrop to the sound of clanging weights, occasional grunts and the constant urgings of support from other lifters.
Central to all of this was Pacifico, his body shrunken from those glory days, his head covered in a bandana, his heart bigger than ever.
“He knows me so well,” Kelsi said. “Even when I’ve doubted myself, he tells me I can get it and then when I do get it I say, ‘How did you know I could?’ He’s more than my coach. He’s part of my family and I love him.“
Wednesday night after she did a series of squats of ever-increasing weight, Pacifico told Kelsi to finish up with 525 pounds. That’s 25 more than she did at state.
As she sat on a chair dressed all in black— including a T-shirt that proclaimed “Live Large” on the back – Wall wrapped her knees to fortify them before the attempt.
She then settled beneath the bar with Weherley behind her as her spotter. Everyone else in the gym gathered in front of her and urged her on.
Lifting the bar onto her shoulders, she slowly melted into a squat and then rose back up without a hitch.
“All day long,” Pacifico nodded.
“She is really someone special. Just like I told her after the state meet this year: ‘These records are gonna stand a long, long time. Maybe the only person who’ll beat them is your daughter one day.’”
In the other room, the sculpted archer was posed with drawn bow.
Cupid’s aim was true in here.