Leilani Salang set national records in powerlifting at the U.S. Powerlifiting Association’s Western Regional Championships in Newport Saturday, Dec. 14. Submitted

Leilani Salang set national records in powerlifting at the U.S. Powerlifiting Association’s Western Regional Championships in Newport Saturday, Dec. 14. Submitted

By ERIC A. HOWALD
Of the Keizertimes

On Saturday, Dec. 14, Keizer’s Leilani (Lani) Salang, 15, set new state and national powerlifting records.

But, in a way, her journey to that point started on a come-from-behind run at a Jaycee Relay about seven years ago. Lani’s team had fallen behind by several lengths, when she had a vision.

“I wanted to know what it felt like when the tape broke across my chest,” Lani said. Before anyone in attendance could fully grasp what she was doing, she’d won the race for her team.

It was a desire to run faster that led the Blanchet Catholic School sophomore to the weight room last summer after track season. She continued by taking weight classes once school resumed this year. After the first five weeks of school, she knocked one former schoolmate’s name off the record board for the vertical jump. A collection of names is now piling up in her room.

“The first time it happened, I was so excited I just wanted to keep chasing the other names on the board,” Lani said.

The explosiveness she’s getting out of the weight training is paying dividends in her running starts and with her club volleyball team (she’s playing with 18-year-olds), but she hadn’t even considered lifting competitively until a few weeks prior to the West Coast Regionals hosted by the U.S. Powerlifting Association in Newport earlier this month.

Lani’s father, Jorge, knowing the records being set at Blanchet, did some research online to see how Lani was stacking up against competitive lifters.

“She’d beaten the old record for the bench press with her record at school. I looked at the state numbers and then the national numbers, and I knew she could beat it,” Jorge said. “In my mind, I knew she could do way more.”

Jorge picked her up from school a few days before the event to get some last-minute coaching in Corvallis and Lani was putting up numbers that left current USPA records in the rearview.

“The biggest difference was the squat because you have to get lower than we’ve done at school. You also have to hold the weights after you come back up, and I’m used to taking a step forward immediately to re-rack the weight,” Lani said.

Expectations are one thing, but nothing could quite prepare her for stepping into the spectacle of the competition. There weren’t a lot of women to be found, and she had her own description for the types of men in attendance.

“There’s a lot of gym meathead dudes,” she said. One was sniffing a bottle of ammonia before each lift.

“I knew the bench would be the easiest because it was most like what we did at school,” Lani said. Her final weight in that event was 143.30 kilos.

The technicalities involved with the squats were most worrisome. She had four attempts and redlined (fouled) in her second one because she didn’t get low enough. She set a new national record on her fourth attempt bearing 252.52 kilos. The bar curved around her shoulders.

The deadlift was the most foreign event. Lani had completed cleans, which involves bringing the weight up to her shoulders and then over her head, but the deadlift meant more weight brought up only to her hips. She was performing a deadlift for only her fifth time at the competition.

“We had to declare the weight we wanted before she made the attempt and she’d seen some of the older girls struggling with 303.14 kilos. I think it made her want to try it more,” Jorge said.

Lani had only reached 245 kilos in her brief Corvallis training session, but she leapt over the 285 kilo weight to attempt the lift at 303.

“They bring in a whole new set of judges for the national attempts and they announce it over the speaker that it’s a national record attempt,” Lani said. “When I came out from behind the curtain I could hear people talking and screaming, but I couldn’t see anybody. It was like I was in an empty room,” she said.

In video of the attempt (provided by her mother, Gina, and available at www.keizertimes.com), Lani hefts the barbell with astonishing ease. After setting the new national record, she went to sit down and her hands were shaking uncontrollably. Every small cut and nick on her hands was bleeding.

Lani’s total for all three events was 688.95 kilos, about 95 kilos more than the current USPA record. She also won the gold medal for her division at the event.

“Seeing her being so dedicated and disciplined makes me ecstatic. Pound-for-pound she’s way stronger than me,” said Jorge.

Lani’s talents are not limited to sporting pursuits although she’s a basketball player and a black belt in addition to runner and lifter. She holds a 3.9 grade point average at Blanchet and was named that school’s orchestra’s Most Outstanding and String Player of the Year as a freshman.

“I think sports has taught me how to work with all different types of people and it’s taught me how to work hard,” she said. “My philosophy is three things. Set goals and visualize it, then believe and have confidence so you know you can do it. The third step put all your effort into it.”

It’s a philosophy that helped her break a ribbon as an elementary schooler and now it’s carried her all the way to national records in powerlifting – and she’s only 15.