By Anthony Hooker

Killeen Daily Herald

If you drive by the Killeen Civic & Conference Center this week and feel a tremor, don't panic.

Any vibration felt from that area is likely to be a result of some extreme weight moving.

The city will be showcasing the 2006 IPF World Masters Powerlifting Championships, an event that will celebrate a love affair of lifting that allows men and women over the age of 40 to compete internationally for iron supremacy.

Beginning today and continuing through Saturday, more than 252 contestants from 25 countries have committed to appear. Over a series of five days they will participate in two age groups, 40-49 and 50-59, competing in three separate events: the squat, the deadlift and the bench press.

The general of this odyssey is local competitor Johnny "Truck" Graham, who serves as host of this event, USA Powerlifting Masters National Chairman, and coach of the Fort Hood Powerlifting Team. Graham has pulled off what was considered miraculous in the powerlifting community – getting a world championship event to be held in the United States. This particular event hasn't been in the States for 20 years.

"I don't why they chose us,'' Graham said humbly. "I believe they saw the great staff I have and the commitment they've shown to this sport

through our past efforts.''

For a guy who has won 17 national powerlifting championships, set world records in the squat and the deadlift, along with being the 1998 Masters Powerlifter of the Year and the 2003 USA Powerlifting Coach of the Year, the comment seems self-deprecating. Graham asserts, however, that Killeen's showing at the 2002 World Bench-press meet set the tone for this invitational.

"We got a lot of good reviews from that event and were actually encouraged to put in a bid for the Masters,'' Graham recalled. "I was really surprised to receive (the bid) because we beat out some strong powerlifting communities, such as Austria and Norway."

Graham says the cooperation of the city's local officials have gone a long way in seeing this event through. He especially notes the help of his loyal staff has been the lifeblood of this and other ongoing projects. He quickly credits lead assistant and team member Lanette Lopez for her ability to successfully administer and coordinate the necessary details needed for the event.

Lopez, 47, says her presence in powerlifting is as unlikely as the event taking place in "The City with No Limits."

A petite, yet compact woman whose figure disguises her age favorably, Lopez had no interest in become anyone's competitor.

"When I met Johnny, I was intimidated by his size. I just wanted to get in better shape.''

After striking a friendship at the gym, Graham some time later convinced Lopez to participate and ultimately help organize events in numerous locales. Lopez says these competitions and preparations for them have been inspirational.

"I may have reinvented myself in the last 10 years because of him. I am in much better shape and met so many people from everywhere because of this sport . . . and I owe him for that."

Graham's infectious spirit has transcended a number of barriers, even reaching family sets.

Linda Baum, 43, will be competing in the women's 181-pound class. Two of her children, Casey and Amanda Baum, will serve as volunteer workers for the event.

"I've been with Johnny since I was 14,'' says Amanda, 18, who also competes nationally. "I got interested in the sport because my mom was in it, but Johnny has always made it fun to be around. I love the competition but I like that no one takes themselves pretty seriously. We laugh and joke around as we train, even in the meets. It loosens me up and it's great to know when I'm focusing on a weight, I have people who I know believe in my abilities to make a lift."

There will be three sessions of competition on Tuesday: at 11 a.m, 3 and 5 p.m. Wednesday has four sessions, and the remaining days have two sessions at 11 a.m and between 2 and 3 p.m.

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