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Woodbury men ask: How about a lift?

Valentin Huerta, a Woodbury firefighter-medic, competes in a squat competition at a 2013 powerlifting event. (Submitted photo)1 / 2
East Ridge High School graduate Chago Huerta deadlifts 556 pounds during a powerlifting competition in 2013. (Submitted photo)2 / 2

Valentin and Chago Huerta won’t just be giving an ailing Twin Cities boy a helping hand in March – they’ll be lifting with all their might.

The father and son team is raising funds for HopeKids, an organization that provides special opportunities for kids with life-threatening diseases, such as the Minneapolis boy the Huertas are sponsoring.

Valentin, a Woodbury firefighter-medic, and Chago, a 2013 East Ridge High School graduate attending St. Thomas University, will be competing on March 29 at the Relentless power-lifting event in Rosemount, which supports HopeKids.

The Huertas are sponsoring Carter Haas, a 4-year-old boy with a genetic disorder so rare it doesn’t have a name and affects only one other child in the United States. Haas’ brain functions at the level of a 6- to 9-month-old baby, he can’t walk and he has experienced seizures every single day since he turned 2.

 “It gives meaning to our training,” Chago said. “It pushes me to want to lift that much more in honor of Carter.”

Val said he and his son were first turned on to HopeKids – a program he said closely resembles the mission of Make A Wish – last year as their foray into competitive weightlifting.

“We thought, ‘Why not do something to help others as well?’” Val said.

Funds raised through HopeKids go toward organizing activities that can sprinkle a little sunshine in the lives of children who face constant struggles. The program puts children in touch with everything from visits with pro athletes to trips to Disney World.

While the Huertas work toward their fundraising goal of $1,000, they’re also training to make some noise at the Relentless event.

Both men hold American powerlifting records in their respective weight classes for squat, dead lift and total weight. Val, who lifts at the 220-pound weight class also holds a record in the open-weight division for squat and bench press.

The 39-year-old said he transitioned to powerlifting after 12 years of regular weightlifting. Chago, 19, has lifted since he was 8 years old and has been training in powerlifting ever since last year’s Relentless competition.

The transition to powerlifting seemed to be a natural progression, Val said.

“We’re lifting already – why not be competitive?” he said.

At the event, the Huertas will compete in three events: squat, bench and dead lift. The athletes take three cracks at each lift, with the hope that they will set a personal record – or more – by the final heave.

Both men compete in what’s known as the “raw” category. Chago, who currently lifts at the 198-pound weight class, explained that raw simply means they lift in regular clothing. Other lifters compete in the “equipped” category, meaning the wear specialized clothing designed to compress their muscles and boost their lifts.

Val said he enjoys the competitive aspect of powerlifting, along with the camaraderie shared among the lifters, and Chago agreed.

But while Val said lifting records are simply a bonus to the activity, Chago has his sights set a little higher.

He has set the goal of becoming not just a record holder, but a national champion powerlifter.

“I want to be known as one of the best powerlifters in the world,” he said.

His dad says Chago is on his way to becoming just that.

“He’s progressing tremendously,” Val said, noting that Chago has been hitting numbers generally not accomplished by lifters until they’re in their 30s.

Meanwhile, Chago continues to look up to his father’s example and notes that Val continues to make gains, even as he closes in on his 40th birthday.

“It’s pretty incredible,” Chago said.

Val also hopes the boisterous sounds coming from gyms don’t cast powerlifters in a negative light.

“They’re gentle giants for the most part,” he said.  “It’s different than what people see us as.”

Anyone interested in giving to the Relentless fundraiser can donate by visiting this site.

Mike Longaecker

Mike Longaecker is the regional public safety reporter for RiverTown Multimedia. His coverage area spans St. Croix and Pierce counties. Longaecker served from 2011-2015 as editor of the Woodbury Bulletin. A University of Wisconsin-River Falls graduate, Longaecker previously reported for the Red Wing Republican Eagle and for the Forum Communications Minnesota Capitol Bureau. You can follow him on Twitter at @Longaecker

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