Para PowerliftingNews

The Power of Belief Could Carry Paralympic Powerlifter Bobby Body To The Podium In Paris

by Peggy Shinn

Bobby Body celebrates winning gold in the men's 107 & over 107 kg. finals at the Parapan American Games Santiago 2023 on Nov. 19, 2023 in Santiago, Chile. (Photo by Joe Kusumoto)

A year ago, the Paralympic Games Paris 2024 seemed a long way off for Bobby Body. The 50-year-old powerlifter was stuck. He had yet to bench press over 500 pounds. In fact, he was about 20 pounds shy of that goal. 

To reach the podium at the Paralympic Games Paris 2024, he would need to lift 500 pounds — and then some.

Then in late November, at the Parapan American Games Santiago 2023, Body started at a “safe” weight: 216 kilograms (476 pounds), one kilogram less than he had lifted at the 2023 World Para Powerlifting Championships three months earlier.

On his second attempt, he neared the 500 mark with a bench press of 491 pounds (223 kg). On his third attempt, he hit 502 pounds — and won the U.S.’s first Para Pan gold medal in para powerlifting.

“When I got to the Games, I told the coach in my last attempt, I wanted to attempt 500 pounds,” said Body. “‘Are you are you sure you want to do this?’ he asked. I said, ‘Absolutely. Not only do I believe I can do it, I know I can do it.’”

The achievement hit him when he stood atop the Parapan Games podium. Body is a U.S. Army veteran.

“When they raised that American flag, I didn't even see what happened because I was just bawling my eyes out,” he said.

Now, with new-found belief, Body is aiming to break the world record in his weight class at the 2024 Paralympic Games — and win gold.

Body has not had an easy road to Paris. Far from it. Abandoned by his mother when he was five, he and his sister were raised in an orphanage after their father went to prison when Body was 10. He was also briefly homeless but got himself off the streets after the owner of a hotel offered a room in exchange for work. 

After the Sept. 11 attacks, Body enlisted in the U.S. Army. While deployed in Iraq, Body was in a Humvee that was hit by a roadside bomb. He underwent countless surgeries to save his left leg, but ultimately in September 2013, surgeons had to amputate the leg above his knee.

Frustrated that he was no longer able to run and jump, Body discovered powerlifting in early 2014 — “to let out some of that aggression,” he said. He immediately showed potential and began competing in able-bodied competitions, soon bench pressing over 386 pounds (at a body weight of 181 pounds). In order to get into the proper position on the bench at each competition, Body would remove his prosthetic and set it on the floor beside him.

“I enjoyed winning against people who had two legs, with no disabilities,” he said with a grin. “At the end of competitions, people are like, ‘I can’t believe this guy has one leg.’”

Bobby Body poses with his gold medal after the men's 107 & over 107 kg. finals at the Parapan American Games Santiago 2023 on Nov. 19, 2023 in Santiago, Chile. (Photo by Joe Kusumoto)

At the time, Body was unfamiliar with Para powerlifting. When the U.S. Paralympic team’s high performance manager suggested that he try it, he scoffed. 

“But I knew nothing about the level of competition and the numbers that athletes were hitting in para powerlifting,” he admitted. 

Body finally agreed to try Para powerlifting just before the COVID-19 pandemic shut down the world. His first Para powerlifting competition was in 2021.

At the 2021 World Para Powerlifting Championships in Tbilisi, Georgia, Body competed in the up to 97-kilogram weight class and finished ninth, with a max lift of 192 kg (423 pounds).

To qualify for the Paralympic Games Paris 2024, Body would have to be ranked in the top eight in the world in his weight class. And to earn a medal, he would have to significantly increase the weight he could bench press — by over 100 pounds.

“When I first made the team, I was like it’s going to be tough to get to Paris,” he said. “I knew I had potential. But to get into the top eight, those guys were hitting such big numbers.”

Back home in Michigan, Body continued training in a makeshift gym in a garage at home. (Last fall, Body and wife Erin moved into a new home built by Jared Allen’s Homes for Wounded Warriors; the plans included a state-of-the-art gym where Body now trains.) He grew bigger and stronger and now lifts in the 107 kg weight class.

Last August, Body hit 210 kg (463 pounds) on his first lift at the 2023 World Para Powerlifting Championships in Dubai. After failing to lift 215 kg on his subsequent two lifts (after lifting 217 in training), he finished ninth again. The winner, Aliakbar Gharibshahi from Iraq, won gold lifting 248 kg, or 547 pounds.

But Body did not come home from Dubai empty-handed. His lift earned him a silver medal in the legends category.

Bobby Body celebrates during the men's 107 & over 107 kg. finals at the Parapan American Games Santiago 2023 on Nov. 19, 2023 in Santiago, Chile. (Photo by Joe Kusumoto)

Discouraged by his performance at 2023 worlds, Body knew he could do better. There was something missing. He just had to find it.

Body has few hobbies, he said, outside of weightlifting

“My wife makes fun of me because I’m literally on the computer every single day for hours looking up training techniques on form, set-up, my hand placement,” he said.

But this time, he knew what was missing was not physical. So he went to the USOPC’s website and sought out a mental edge. Over the next two months, he talked to a mental health professional who helped Body believe in himself.

“They are very good at their jobs because less than two months later, my bench went from 217 kg (478 pounds) to 228 kg (502 pounds),” explained Body. “It wasn’t because my training got me that much stronger. They got me to believe that I was actually stronger than I actually was, not just physically but emotionally and mentally.”

With the belief that he could do it, Body lifted 228 kg in late November at the 2023 Parapan American Games and won a gold medal. 

Since returning home from Santiago, Body has continued to log personal bests in the gym. 

“I chased 500 pounds for years before I met it with mental health [counseling],” he said. Now 500 pounds is “a walk in the park.”

His next goal was 510 pounds (231 kg). Check. Then 520 (236 kg). Check. Then 530 (240 kg). Check. His current goal is 535 pounds (243 kg).

At the Paralympic Games Tokyo 2020, Enkhbayaryn Sodnompiljee from Mongolia won the gold medal in the men’s 107 kg class bench pressing 245 kg (540 pounds). The world record is 254 kg (560 pounds) set in 2022 by Iran’s Gharibshahi.

Body believes he is on track to surpass these totals. He has not yet plateaued in his training.

“Gold is the mindset,” he said, referring to the medal he hopes to wear around his neck in Paris in September. 

“If I want to get on the podium and get that gold medal, then I have to think beyond what the guy that’s ranked number one in my weight class is lifting right now, and he has a 550-pound bench [249 pounds], so I have to be thinking 565 so I can pass him.” 

565 pounds is 256 kg. Or half the weight of a grand piano.

Then, for Body, it’s on to the Paralympic Games LA 2028. And then maybe, retirement.