Since seventh grade, lifting weights and powerlifting, in particular, has become more than a passing fancy for Jonathan Coots. It has become a way of life.
Coots, 19 and a native of Belton, Missouri, competed on Jan. 18 in the USA Para Powerlifting [USAPP] regional qualifier event held at Logan University in Chesterfield.
“I had done lifting for track and my school offered powerlifting so I figured I would give it a shot,” Coots said. Shortly after that, Coots decided to focus on powerlifting and leave track behind. “I just fell in love with powerlifting and I stopped doing track and started to focus on powerlifting.”
Coots was born with spina bifida, a birth defect that occurs when the spine and spinal cord don’t align properly. He uses a wheelchair most of the time but that has not stopped him from becoming one of the most successful powerlifters in his age and weight group. He graduated from Belton High in 2019. As a freshman, he won first place in the 2016 National HighSchool Power Paralifting competition.
“My high school coach decided he would take a few people to high school nationals, and I ended up finishing first in my weight class and setting a national [bench press] record for the 114-pound weight class,” Coots said.
That performance led to him competing in St. Louis in early 2018. He fared so well in that competition that US Paralympic Powerlifting High Performance Manager Mary Hodge offered a spot on the USAPP team.
Coots traveled with the team to New York in early 2018, learned what was needed to qualify during a first-day clinic at the qualifier tournament and then made the cut as a level one competitor.
In February 2019, Coots went to Virginia and made the cut as a national qualifier to represent the team in the World Para Powerlifting Championships in Kazakhstan.
“When I qualified in Virginia, I got my USA singlet, which made me [officially] part of the team,” Coots said.
Coots had three lifts in the world championships in Kazakhstan last July. After losing on his first lift due to an unbalanced bar, he managed to succeed with a 54kg [180- to 185-pound] lift on his second attempt. That lift earned him a bronze medal in the competition.
“The third one we were going for a new PR [personal record],” Coots said, [but] I ran out of steam on that one.”
Medaling at the world championships was a great accomplishment and one that makes Coots “very happy.”
Coots has been ranked in the top eight in his weight class over the past two years. His goal in the St. Louis Regional was to keep his ranking and prepare for the World Cup qualifier competition in March in Columbia, South America.
“I was just looking to get my opener and that would qualify me for Columbia,” Coots said.
Beyond the competition and success, Coots said the best thing about para powerlifting for him is traveling to new places and getting to meet so many different people.
He is ranked No. 3 among the junior division and is focused on getting himself into a position to compete in the 2024 Paris Paralympic Games.