Despite being a relatively young program, Grand Haven has seen its participation and lifting numbers increase at an incredible clip in recent years.
“I joined the program about three years ago, said Grand Haven head coach Lindsey Ruiter. “There were only three girls in the program when I started and now there are 11 girls competing this year between our varsity and junior varsity teams.”
Ruiter, a ninth-grade English and History teacher at Grand Haven High School, had originally been into CrossFit training and competitions but decided to help coach the high school powerlifters after one of her students talked her into it.
“I had a student of mine teasing me about being a CrossFitter, and was begging me to check out the powerlifting team,” Ruiter recalled. “I decided to give it a chance, and I really enjoyed the atmosphere and stuck around to help coach.”
Ruiter’s favorite part of the job is helping young athletes learn proper lifting form and turn those instructions into new personal best max-out numbers.
“I really enjoy the instructional part of it,” she added. “I enjoy teaching them how to lift and how to use proper technique in order to get better results. The challenging part is just keeping everyone safe. The more weight you are putting up, the more technique matters, so we make sure the first thing kids do is learn the right way to lift so they don’t injure themselves.”
Dylan Hegedus joins Ruiter to make up the coaching staff of the program. The duo compliment each other well and help push the young athletes in different ways.
“Dylan is more numbers driven,” Ruiter added. “He has every kid’s rep numbers and maxes detailed out and helps them gameplan for how to improve on those things. I’m more focused on the behind-the-scenes stuff. I make sure we are signed up for the competitions, pay whatever entry fees we need to take care of and work on transportation needs to and from events and competitions.”
During the winter season, the Buccaneers lift during the week in the high school gym using a pre-planned workout regime to push themselves both individually and collectively.
As the season progresses, the squad competes once at a regional competition in late January or early February and then at the state championship meet in March if individuals on the team qualify.
At the varsity level, Alyssa Spencer represented the Buccaneers at the state meet with a 10th-place finish in her group.
At the junior varsity level, the Grand Haven boys team finished third out of 57 teams at the state meet with 37 points, while the girls finished eighth out of 44 teams with 29 points.
“We really have a strong-willed group right now,” said Ruiter of her current program of lifters. “Everyone enjoys competing, but they are also having fun and challenging themselves. My goal now is to continue to grow the participation numbers and eventually have our roster made up where we have a competitor at every weight discipline at both the varsity and junior varsity level.”
For Ruiter to do that, she’s trying to shake some long-standing stereotypes about the gym lifestyle.
“I always try and tell the kids that are considering joining the powerlifting team that they don’t have to be big and strong to join,” added Ruiter. “Everyone has to start somewhere and there’s no pressure to lift crazy amounts of weights early on. The best thing about this program is that it helps kids get stronger in all aspects of their physical abilities and it will make them better athletes in the other sports that they are involved in.”