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Teacher Ashley Bates successfully deadlifts 395 pounds during Smith-Cotton High School’s Homecoming pep rally in October 2018.

In her work life, Ashley Bates loves to lift up her students.

The director of percussion for Sedalia School District 200 bands enjoys showing them joy through music. Her favorite aspects of her job are “being in the kids’ lives, being a part of their story and making music with them.”

Outside of work, Bates is committed to lifting lots of weight, and through that giving a boost to her physical and mental health.

Bates was introduced to powerlifting by her grandmother, Terrye Reahr, who was active with a lifting group in Columbia. Bates became interested after seeing her “Nona” compete in the 2013 Show-Me State Games.

“I would go with her and do yoga classes or work out with her,” Bates said. “It wasn’t until 2016 that I really realized my potential.” That year’s Show-Me State Games was the only time Reahr saw Bates compete; Reahr passed away two months after the competition.

Bates is among the top competitors in the women’s 90 kilos and up division of the American Drug-Free Powerlifting Federation. When she started lifting, her first few weeks were filled with excitement.

“It seemed like I couldn’t put the weight on the bar fast enough. I would lift, and we would throw on more weight, and we would throw on more weight,” she said. “Then I wondered one day how much I could actually deadlift and that day I got up to 295 (pounds) and they said, ‘Let’s stop there. That’s quite a bit.’ And that was quite a bit more than I had ever lifted.”

Bates loves the exhilaration and adrenaline rush that comes from competing with herself, trying to post personal bests. But powerlifting also has become “a great relief from everyday battles that I was struggling with.” Bates deals with depression; while counseling has helped, weight training has boosted her confidence and helped her better manage her mental health, which “is just as important as physical health,” she said.

Bates is grateful for the support she gets from her husband, John Bates; Brian’s Gym, where she does her training; and coach Bill Sias, owner of Bar and Plate, a gym in Michigan, and the vice president of the ADFPF. Sias writes her workout programs, which find her focusing on different lifts each workout. In a typical week, Monday will focus on squat, Tuesday and Friday are for bench press and Thursday is deadlifts, with Wednesday as a rest day.

“On any of those days … I’ll do several sets with low reps and high weight. I might do six sets of two (lifts) at 95% of my maximum lift,” Bates said. In her current lifting program, she will test on Monday to see where her maximums are. Even with time away from the gym due to COVID-19, she has not seen a marked decrease in her numbers.

The ADFPF moved all its summer competitions to later this fall. Bates’s biggest goals now are to lift more than 200 pounds on the bench press and 350 pounds on the squat. She has had some issues in the past with her deadlifts, so she is just hoping for lifts that are “heavy and consistent,” but she is aiming to top 400 pounds.

As a teacher, Bates wanted to share a healthy activity with Smith-Cotton High students in a fun way. She got that opportunity at the Homecoming pep assembly in 2018, putting on a deadlift demonstration. The students and staff members cheered her on as she first lifted 395 pounds but came up just short in her effort to lift 400.

“I was really nervous, but I felt like it was well-received,” she said. She since has seen some S-C students taking up powerlifting.

Bates encourages people to find activities that work for them and to realize that “different is OK. It’s what makes us unique in a lot of ways.” Her search brought her personal power on different levels.

“(Powerlifting) is more than just a hobby for me … it’s another addition to my lifestyle, it’s another way to stay active and to continue to push myself beyond my mental limits,” she said. “It brings me joy. I want to encourage people to go out and find what brings them joy. … We all need to reach beyond our limits and just because you think, ‘This is as far as I can go,’ doesn’t mean that is as far as you can go.”

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