WILLIAMSBURG — After an injury that required frequent bouts of physical therapy, Keli Hamman was struggling to build range of motion in her shoulder. She found a gym that offered water aerobics classes and started attending.
While taking the water aerobics class, she noticed a flyer about workout machine classes. By no means a gym rat, Hamman was interested in learning more about the different workouts she could do to get her range of motion back.
Noticing other gym-goers doing back squats, she set her goal on being able to accomplish just that. It took three years, but she eventually learned the proper form and through many hours of frustration, she did her first-ever back squat, and it was at that point that she was sold on the idea of powerlifting.
Hamman had no idea that she might be good at powerlifting until her coach encouraged her to compete. In her first competition, she placed first and earned her first gold medal.
“Within the first year, my coach at the time said, ‘I think you are pretty strong, we should do a competition’. I trained alongside high schoolers at the time. Myself and a group of high schoolers did a competition. In my first competition, I took four state records. From there, I realized that I was pretty good at this and I decided it was game on,” Hamman said.
In powerlifting competition, lifters compete in the deadlift, the bench press, and back squat. Each competitor has three attempts to make their lift. At the end of the three lifts, the weights are added up and reflect the total score for each competitor.
Now, in love with the sport, Hamman has taken classes on anything relating to powerlifting and body mechanics. She has earned her powerlifting coach certification, she trains her own clients, and coaches alongside the coach who inspired her.
One of her biggest goals has always been earning the world record.
“I had attempted the world record squat in Atlanta. Coming into it, I had injuries just before the meet, nothing serious, but it was keeping me from being at my absolute best. I went to the meet and told myself ‘I’m going to do this’ and while I finished the meet, I wasn’t at my best. It was really heartbreaking that I had worked so long to get this world record and it didn’t happen,” Hamman said.
During the North American Championships in Niagara Falls this year, one of Hamman’s goals was to finally earn the world record.
“This time around, I was feeling really strong and my numbers in the gym were looking really, really good. I said to myself ‘I think this is my year, I think I’m going to do this’ and about two weeks before the meet, I heard something in my hip pop and I was in a lot of pain. Honestly, I didn’t think I was going to be able to participate in this meet. Thankfully, I have a really good doctor who has been with me on this whole journey and he sent me to physical therapy. I get into the meet, and I didn’t get as high as I wanted in terms of weight, but I did it and I was so happy,” Hamman said.
After earning the world record by lifting 364.9 pounds, Hamman recalled the feelings that washed over her.
“I want this world record squat so bad. When I got the record, the first feeling I had was relief. There was joy, but there was an overwhelming sense of relief. I had finally did what I’d been working so hard to do. When the meet was over, my brain was already back to work on how I can improve for next year,” Hamman said.
At the conclusion of the North American Championships, Hamman earned gold in her weight class and age, gold in the open class (the strongest amongst the group), and two world-record squats.
Currently, Hamman is working on getting even stronger, so she can beat her current world record at the 2024 championships.
Hamman also works to give high school boys and girls exposure to the sport of powerlifting. Coaching on the side, Hamman encourages anyone who may have the smallest interest in powerlifting to explore the passion and get involved.
“I never competed in anything growing up, I was not an athlete. I didn’t know what that felt like or how to harness the adrenaline of competition. The athlete that I am today and the confidence that I have in myself from this sport is incredible. I love this sport so much because you will see every age, every weight class, guys, girls, this sport is for everybody,” Hamman said.
As of the conclusion of the 2023 powerlifting season, Hamman has earned over 19 records, including two world-record squats. She is currently eyeing a trip to the World Championships, set to take place in Las Vegas in 2024.