BEMIDJI -- Whitney Weidenborner took advice she received as a junior at Bemidji High School --“You can either be a nail, or a splitting maul” -- to heart.

She chose the latter, and found success.

The 2016 Bemidji High School alumna has become a successful powerlifter, and will soon compete in a national powerlifting competition after qualifying at a state championship in Wyoming on Jan. 16. She credits her start in lifting to BHS physical education teacher Robert Strand, the original giver of that advice, as well as many other pep talks over the years.

Weidenborner now resides in Cody, Wyo., where she moved after graduating from the University of Minnesota Crookston with a degree in exercise science and wellness.

“It all started in my weight lifting class junior year of high school,” she said. “That’s when I started to really enjoy lifting weights. (Strand) always would give us a little motivational speech at the beginning of our lift and tell us that, ‘If you want to better yourself, here’s your shot for the day.’ He always did his best to motivate us to get in better shape and better ourselves,” Weidenborner said.

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Whitney Weidenborner, a 2016 Bemidji High School alumna, now resides in Cody, Wyo., where she moved after graduating from the University of Minnesota Crookston with a degree in exercise science and wellness. Submitted photo.
Whitney Weidenborner, a 2016 Bemidji High School alumna, now resides in Cody, Wyo., where she moved after graduating from the University of Minnesota Crookston with a degree in exercise science and wellness. Submitted photo.

Strand, who has been a teacher at BHS for more than 22 years, described Weidenborner as a bit of a late bloomer when it came to lifting, as she didn’t get her start until her junior year. She was no stranger to competition at that point, as a dancer, horseback rider and avid outdoorswoman.

Strand said while Weidenborner started lifting later than most, “she was immediately hooked.”

“She knew that by improving her body it was going to improve her mind. She embraced getting better every day and sacrifice in the weight room,” he said. “(I admired) her work ethic, there was no off time for her. She paid the price every day. The results speak for themselves.”

Weidenborner said one of her other favorite “Mr. Strand-isms” is “Every day you have a choice to get up and chase fear or let fear chase you,” and said she would like to thank him, “for starting the fire,” and showing her, “how great weight lifting can be.”

In January, Weidenborner paved the way for her national competition with a combined total weight of 395 kilograms. This combines her weight from the three lifts performed in powerlifting competitions -- deadlift, squat and bench press.

Weidenborner -- who is 22 years old -- competes in the junior division, for competitors ages 19 to 23.

Men and women compete in given age groups and weight categories. Further divisions are made between what is known as “raw” and “equipped” powerlifters, indicating whether or not the individual is wearing approved supportive equipment during the competition. Weidenborner qualified in the raw division.

Weidenborner trains in the gym two or three hours a day, six or seven days a week. She said aside from Strand, her other inspirations are her new Wyoming gym mates -- Trapper Marsh, Lindsay Restle and Blake Smith.

Strand said his advice for Weidenborner ahead of her nationals is that, “Anything is possible. She’s put herself in the position and she’s punched her ticket, to get where she’s going, and it wasn’t given, it was earned.”

That motto -- earned not given -- is posted on the wall outside of the weight room at BHS because, “the best things in life are earned, not given, and they always take a measure of time,” Strand said.

“I think that Whitney is a tremendous role model,” Strand added. “She continues to serve as a tremendous role model for the kids that are coming (into the BHS weight room) and she’s a testament to what is possible with daily sacrifice and hard work.”

This first national competition is only the beginning for Weidenborner, from here, she hopes to continue trying to qualify for nationals annually until she “gets tired of it,” she said.

The national competition will be held April 7-11 in Baton Rouge, La., and Weidenborner will be competing on the morning of April 10. The competition will be streamed live and can be found along with more information on the competition’s Facebook page.