By Scott Prater
Rodrigo Ocampo competed in his first weightlifting competition Friday, but it didn’t matter. Strength trumped experience during the annual Schriever Bench Press and Deadlift competition as Ocampo lifted a combined total of 595 pounds to edge out veteran competitor David Anthony for the victory.
At 5-foot-5 and 136 pounds, Ocampo isn’t an imposing figure in the weight room, but drive and a desire to learn aren’t easily measured attributes.
The Bogota, Columbia, native came to the United States as an adolescent. His parents migrated, in part, to provide him with a chance to pursue his passion for a career in the space industry.
Since the day he arrived in south Florida, Ocampo explains, he has tried to be a virtual sponge for information.
He was a sophomore in high school when he began learning the steps needed to earn acceptance to the U.S. Air Force Academy.
“I had the academics down, but I learned successful candidates also played a sport and needed to be in good physical shape, so I began taking classes in everything I could think of, like swimming, golfing, cycling and running,” he said.
Due to citizenship issues, he wasn’t able to attend the Academy, but he did manage to gain acceptance into an aerospace engineering program at the University of Florida. He also enrolled in the ROTC program on campus, which proved beneficial to his training regimen.
“We had physical training every morning at 6 a.m., but my first class didn’t start until 8, so I had an hour to kill,” he said. “I got my cardio work in during PT and hit the weight room to get resistance training in. I only had an hour so I devised a pretty extensive program to get the most out of that time.”
Trouble is, he knew very little about weight training. Thankfully, his desire to learn served him well. He’s never shy about asking for advice or knowledge.
“I always seem to gravitate toward people who know more than me,” he said. “I’ve always had roommates who were into some kind of different sport. One of my first roommates lifted, so it was nice to have somebody who was also dedicated to working out. We never failed to keep our regimen going and that was what we both needed.”
During the past decade, he befriended a triathlete, a rock climber and track athlete among other competitors. The Air Force also provided him with opportunities to expand on his skills and knowledge. He learned to surf and snowboard while stationed at Edwards Air Force Base, Calif., and the conditions of an Afghanistan deployment led to his most rigorous weight training regimen to date.
“We had a sniper problem where I was deployed, so that meant I couldn’t run outside,” he said. “We had great views of the surrounding area. Unfortunately, the snipers had great views too.”
Ocampo arrived at Schriever last autumn and signed up to compete in the base’s the Murph competition soon after.
“I started training for the bench press and deadlift competition as soon as the Murph ended,” he said. “I think I got in a couple of weeks of good training.”
Still, Ocampo’s lack of lifting experience was evident as he took his first few attempts in the deadlift event. Thankfully, his competitors were good sports. While many tend to shrug off unsolicited bits of advice, it’s Ocampo’s nature to embrace them.
“A couple of the guys told me I was putting too much strain on my back during the lift,” he said. “They recommended that I hold the bar a different way and that wound up making a big difference. I managed to set a personal best of 360 pounds in the deadlift and I think that might have put me over the top in the competition.”
As a means for drawing participation and to be fair to people of different sizes, event director Seth Cannello set the competition up based on a ratio of weight lifted to body weight, so all participants can compete on an even level.
Ocampo, for example, pressed 235 pounds on the bench and dead lifted 360 pounds for a total of 595. Cannello divided 595 by Ocampo’s body weight of 136 to determine the ratio of 4.375.
Anthony, weighing in at 197 pounds, lifted a combined total of 820 pounds for a ratio of 4.162. He said he thought about not even entering in the deadlift competition because of a recent knee injury, but competed instead and nearly captured the win. Sam Bessinger, Schriever’s Murph winner, took third, lifting four times his body weight.
According to Cannello, this year’s competition set a record for participation. Sixteen men and six women showed up to lift in the two events. Many brought friends and family members along for support, which made for a lively and boisterous environment in the Schriever Fitness Center weight room.
Fitness center staff had to run the events simultaneously to maintain a smooth and efficient event.
Chantel Anderson won the women’s competition, bench pressing 110 pounds and deadlifting 325 for a ratio of 2.75. Anna Bily took second with a ratio of 2.69.
“I was surprised to find out I won, but I did hit two personal bests during the competition,” Anderson said. “I added 10 pounds to my max in both events so I was happy with that and the turnout was great. I’m already looking forward to some rivalry next time around.”