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Local coed powerlifting club has national record-holder in Nick Cook

Wednesday, Mar. 12 | By Jeff Malmgren
Warrenton's Nick Cook deadlifts 500 pounds during a recent training session at Gold's Gym while, from left to right, Chole Howes, Kim Olinger and Terry Tsouroutis look on. --Fauquier Times Staff Photo/Randy Litzinger
Every Thursday night, 40 miles west of Capitol Hill, some very powerful people sit together at a table in a nondescript steakhouse.

One of them is, by some standards, the most powerful man in America.

His name's Nick Cook, and his power lies in his physical strength.

The 24-year-old Warrenton resident can deadlift more than 740 pounds. That's a 100% Raw Powerlifting Federation national record for competitors in Cook's age group and weight class.

The people who sit with him at Outback Steakhouse, or LongHorn Steakhouse, are his training partners, and his “teammates” when they travel together around Virginia for competitions. The group of five trains most weekdays at Gold’s Gym in Warrenton and, on Thursdays, they also cross town to eat together.

“They have just become some of my best friends,” said Kim Olinger, a 25-year-old Warrenton resident who graduated from Liberty High in 2006.

They don't stand out as powerlifters, though, with the seam-spreading muscles and swelling veins of, say, those guys in the World’s Strongest Man competitions.

Olinger, for example, looks like she spends days shuffling insurance forms and corralling a toddler rather than lifting weights. She does all three, in fact.

And Chloe Howes, of Goldvein, grew up an equestrian rider in Vermont. The 20-year-old grips weighted bars in the gym with polished nails, highlighted brown hair and color-coordinated outfits.

Cook, meanwhile, is soft-spoken with a grand smile that sends ripples across his face. He's been called a teddy bear more than Corduroy, while 24-year-old Ryan Brent of The Plains sometimes passes as Cook's brother. Both are 2008 graduates from Fauquier High.

And Terry Tsouroutis. Well, maybe he better fits a stereotypical powerlifter profile. Tattoos serve as the graffiti on his brick-house body and he’s bald-headed, but he’s also genial and gregarious.

The 45-year-old Warrenton resident doubles as the group's trainer. He began powerlifting 19 years ago, while the others are relative novices with less than two years of experience.

"But for their age, they're above" the curve, Tsouroutis said. “They’re all great kids.”

Crazy over Cookie

Nick Cook seemed to have reached his threshold.

A few days before heading to Charlottesville in December for his first powerlifting competition, Cook slid more than a half-dozen plates on each end of a bar at Gold's Gym in Warrenton. He then managed to deadlift those 650 pounds off the floor.

"And he told me it weighed a ton," Terry Tsouroutis said.

So they developed a corresponding plan for Cook at their upcoming 100% Raw event. Once there, Cook lifted 600 pounds on his first attempt and followed that with a 651-pound lift.

“But it was way too easy," Tsouroutis said. “I don’t want to call it sandbagging. I think he just didn’t know his own strength.”

So, prior to Cook’s third attempt, Tsouroutis did a little research at the judges’ table. He found that 700 pounds was the national record in Cook's 20-24 age group of the super heavyweight division.

"It was way more than we planned on," Tsouroutis said. "But I said, 'Let’s go for it.'"

Cook hoisted 705.4 pounds on his third attempt to break the national record. The judges then gave him one extra attempt to see how much more he could improve.

Cook pulled up 744 pounds on that fourth try.

“I thought it was going to be a pretty big struggle,” Cook said. “It wasn’t. … I just exploded out of my starting stance.”

"Freakishly strong," said Tsouroutis.

Cook weighs about 350 pounds, so there were competitors bigger and more experienced than the 24-year-old at that 100% Raw meet. Regardless, many of them left in awe of Cook.

"These huge dudes that are envious of him lifting all this weight," Kim Olinger said. "And he’s just so nonchalant. … He just doesn’t really have any sense of what he’s actually accomplishing."

"They’re asking him, ‘Oh my god, what’s you’re [training] routine?'" Olinger said. "It’s cool to see everyone going crazy over Cookie.”

Five years ago, as the heavyweight star on Fauquier High's wrestling team, Cook couldn't deadlift much more than 500 pounds. That mark didn't improve much during his lone season wrestling at the University of Indiana.

Working with Tsouroutis, however, has helped improve his form and technique. So now lifting 700 pounds seems insufficient.

“I know I can go higher,” Cook said. “The ultimate goal would be to set a world record.”

That’s a high hope, though.

In addition to 100% Raw meets, Tsouroutis’ group of Fauquier County lifters has competed in events organized by other governing bodies. USA Powerlifting (USAPL), for example, is a larger organization with deadlift world records of more than 900 pounds for super heavyweights.

In the USAPL raw division (lifters unequipped with compression clothing or wraps) the record in the drug-tested category is 903 pounds, held by Mark Henry, a former American Olympian and current World Wrestling Entertainment personality.

Also in the raw category, Benedikt Magnusson holds the open (untested) record at 1,015 pounds.

Tsouroutis believes Cook will break the 800-pound threshold next time the Fauquier graduate competes, likely in April.

“I think I’ve got a lot more room to grow,” Cook said. “I don’t feel like any of my lifts are peaking.”

Cook can bench press 463 pounds and squat around 650.

“When I first met him, he had no form. He couldn’t even squat,” Tsouroutis said. “Once you kind of dial that in, he was a lifting machine. I joke with him that he has pistons in his legs instead of muscles.”

Cook has worked with Tsouroutis for only 11 months.

“I hound him: ‘You should pursue this’” more seriously, Tsouroutis said. “‘You could be up there with the best of the best.’”

Cook has other goals, too, though.

He left Indiana following a 2008-09 school year in which he was a redshirt freshman wrestler. Now Cook hopes to return to college somewhere in Virginia. He also wouldn’t mind wrestling again, or playing football – another sport he excelled in at Fauquier High as a defensive tackle.

“I’ve always got that in me – to get back on the field or the mat one more time,” Cook said. “All I need is a coach or team to give me an opportunity and I won’t prove them wrong.”

Cook worked this winter with the Manassas Park High wrestling team. He’s kind of reciprocating after the Cougars’ head coach, Brett Jenkins, spent time a few years ago in Fauquier High’s wrestling room as Cook’s practice partner.

Cook finished his high school career as a two-time state runner-up in Group AAA, losing each state title match by one point in triple overtime. He then accepted a full scholarship offer from Virginia Tech, but after the offer was rescinded he ended up wrestling on partial scholarship at Indiana for one season.

“I miss it a lot,” Cook said of the sport. “Not being able to go out there and beat on someone for six, seven minutes.”

Over the past three years, Cook has worked as a security guard at a medical research facility in Ashburn. Powerlifting helps quench his competitive thirst.

“It just interested me,” he said.

Girl power

Most women opt for the monotony of a treadmill and or elliptical machine at their gyms.

Kim Olinger and Chloe Howes instead venture to the back of Gold’s Gym and grab free weights, but not those five-pound dumbbells. Both of women can squat 315 pounds, deadlift around 300 and bench around 140.

“It’s cool to see some of the guys like, ‘Oh, man, she squats more than me,’” Olinger said.

Howes, who stands 5-foot-4, and Olinger, who is 5-2, can each squat nearly twice their body weight.

“It’s rare for sure,” Terry Tsouroutis said. “Especially at” their size.

Tsouroutis introduced Olinger and Howes to powerlifting about nine months ago. Since then, people have had differing reactions to their new hobby.

“They’re shocked, I guess: ‘Why would you want to do that?’” Howes said. “I guess they think it’s strange for women to be strong. I’m sure some people think it’s gross or weird.

“But I like it,” she said. “I’m good at it.”

People at Gold’s certainly recognize that, including the ladies’ training partners.

“Some of the weight is more than guys are putting up,” Ryan Brent said. “It blows your mind, like, ‘Did that just happen?’ It’s awesome.”

Their strength is even inspiring, Nick Cook said.

“Seeing them, it keeps the drive in me,” he said. “They’re supportive and just as dedicated as anyone.”

Olinger entered a powerlifting competition for the first time in December, when Cook set the deadlift national record. They drove to Charlottesville together while the rest of their training group was unable to make the trip for various reasons – injury, work commitment, etc.

The 171-pound Olinger didn't win her weight class, but competing in a room full of fellow lifters validated her decision to begin training for the sport.

“It was kind of intimidating being around them all,” she said. “But it was really fun."

The 100% Raw events typically feature smaller fields than USAPL competitions, which can peak at about 100 lifters, Tsouroutis said. The governing bodies, which collect registration fees, often set caps on the number of entrants to keep the competition floors – often in hotel conference rooms – from overcrowding. That also prevents competitions from dragging on too long, as each person typically gets three attempts at up to three different lifts.

The events have a long list of age groups and weight classes, so each division is usually limited to fewer than 10 competitors. Some divisions don’t even have state records on file, presumably due to lack of competitors.

“If you’re 45 years old, you don’t want to compete against a 25-year-old," Tsouroutis said. "With so many divisions you have a shot at placing in the top three or five."

Olinger can squat 315 pounds, deadlift 300 and bench 160.

“I definitely lifted better at the meet than I did" during training, she said. "I guess with everyone watching me I felt the pressure."

As with Cook, powerlifting appealed to Olinger's competitive nature. She used to play softball and basketball at Liberty, and powerlifting now helps fill that void. She also plays in a slow-pitch softball league.

“Lifting has actually helped," she said. "Now everyone wants me on their slow-pitch coed team because I’m a girl that can hit the ball farther.”

When not working out, Olinger works as an administrator at Blue Ridge Orthopedic & Spine Center in Warrenton.

Howes, meanwhile, is a sales person at a window treatment business, for which Tsouroutis also works.

Like Olinger, Howes played softball in high school. She grew up in West Topsham, Vt., and graduated from Thetford (Vt.) Academy in 2011.

Also similar to Olinger, Howes had only previously lifted weights as part of a fitness program prior to meeting Tsouroutis in June.

“He said I was better than most people would be starting out – stronger than most girls,” she said.

Howes hasn’t entered a competition yet but plans to join Gold’s group at their next event. For now, training is inspiring enough.

“The squat, it’s exciting,” she said. “You get a chance to beat your personal record each time. … Painful, but there’s that adrenaline.”

Howes can squat 315 pounds, deadlift 265 and bench 125.

“To talk to her, you’d have never thought she was a powerlifter,” Tsouroutis said. “But she did it religiously and her strength increased. It’s impressive.”

Genesis at Gold’s

Terry Tsouroutis joined Gold’s Gym in 1994 soon after moving to Virginia from Florida.

He quickly evolved into a powerlifter, but he didn’t turn the gym into his recruiting ground until recently, after about an eight-year hiatus from the sport.

“I live vicariously through these guys,” Tsouroutis said of the group he’s assembled. “But I'm like, 'Come on.' These guys are posting my best numbers already.”

At the height of his career, during a 1996-2003 stretch, Tsouroutis qualified a few times for world powerlifting championship events. He could squat 855 pounds, deadlift 668 and bench 605.

While Tsouroutis still competes, injuries are a constant obstacle. They don’t affect his ability to coach, though.

“He’s been through it all,” Cook said. “He’s seen guys hurt themselves with bad technique and form. That’s the first thing he makes sure we have down.”

A little more than two years ago, Tsouroutis’ first recruit was a Gold’s employee, Andrew Williams.

“He wanted to get stronger and a little bigger, so we started training,” Tsouroutis said. “He loved it.”

Word of mouth, and some Tsouroutis persuasion, brought Ryan Brent on board. The trophies those guys won generated more interest.

Gold’s allowed the guys to display their hardware near the gym’s front desk. As a result, Tsouroutis had about 10 guys training with him at one point.

“It was more than I ever thought,” he said. “But it’s a tough workout. A lot of kids will come in and after a couple weeks it's, 'OK, see you later.'"

Brent stuck with it, though, and has a few 100% Raw state records to show for it. In the 20-24 age division of the super heavyweight class, Brent holds the Virginia record with a squat of 474 pounds, a bench press of 402 and a three-lift total weight of 1,394.

“It’s that mental game,” the 390-pound Brent said of the competitions. “You just destroy someone and don’t have to say a word or touch them. It’s just about heart and strength.”

With various combinations of lifters, Tsouroutis’ group has entered four competitions. Brent participated in the first three but missed the latest one after a new job with UtiliQuest changed his schedule.

So he didn’t witness Cook’s national record performance, but he is responsible for Cook joining the Gold’s group.

“We were trying to get a team together. It’s a lot more fun when you’ve got a group,” Brent said. “I played football with Cookie. I knew he was pretty strong and new how competitive he was.”

So Cook began training with Brent and Tsouroutis in April and Olinger and Howes followed suit in June.

“It’s never a dull moment,” Brent said. “Great people. You might be having a bad day, but you walk in there and they’ll find a way to cheer you up and make you laugh.”

Nonetheless, Cook is responsible for the one state record that Brent doesn’t hold in their 100% Raw division – the deadlift. Cook is approaching 800 pounds in that event.

He has found objects he can’t lift, though.

Cars, for example.

Yes, he’s tried. What guy wouldn’t, after hoisting a 744-pound bar in the gym?

“I was just curious,” Cook said. “Line up at the front end and see if I budge it a bit. … It wouldn’t go.”
There are other unmovable objects.

On a recent Friday at Gold’s, for example, Cook walked to the left side of a squat rack. Trying to clear space so he could deadlift on the right side of it, Cook pulled on the rack.

It didn't budge. Cook tried again, but still no movement.

“You know that's bolted to the ground," Tsouroutis said as laughter broke out in the back of Gold’s.

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