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January 2, 2014

Should a 14-year-old try to deadlift 300 pounds?

TAHLEQUAH, Okla. — The freckle-faced Wonder Kid moves through a gym packed with powerlifters, gliding past the grunting, straining, muscle-bound adults.

In his middle school hallway outside of Baltimore, Jake Schellenschlager blends in with other eighth-graders, but here at the York Barbell Competition in York, Pa., the 14-year-old with a shock of red hair and toothy grin is a star. The Wonder Kid can lift more than twice his weight — a feat that impresses powerlifting aficionados and worries pediatricians who believe the sport poses risks to developing bodies.

On this day, Jake is hoping to set world or personal records.

Jake admits he is nervous as he waits for the announcer to call his name. The competition will pit Jake against himself. Although powerlifting is attracting increasing numbers of teens, there are no other competitors on this Saturday morning in his category — 14- to 15-year-olds at a weight class of 123 pounds.

Jake had been hoping to compete in the 114-pound category and spent the evening before at the gym, running on a treadmill, trying to drop water weight. In the morning, though, the scale in the bathroom of his Pasadena home in Anne Arundel County (Maryland) was stuck at 118.

He was hoping he'd somehow drop the rest on the drive with his mother and sisters to York. But when he steps onto a big digital scale, the attendant announces, "One nineteen."

Jake's eyes flash disappointment. "I was thinking if I would weigh in at 114, I could break records. Records are harder for the 123 class."

His mother assures him: "That's okay, Jake."

After the weigh-in, Jake straddles a bench to warm up on chest press. His trainer guides him as he lifts 155 pounds. Other powerlifters pass by and encourage him. Powerlifters share camaraderie, unlike bodybuilders, who compete in a world that is more about vanity and beauty. Powerlifters admire pure strength.

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