Published: July 28, 2013
When powerlifters train and compete, they often pick a point on a wall in the distance and focus on it - a tactic that helps them maintain concentration during difficult lifts.
But that strategy doesn't help 63-year-old Philadelphia native Charles King.
King has been blind for 24 years, the result of a rare hereditary glaucoma condition, and he's been powerlifting since 2008.
Because King can't use the same techniques as sighted powerlifters, coach Mark Sampson directs him through the lifts.
"When they're telling me," King said, "it helps me correct what I'm sensing to do, but not actually seeing to do."
Unlike most powerlifters, King has never seen a reflection of himself lifting, but that doesn't mean he doesn't have an idea of what his lift should look like.
"It's strange because then I have to change the picture I see in my mind," King said. "Before I lift, I see it in my brain. And then what I see isn't always what I do. When I go down a lot of times, I bend my head over and that makes your behind raised."
To correct those movements, Sampson calls out cue words that signal to King that he needs to adjust his positioning.
"When I work with a sighted athlete, it's easy to say something because they can see it," Sampson said. "When I work with a handicap person, you've got to explain it a little bit better. We use cue words - different words that tell them what to do."
Sampson has been working with blind athletes for 10 years and coached two other lifters - Tom Monroe and Steve Pena - in Sunday's Rocky Mountain State Games competition.
The three lifters are members of the United States Association of Blind Athletes.
Monroe, who has been friends with King since meeting at a meet in 2009, enjoys powerlifting because he wants to inspire young veterans.
Both Monroe and King are Vietnam War Era veterans, and Monroe said that he keeps himself motivated so younger handicapped veterans have a goal to strive toward.
"If there's a team they can go ahead and strive for, and we have a spot for them," Monroe said. "I'd be glad to in the next two, three years to give up my spot to a younger guy who's totally blind who wants to be inspired, to be athletic, to be competitive. You've got to give them some hope".
Both Monroe and King turned in three perfect squats, Monroe with a final weight of 297-lbs and King at 220-lbs.
All are working to qualify for the IBSA World Bench Press and Powerlifting Championships in Beijing in September. In last year's World Championships, King set a deadlift record for participants over 60, earning a gold medal for the United States. King hopes to continue his lifting for at least another decade.
"I figure I can go until 75, 80," King said. "I finally found something that I can independently have fun with because when you're blind, it's brutal."
For Sampson, coaching these unique athletes is a rewarding experience and one that he said brings him great pride.
"There's so many people that say 'oh, I've got this disability, I can't do this or that,'" Sampson said. "Here we've got people who are saying, 'you know what, I've got a disability, but darn it, I can do this.'"
"I feel like I'm a young kid and these are my dads."