Banks, who manages Kinetix Health Club in Canton, is one of two local men who will be taking the trip halfway around the globe to compete for world championships in a sport they have come to love.
Banks called it a “once-in-a-lifetime” opportunity, though he had qualified for the world championships twice before, only to not make the trips because of financial constraints. He has won all of the roughly 20 competitions that he has entered and is a three-time national champion.
“It’s my third time qualifying, but the first time I actually am going,” Banks said. “I couldn’t go two years ago, when it was in Finland, or last year, when it was in Argentina. It’s very expensive to fly and then pay to compete in each meet.”
This time, Banks wouldn’t let anything stop him from putting his undefeated record on the line against some of the world’s best competition.
Banks began powerlifting four years ago around the time of the birth of his daughter, Jacey. He made the choice to get in shape, but he didn’t want to run.
Instead, Banks went to a powerlifting competition with a friend and was hooked on the sport with its loud music, bright lights and audience. Since then, his life has changed.
Now a gym manager, Banks used to be a food sales representative for U.S. Foods.
“I changed my whole lifestyle,” Banks said. “I work in a gym, so I have no excuse for not working out every day, but (I) still like to eat a lot of food. We love food, but we train heavy and hard.”
Along the way, Banks has overcome a heart attack and a pair of transient ischemic attacks — or mini-strokes. He nearly quit powerlifting at that point, but was talked into competing one last time.
“I actually PRed, or got a personal record, in deadlift at a meet,” Banks said. “I never would have thought being out and being in the hospital that I would have been stronger when I came back out.”
Seeing Banks, it might be hard to believe he used to be an athlete of a different sort. At his Texas high school, he was an All-American cross country runner.
Making the trip with Banks to compete will be one of the members of his club, Blake Pearce.
With just three months of competition under his belt, Pearce doesn’t have the same history in powerlifting that Banks does, but that doesn’t intimidate him.
Both men won their weight classes at the GPA-IPO national meet, which took place last month in Athens.
Pearce figures it isn’t common for a lifter to win a national title so early in his career.
“I’m only guessing,” Pearce said, “but there can’t be many other guys that did it.”
While he might be new to powerlifting, Pearce isn’t new to weight-training. He’s been doing it for roughly nine years, since he was in the eighth grade.
“I did heavy lifting with football, but the techniques were different from the way I do it now,” Pearce said, who was a defensive lineman for the Etowah football team. “I’ve always liked lifting weights.”
Both men train in bench, squat and deadlift. Banks competes once every three months and enjoys the thrill of being on stage.
“There are judges and an audience, and you get to go out and show what you can do,” Banks said. “You get to show what you can do. It’s a true test of strength. It’s a pretty big adrenaline rush, because you are out in front of everyone, and it pushes you to do your best.”
At competitions, athletes are separated into classes by gender, weight and age.
Banks competes at 275 pounds, with athletes weighing between 242 and 275 pounds. He competes in the open classes, but after celebrating his 35th birthday last week, he would be eligible to compete in the sub-master class for ages 35-39.
“I compete in the open class because it’s more competitive,” Banks said. “I’m undefeated, so I figure I might as well keep doing it.”
Pearce will also vie for the world championship at the 275 pounds. He qualified at 308, but has since dropped down and will compete at that level during an event in Kennesaw in September as well as the world championships.
As for expectations, both men believe that can win.
“I just want to win,” Pearce said. “Those as the best expectations as any.”
As much as Banks and Pierce want to win, they say the competition is as much about pushing themselves as it is about performing better than the competition.
“It’s about what you are capable of on that day,” Banks said.
At all of his meets, Banks wears a pink shirt, and he will do so again at the world championships. He does this so his daughter can find him in the crowd.
Banks said his girlfriend and her children are also very supportive and often attend his competitions.
“I got into it because of (Jacie),” Banks said. “She gets scared because of all the big guys. In the crowd of big guys, she can’t find her daddy, so I wear pink, so she can always find me.”
Banks and Pearce will compete against one another for the first time in September, which means one of them will take a loss before the world championships, where the two will face-off again.
When they do meet, Banks said he will be rooting for Pearce to do his best.
“The cool thing is, even when you are beating somebody, they want you to get the lift,” Banks said. “That is the thing that makes powerlifting different than a lot of things. You don’t root against a guy. You want them to make the lift.”