By Matthew Girard
Killeen Daily Herald
Almost every evening, Ron Harris can be found in his garage training for his next competition.
In just two-and-a-half years of competitive powerlifting, Harris has been crowned a national champion, been named the athlete of the year and has won the past 25 events he has participated in.
On paper, it would appear that Harris is an up-and-coming youngster making a name for himself on the Natural Athletes Strength Association powerlifting circuit. Although Harris is relatively new to competitive powerlifting, the Killeen native isn't the age people would normally associate with a "rookie."
For more than 30 years, Harris lifted weights as just a hobby. But at the age of 52, Harris took his talents to the next level and promptly won the first event he ever competed in.
"One of my co-workers, who is a civil engineer in Fort Worth, called me and said he had heard about a tournament in Longview and encouraged me to get in it," said the 54-year-old Harris, who is a civil engineering technician. "I said, 'I've never heard of such a thing,' but when he told me they had slots for all ages I thought I would give it a shot. Then I came out and won the thing."
After that first meet, Harris said he was hooked. Since he started lifting competitively, Harris has not only won every event he has participated in, but has also set state records in the bench press, dead lift and curl. He was also named the 2007 NASA Power Sports Masters II Male Athlete of the year.
Harris is the reigning Unequipped NASA National Champion in the bench press (320 pounds), dead lift (413 pounds) and curl (170 pounds).
Harris said he started lifting at a young age.
"I was a skinny 16-year-old kid. I grew about eight inches in one summer, so I went from short and stocky to tall and skinny," Harris said. "I saw the cartoons with (skinny) guys getting sand kicked in their faces and I pictured myself, so I started lifting and never quit.
"It's like anything else people do. Different people have different hobbies that grab their attention and for some reason I got attached to weightlifting."
This weekend Harris is looking to add "World Champion" to his list of accomplishments at the 2008 NASA Powerlifting World Cup Championships in Oklahoma City.
"There's not too many of us dummies lifting in our 50s and 60s, but those that are pretty serious," Harris said. "It makes for some interesting meets."
Harris' wife Noemi said she had no reservations about her husband getting into competitive weightlifting despite his age.
"He's just really dedicated to it and enjoys it," Noemi said. "He does it for himself, but seeing him up there and doing the best he can is nice to see."
When he's not working at his job or in his garage training, Harris donates his time as a Sunday school teacher at Pershing Park Baptist Church.
"I love teaching," Harris said. "To me, the most important hour of the week is that Sunday School hour. It gives me a chance to open God's word and to study it."
Although Harris is an imposing figure, Sunday school student Larry Stokes said Harris is a gentle giant.
"He's just easy going and a big teddy bear," said Stokes, who has been in Harris' Sunday school class for the past 11 years. "I've seen Ron get emotional at Sunday school when he's talking about certain things, but it is odd at times to see a big guy like that shed a tear. He's just a wonderful person."
Harris said he gets a kick out of the reactions he gets when he tells people he is a Sunday school teacher.
"I taught youth for seven years, mostly football players, and it just drove them nuts that their Sunday school teacher could outlift them," Harris said with a laugh.
Noemi said she is proud of her husband.
"I'm very proud of the fact that God is very important to him," Noemi said. "That's where his strength comes from and he is willing to share that with the Sunday school class or anyone who will talk with him. He's a man of integrity and that's who he is."
Harris will compete and put his undefeated streak on the line in the unequipped bench press, dead lift and curl events at the World Cup Aug. 2-3.
Stokes said he has no doubt his teacher will come out on top.
"I think Ron is going to win it because of his dedication and I know he's going to prepare well for it," Stokes said. "If they're going to beat him, they are going to have to be ready and have to work for it."
Even though Harris will be competing in his first World Cup, he said it won't be the last.
"As long as God gives me strength, I'm going to teach and lift as long as I can," Harris said. "God's word says all things are possible through Christ, including winning the World Cup."
Contact Matthew Girard at firstname.lastname@example.org or (254) 501-7569.