EDINBURG — Before the season started, Edinburg IDEA Quest senior powerlifter Elijah Wheeler visited the Texas High School Powerlifting Association website. He clicked on the state records tab and scrolled down to see the Division III record holders in the 132-pound weight class.
“I remember going to the website and looking at the records and thinking, ‘What records am I going to break this year? What am I going to do this year?’ The top one that was on my mind was the deadlift record,” Wheeler said.
Months later, on March 12, inside the Bishop High School Gymnasium at the THSPA Division III Regional Meet, Wheeler found himself standing a few feet in front of the deadlift bar. A circle gathered around Wheeler and the bar with 505 pounds on it. All eyes were on the IDEA Quest senior as he attempted to break a 12-year-old record of 500 pounds.
Applause and cheers filled the gymnasium, and then, a wave of silence swept through as Wheeler walked up to the bar. He took a few breaths, lowered himself to grasp the bar, lifted and locked it to set a state record in the deadlift with 505 pounds in the 132-pound weight class.
“I never thought I would lift that much weight at that body weight. I envisioned that rep the past eight months, and I set my mind to it and I did it,” Wheeler said. “It felt crazy. I cried after because I knew I had it in me.”
The previous record was shared by Schulenburg’s Bryce Sanders (2008) and Wichita Falls City View’s Kamary Wiley (2014).
When it came time to attempt to break the state record, Wheeler was locked in.
“It’s kind of like a kill mentality. It sounds kind of crazy, but I’m going to lift this thing up if it’s the last thing I do,” Wheeler said. “It’s keeping my mind right, not talking to anybody, staring at the weight, envisioning myself locking it out, and that’s what I did — I locked it out. That feeling before, it’s kind of like a calm, but once you step up to the bar, the storm rages.”
Wheeler finished as the Region V Division III 132-pound champion with a total of 1,245 pounds, topping his previous best of 1,200. He was also awarded the title of best overall lifter at the regional meet. By winning the regional meet, Wheeler automatically qualified for the state meet, which was to be held in late March.
But now, due to the coronavirus pandemic, Wheeler won’t get his chance to compete at the state meet as the THSPA canceled all remaining competition. Wheeler would have been ranked at the top of the 132-pound state qualifiers.
“It really hurt because I was setting myself up for success my last year, and to end up not competing to win a state championship and break state records, it hurts,” he said. “I wanted to be in the record books. I really wanted to show my sister that if you really put your mind to something, you can do it.”
Even though the state meet was canceled, Wheeler has no regrets about his senior year of powerlifting.
“I left my heart on the platform. I did everything I could do to be the best I could, so I don’t regret anything,” he said.
After graduation, Wheeler will attend Our Lady of the Lake in San Antonio to major in Kinesiology. But his days of powerlifting aren’t over just yet. Wheeler plans to continue training to compete in a national powerlifting meet in Daytona Beach, Florida, which is five months away.
“I plan on hopefully competing and I plan on bouncing back,” he said.