For powerlifter Jala Beer, it's the sport, not the glory
Jala Beer has two sons in Hudson Middle School, works 10-hour shifts at Aldi grocery some days and weighs in at a mere 117 pounds -- so she's not a stereotypical powerlifting champion who can conquer almost four times her own weight.
In fact, when people see the 5-foot-1 Beer with her 14-year-old son Zachariah -- her oldest -- they often assume that she's his sister or aunt.
“He's 5-foot-10 and weighs 155 pounds, and he looks a lot older than he is. So we get that a lot,” she laughs in an interview last week.
Beer has been making quite a statement in Twin Cities powerlifting circles for the last eight-plus years, winning top medals at prestigious tournaments from Minneapolis to Duluth.
--First place at the 2014 Twin Ports Raw Open in Duluth, for best combined lifts in the women's bench-press, squats and dead-lift categories.
--Second place, also at the 2015 Twin Ports Raw Open, for the same combination of lifts.
--Third place at 2014 Twin Cities Open, also for her combined bench-press, squats and dead-lift totals.
There have been about a half-dozen other first, second or third-place finishes as well.
Her top lifts to date in either official or unofficial events, or private workouts: 405 pounds in the rack-pull lift, 275 pounds in the dead lift and 205 pounds in squats.
Beer is currently in training -- often at the Hudson YMCA -- for her next tournament: Feb. 20 at the Minnesota State Powerlifting and Midwest Open in Champlin, where she'll compete in the women's 114-pound Raw dead-lift, squats and bench-press events.
For the uninitiated, in “raw” competitions, lifters don't wear special super-supportive wraps, belts, sleeves or other equipment that helps them make heavier lifts. It's just raw power, determination, balance and technique.
“I just love the feel of it. It's just a cool feeling, ” she says of the sport. “To be honest, sometimes, when I get a big lift, I'm like, 'Holy cow. I just did that.'”
And yet, if you talk for more than five minutes with Beer about powerlifting, you won't hear much about the glory -- far from it in fact.
Instead, you'll hear mostly about all the camaraderie she's found along the way. That started early on in her life.
“When I was young, I used to help my grandfather, who lived on a farm, and we were always lifting things -- vehicle engines or whatever. I've always been interested in lifting,” the 35-year-old Cotton, Minnesota native recalls.
Eventually, she got into bodybuilding as a hobby, but a turning point came in 2006 while she was working at the Hudson House Grand Hotel, which was hosting a USA Powerlifting meet.
“I was working at the front desk, and I was just chit-chatting with a lot of the lifters as they were coming in,” Beer remembers.
“Finally I just decided to buckle down and do it myself. Later, I mailed an entry in for another meet and just hoped for the best.”Love of the game
She didn't win any top-level medals or trophies at her first competition in 2007 -- but, frankly, that's never been her primary goal.
“I just like to push myself and see what I can do. Just knowing that I did what I could do on any particular day makes me happy,” she says.
“If I don't do well, I just figure that there will be a next time, and I want to do better then.”
Besides, Beer also found a whole new world of kindred spirits that's been like a second family to her ever since.
“At meets, everybody is just pulling for everybody else -- even your competitors,” she explains.
“You're hoping they get their lifts as much as you do your own, and that's because of the fact that everybody there realizes that you're all pushing your body to the max. … It's like a family reunion at every meet.”
Beer also helps out at tournaments when she's not lifting -- spotting for competitors, cleaning up afterwards and doing whatever else is needed. She's a certified USA Powerlifting competition judge as well.
“I probably know 90 percent of the powerlifters in the Twin Cities because of all that,” she says.
“There are so many federations in the Metro area, and they all hold at least two meets a year.”
Beer, who has been an associate at the Hanley Road Aldi for the last seven years, also works out at several area powerlifting gyms besides her local favorites -- the Hudson YMCA and Primal Strength, located in the Midwest Center for Movement.
There's also Maplewood's American Strength, Eagan's Twin Cities Barbell and Sutherlin Fitness in Apple Valley.
Beer talks proudly about powerlifting's top area charity event too -- the annual Minnesota Relentless fundraiser that pairs lifters with seriously ill youngsters on behalf of the group, HopeKids.
“Last year, we raised about $230,000 for them,” she recalls.
“I got paired with Julianna Martin. She's from St. Paul, and she's now in remission from brain cancer after being diagnosed at age 10 -- she's been in remission since she was 16. We met at the kick-off and got to know each other. We've also gotten together a couple times since.”
And what do her two sons -- Zachariah and 12-year-old Samuel -- think of their powerlifting mom?
“I'm very, very lucky. My boys still aren't afraid to give me hugs and kisses in front of their friends,” smiles Beer.
“They're curious about it, and they love to tell people about their mom.”
She adds: “Both of them have expressed an interest. Zachariah joined the middle school wrestling team for the first time this year, and Samuel -- he just enrolled in the middle school's weightlifting class.”