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Superior sisters capture national powerlifting medals

Charleen and Shelley Balcer earned medals at the national contest held in June.

Powerlifter Char Balcer arches her back as she gets herself in position to bench
Powerlifter Char Balcer arches her back as she gets herself in position to bench at the Esko Fitness Center at Esko High School on Tuesday, July 26.
Jed Carlson / Superior Telegram
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SUPERIOR — Some people know the 2022 USA Powerlifting Bench Nationals was held in Las Vegas, Nevada. Few people know that two powerful sisters originally from Superior placed first and second, respectively, in multiple categories of the competition.

BalcerSisters.png
Shelley and Charleen Balcer pose at the 2022 USA Powerlifting Bench Nationals in Las Vegas, Nevada.
Contributed / Balcer sisters

On June 8, Charleen and Shelley Balcer, both Superior High School alumni, brought their weightlifting abilities to the national stage and walked away with medals.

Reflecting on the beginning of their weightlifting journey, the Balcers found their love for weights while training for other sports in high school.

“We were cross-training for swimming and track when we realized we excelled at weightlifting,” said Charleen. “Our high school also had a powerlifting team that would train and travel together for state and national competitions.”

Like her sister, Shelley also remembers her start to powerlifting at age 14. Shelley eventually became a runner-up Wisconsin state champ in her senior year of high school and earned two medals from this year’s national competition: one gold and one silver.

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One of their supportive supervisors and friend, John Tini, remembers when the Balcers showed up for the first time at a powerlifting meet.

“I was the meet director for a long series of benchpress competitions where the meets were set up for encouraging people to get into powerlifting,” Tini said. “The two girls showed up at one of our meets and did very well. They kind of opened everybody's eyes that hey, these girls really have some potential.”

Although the sisters have competed in a range of powerlifting events throughout their time in the sport, they narrowed their focus to what they excel at in their most recent competitions.

“USA Powerlifting hosts national events in full powerlifting (squat, bench press and deadlift combined weight total) and bench press only. Each of these offers raw and equipped divisions,” said Charleen. “We are most competitive in the bench press, so (we) focus on that. Raw refers to only being allowed wrist wraps and lifting belts for supportive gear, whereas equipped allows lifters to wear a supportive lifting shirt. This adds stability and strength but requires a more dialed-in technique and the challenge of managing an overloaded weight of around 30% of what a person can lift raw.”

Char Balcer bench presses during a workout
Char Balcer bench presses during a workout at the Esko Fitness Center at Esko High School on Tuesday afternoon, July 26.
Jed Carlson / Superior Telegram

Going into the national competition, the sisters had goals, and with those goals came some surprises.

“My goal was to get first place in raw and second place in equipped, and then the opposite happened,” said Shelley. “I was surprised that I didn’t do so hot in raw and surprised that I did really well in equipped!”

In finishing out the competition, Charleen placed second in her weight class for the raw division and placed first in her weight class for equipped bench lift. Charleen also placed second overall with her 270-pound equipped bench.

Though women like the Balcers have proven time and again that powerlifting is anyone's game, the sport itself is still traditionally thought of as a men's sport. When asked what it is like to compete in such a male-dominated sport, the sisters said they stand for a challenge and want to encourage other women along the way.

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“We enjoy challenging the patriarchy and have always had family and coaches support that we can do anything men can do,” said Charleen. “We try our best to encourage other females to pursue the sport as well.”

But like any sport, the sisters also enjoy all the fun and various surprises as Shelley said, “It’s fun to surprise people with how strong we are!”

Charleen holds the heaviest recorded equipped bench for the year in her weight class for any gender (male, female or nonbinary) in the 123 pounds and under division for lifting 270 pounds.

Competing with each other has also been a fun challenge, they said.

Char Balcer adds more weight to the bar
Char Balcer adds more weight to the bench press at the Esko Fitness Center at Esko High School on Tuesday afternoon, July 26.
Jed Carlson / Superior Telegram

“We’ve always been competitive, so it keeps us on our toes to always be trying to get stronger than the other,” said Shelley. “It’s also nice to always have a sidekick at the meets!”

According to Tini, watching the sisters work together is just as entertaining.

“They obviously have a bond, and they obviously work well together,” said Tini. “It’s fun to watch them work and to work with them.”

Along with their gains in the weight room, both women have busy schedules.

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Outside of powerlifting, Shelley is a cranberry farmer who enjoys flying, skiing, trap shooting and horseback riding, but said balancing this fun, work, training and family requires plenty of hard work and dedication.

Those who know them appreciate the work they put into the sport.

“The number of things that they do in addition to powerlifting just amazes me,” said Tini. “I sometimes wonder how they have enough time to train to get to the level that they are. They are at a very high level, and anytime you find someone lifting in the way they are, in the competition that they’re in, it requires dedication and practice and time. They’re willing to put the work in, and the results speak for themselves.”

Longtime friend Sarah Christiansen said she admires the Balcers for their commitment to pursue their ambitions.

"I think it's cool that they're pursuing their dreams," she said.

Though there is plenty of recent and lingering excitement from their most recent wins at powerlifting nationals, both women are already focused on their next goals. They're shooting for state records and hoping to be invited to lift at the Arnold Sports Festival next spring in Ohio.

Powerlifter Char Balcer laughs as she warms up with bands
Powerlifter Char Balcer laughs as she warms up with bands at the Esko Fitness Center at Esko High School on Tuesday afternoon, July 26.
Jed Carlson / Superior Telegram
Powerlifter Char Balcer warms up on a pull-down machine
Powerlifter Char Balcer warms up on a pull-down machine at the Esko Fitness Center at Esko High School on Tuesday afternoon, July 26.
Jed Carlson / Superior Telegram
Char Balcer arches her back as she rattles off a set on the bench
Char Balcer arches her back as she rattles off a set on the bench during a workout at the Esko Fitness Center at Esko High School on Tuesday afternoon, July 26.
Jed Carlson / Superior Telegram

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