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Local man lifts his way to Hungary

POSTED: June 4, 2014 12:00 p.m.
Adam Wynn/Barrow County News

Vang works on his dead lift at Pump'n Iron Gym.

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James Vang may look like the average college male on paper.

He works to put himself through school. He attends classes and writes papers. He works out and takes care of himself.

The only difference between Vang and most college students is that when he works out, he does it representing the United States in world competitions.

Vang has likely earned himself a spot at the 2014 Junior World competition in Hungary, although the spot is not officially his until after one more meet.

Although a champion at the Men’s Nationals this coming weekend could supplant Vang on the national team, his performance at the 2014 USAPL Collegiate Nationals in Orlanda, FL made Vang the man to beat.

"If your total, which is squats, bench and dead lift, isn’t as high, then you may not be the one to go, so there’s a chance I may not go," Auburn’s own junior men’s power lifting champion James Vang admitted. "But I’m very confident with my total at this meet and a lot of the coaches are telling me there’s a good chance that I’ll make it anyway."

At the Collegiate Nationals, Vang recorded a weight of 1,482 pounds made up of 578 pounds in squats, 369 in bench press and a dead lift of 535. He did all of this as a man weighing just 145.5 pounds. Then again, as well as Vang performed at Nationals, he was hardly aware of his total until after everything was done.

"When you’re competing, you’re not really thinking about your numbers," Vang said.

"I don’t really know some of the numbers that I do until after the meet when my coaches tell me. For me, I have kind of a weird mindset when I go to a meet. I tend to want my coach to just give me something so I don’t worry about the numbers and I just lift," Vang explained.

"When you show up at a meet, there are all these expectations that you might or might not get a weight, so just to get rid of all that, I get focused and close my eyes, and my coach just gives me what he gives me."

Vang is a relative newcomer to the world of power lifting as he has only just started in the last couple years. One of his first events, though, also happened to be his first championship. As a student at the University of Georgia, Vang took part in the Strongest Dawg weight lifting competition in 2012 where he took home first place.

"When I first started, I didn’t really know how to power lift because I’ve only been doing this for two years, so in a sense, I’m still pretty new. When I was learning to dead lift, that’s how I got noticed. I showed up at the UGA Strongest Dawg meet dead lifting 475 at 148 pounds. That was already pretty big, but when they saw my technique, it was horrible.

"The first thing they said was, ‘This is going to be the guy.’"

Since then, Vang has been a member of the school’s weight lifting club team and has grown as a competitor quickly and impressively, in large part due to the coaching of Sherman Ledford, Brooks Conway and Mark Freeman.

"Without my coaches…a lot of my meets probably wouldn’t go as smoothly as I’d like them to go. All of the training I have to do has gone very smoothly, especially with their help," Vang acknowledges.

Vang knows that he needed a great deal of help to get to this point, though, and he is constantly thankful for everyone who has helped him out along the way.

"If it wasn’t for them, I wouldn’t even get where I need to be. If I represent a certain group, like Pump’n Iron Gym, it means I have a lot of love for it and because of them I do this. You don’t just get places because of you," Vang added. "Even though I have some talent and have worked hard to get here, I’ve had a lot of help along the way. Especially all the Hmong people I’ve met and my high school friends saying ‘Here’s some money. Go win it.’

"When I represent them, it makes me feel a little bit better."

Without all that support, Vang’s opportunity to compete in Hungary would be nothing more than just that: an unfulfilled opportunity.

"I made the team last year, but it was in the US. This year, I had to save up a bunch of money just to get the plane ticket. At first it was kind of nerve wracking, but after asking a lot of people and how many people wanted to help me get to Hungary, I’ve had random people I’ve never known before send me messages of support and send me $5 or $10," Vang said joyfully.

In just two days, Vang’s supporters helped him raise more than $1,000 towards sending him to the world competition in Hungary.

"Outside of just being able to go, it makes me even more excited that every time I go to compete I’ll have everybody who supported me and gave me the money…they’ll be on my mind. I’m excited to lift for them and for myself," Vang added.

Should he get the opportunity, Vang plans on representing all of them well on the world stage, which he takes as an honor. For Vang, representing someone, whether it be a person or an organization, is a weighty consideration that he enjoys taking part in.

"When I represent something, it kind of means I take it more than a business. When I say I represent something…a lot of these teams are formed by people’s relationships. For me, because I’m representing them, I look at it like we’re family," Vang said, specifically mentioning Team Quest and Average Hmong Gym, two additional groups he works out with.

"It kind of means that’s my family."

Although Vang is a world-class power lifter right now, his future plans may drift in a slightly different direction. Vang admits that he may continue lifting in higher classifications after a few more years of experience, he has other dreams that he hopes to pursue. In the near future, Vang hopes to use his knowledge and his talent to help others accomplish what he has accomplished.

"I just love doing it a lot. I don’t want to charge people like personal training. I’d rather be paid by an organization, and then whoever comes to me, I can just give them all of my knowledge," Vang acknowledged. "I think the best way would be with a school because if I’m at a school, then the kids don’t get charged for the information I give them."

Vang already takes part in some of that right now as he works with people at his home gym, Winder’s Pump’n Iron Gym.

"I guess you could say this place is almost my peace. As soon as I walk in here, everything just kind of goes away and the gym becomes the place that gets me where I need to be," Vang mentioned. "For some reason, when I show up, the people here, the love that radiates between everybody gives me some extra strength. Because of this gym, I can do whatever I want and the people here can ask me whatever I want, so it’s the perfect environment for someone like me who wants to train and help train.

"I’m doing what I love already, but I’m not getting paid for it."

While power lifting can be a dangerous sport, Vang’s unusual entry into the world of power lifting has somewhat helped him to avoid any serious injuries. He did sustain a pinched back and a hurt hip early on, but his coaches have since helped him improve his technique and stretch more effectively in order to avoid any serious problems.

As with his love of training people to lift, Vang also shares with people what he has learned about avoiding injury and how they, too, can avoid serious pain and long-term damage.

Vang’s sharing spirit has endeared him to countless individuals in Barrow County and beyond, and he knows and appreciates that he carries a great crowd of support behind him wherever he goes next.

"Since I’m associated with so many different things, like Pump’n Iron Gym and my Hmong friends and Team Quest and UGA, it kind of helps motivate me to try even harder because I have that many more people to think about, and that makes me strong," Vang mentions.

While thinking about weights and numbers may come as a distraction to Vang, the people behind him are something else entirely.

"When I show up, you might just see one person, but technically in the back of my mind, I see a big group behind me," Vang said. "It makes me strong when I show up at a meet and I see this many people standing behind me and supporting me.

"I guess you could say it’s like a new baptism and I’m reborn when I think about all I can do. People feel bad because they can’t give me a lot of money, but even the guy who gives me $5, I think of him," Vang noted.

"When I think about them, they might just see me who represents USA, but when they see what I go through, they’ll see everyone behind me: all the people who’ve ever helped me out, gave me something, my powerlifting teams, my home gym, my friends, my Hmong family," Vang listed.

"I just want to thank all of them for making me stronger."



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