Paralympic Powerlifting Replaces Bench Press at 36th National Veterans Wheelchair Games

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The National Veterans Wheelchair Games (NVWG) are once again evolving in an effort to open up more opportunities and boost competition for Veterans involved in adaptive lifting.

The 36th NVWG – taking place June 27-July 2, 2016, in Salt Lake City – will for the first time replace the traditional weightlifting event with powerlifting, consistent with the International Paralympic Committee’s (IPC) rules and standards for the sport.

“Periodically event standards change at the National and Paralympic competitions,” said Tom Brown, founder of the NVWG and consultant for Paralyzed Veterans of America. “As a rule, the NVWG changes to meet these standards in order to prepare our Veterans to continue the sport after the Games. We are excited to make the change from bench press to powerlift to enable our Veterans to continue on in the community, national, or Olympic level if they wish.”

Powerlifting differs from weightlifting in the level of lift. Whereas weightlifting’s standards require the safety stand holding the bar in a position one inch from the chest, requiring a lifter to press the bar up and back down on command, powerlifting requires the opposite: lifters start in the top position, take the bar from the rack with arms straight, lower the bar slowly to the chest on command, pause and lift back up before the command to rack the bar. Each powerlifter is allowed three attempts.

“This type of bench press is the current IPC-approved lift for the powerlifting event,” said Charles French, administration manager for the Houston Parks and Recreation Department. “This will help us mainstream the lift at the NVWG competition in hope that it will become a sanctioned event and help us identify potential Paralympic-level lifters.”

Most rules for powerlifting will remain the same as those for weightlifting, with the only exceptions being special accommodations for lifting positions and assistive devices used for athletes’ safety. A small amount of lenience will be permitted early on as the NVWG makes the transition, French said.

As the NVWG continues to strive as a pipeline of potential elite athletes, the move to Paralympic powerlifting was the natural course to ensure athletes who are interested in competing learn the rules and strategy and return to their communities committed to training in the sport. The hope is that many local programs will make the transition to powerlifting as well, French said.

“Powerlifting is a great example of where the VA and Paralyzed Veterans of America continues to drive the program,” said Dave Tostenrude, director of the NVWG. “We are committed to finding new challenges for the competitors while bridging the opportunities to the community involvement.”

The National Veterans Wheelchair Games are co-presented by the Department of Veterans Affairs and Paralyzed Veterans of America.

Learn more about Paralympic powerlifting (PDF format)

Brittany Ballenstedt is a military spouse, freelance journalist and photographer in Washington, D.C.