Mary Stack -- a disabled athlete from Ann Arbor whose sport is powerlifting -- is poised to peak.
And that could mean her winning a medal at the Paralympic Games, which open today in London with 4,200 athletes from around the world who have disabilities. Thirteen of those competing have ties to Michigan.
Stack, 38, goes into the games ranked fourth in the world; she will compete on Sept. 5 against other powerlifters who weigh 182 pounds or more and hail from countries such as Nigeria, Egypt and Mexico.
To medal, she'll have to do what she never has done before: Lift 320 pounds or so. Her personal best is 302 pounds.
"Showing my strength is more than just about me lifting weights. It's about what's inside and how I use that strength that has taken me places in life," says Stack, who will participate in her fourth -- and last -- Paralympics. "Every day I show the people around me what is possible with dedication and determination.
"It means the world to me to be able to represent the USA on the largest sporting stage in the world and to be able to stand proud knowing that I have trained hard and am ready to do my best," says Stack, who was born with a disorder that has shortened her bones, rounded her face and predisposed her to obesity.
The Paralympics are growing in stature. London organizers predict record crowds for the games. The NBC Sports Network has several days worth of coverage scheduled. And Oscar Pistorius, the South African double-amputee and sprinter who made history by participating in the London games is also due to compete in the Paralympics with his blade prosthetics.
On her competition day, Stack will pack a new pair of gym shoes -- New Balance size 1 in boys -- and a one-piece singlet or weightlifter's leotard with an American flag emblazoned on it. She gets three lifts, so she'll start with a weight she knows she can easily handle. In practice, she does lifts ranging from about 135 pounds to 275 pounds.
"Next is something that's a little bit of a struggle," says Stack. "My last lift will be something that I've never done before."
In powerlifting, Stack competes based solely on weight.
"I'm not competing against somebody with my own disability. I'm competing against somebody in the same weight class," said Stack, so that means she may compete against a lifter whose disability is blindness, or is an amputee.
At a recent practice at U-M, Stack is steadying herself to lift, strapping on orange wristbands. As she's lying on a bench, two spotters help position the barbell above her and offer encouragement.
In a clean lift, the spotter places the barbell in Stack's hands as it rests on her chest. When he lets go, she begins to press the weight up. The lift needs to be smooth, hands synchronized as they press the weight up. Elbows are locked in place, holding the weight steady for a second against the force of gravity before it comes down to her chest.
She does this about 10 to 15 times each training session, starting at about 135 pounds and on this day, working her way up to 275 pounds.
In between lifts, she keeps up a steady banter, joking that "I only stop talking when the weight goes up."
Sport defines much of who Stack is. She coordinates sporting activities for the disabled at Ann Arbor's Center for Independent Living. After London, she plans to transition into coaching.
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