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Spain Park student joins diverse set of gym buddies to take powerlifting competition by storm

BY NICK PATTERSON

OCTOBER 25, 2021

1:08 AM

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Photo courtesy of Terry Grisham.

Doan Huynh, 17, performs a squat during the United States Powerlifting Association Club One Classic in Oxford in July. Huynh said she has been a member of Chalk Gym since it first opened.

About a month after her 17th birthday, Doan Huynh participated in her first weightlifting competition.

She came home with a state record, as did the entire team of powerlifters from Chalk Gym that attended the United States Powerlifting Association Club One Classic in Oxford in July.

“At first I wasn’t thinking about doing competition or anything,” said Huynh, a student at Spain Park High School. “We were just regular people working out at Chalk, and so when we heard that there was a competition near here, we just looked up some state records, and we found out that most of them were blank. So we went in.”

Huynh was part of the Team Chalk group of weightlifters, ranging in age from 17 to 75, who all came together at Chalk Gym, a training facility on Meadowlark Drive off U.S. 280. There, the owner, Terry Grisham, uses what he has learned in training and coaching college and professional athletes to encourage and develop a diverse group of ordinary people into powerlifting champions.ExpandINK-Team-Chalk_TeamChalk.jpg

Photos courtesy of Terry Grisham.

Members of Team Chalk, including Doan Huynh, fourth from left, pose with gym owner Terry Grisham during the United States Powerlifting Association Club One Classic in Oxford in July.

All nine lifters from Team Chalk participated in the USPA Club One Classic and earned gold medals — and several state records — in their weight and age classes.

Besides Huynh, who lives in Greystone, Team Chalk included Noah Kim, a 23-year-old CEO of a startup tech company from Liberty Park; Owen Ross, a 24-year-old UAB medical student from Mountain Brook; Ali Priest, a 32-year-old employee of a trucking software company from Birmingham; Roy Jackson, a 37-year-old construction supervisor from Pinson; Tyler McGill, a 44-year-old Altec marketing employee from Vestavia Hills; Betty Petro, a 63-year-old retired nurse from Mt Laurel; Carolyn Moore, a 73-year-old patient coordinator of a medical company from Trussville; and her husband, Sandy Moore, a 75-year-old retired Homewood firefighter who still carries shrapnel in his body from the Vietnam War.

“None of these people are professional athletes, but they’re in here getting better, overcoming obstacles and doing things way into their older years which is something that everybody doesn’t think they could do. But they really could if they believed they could,” Grisham said.Expand

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Huynh, 17, brought home first place and four state records in her age and weight class.

The coach

Grisham is a longtime weightlifter with his own name in the books, setting a master’s world record in the squat in a Las Vegas meet in 2019.

Chalk Gym — so named because of the chalk weightlifters often put on their hands to enhance their grip — opened in 2016 after Grisham had already spent a career in coaching.

“I was a strength and conditioning coach at the University of Oklahoma. I started in 1984,” Grisham said. After that, he became a strength coach at LSU. 

“In 1991, I worked with the baseball team when they won their first national championship and then that got the attention of the Chicago White Sox, and I got a job there,” he said.

During the Major League Baseball strike in 1995, he wound up in Birmingham, working at an orthopedic group office.

Grisham decided to put his expertise to use in his own business. “Everybody said, ‘You have a master’s degree in exercise physiology. You worked with professional athletes [including Michael Jordan] … You’d be crazy not to open your own gym,’” he said.

He found that the same kind of motivation that benefited professional athletes also worked for people with more basic needs for weight training.

“When people come in here to work out, it’s my job to help them perform better in any regard that they want.” Grisham said. “So some people do want to compete. Some people just want to do rehab; some people want to lose weight; some people just want to get stronger,” he said.

Huynh was one of his first trainees at the gym, she said.

“I’ve been doing weightlifting since I was 9, she said. “At first I wasn’t interested in it. It was a thing my parents made me do to get healthy. But just recently I’ve gotten into it because like I wanted to have a better mindset, that I needed to work out and that it was good for me. … I enjoy it.

“I’ve been with Chalk Gym since the day it opened actually. I was with Mr. Terry back in his basement [gym] days,” Huynh continued. “I helped create the logo as well. … I didn’t draw it per se. He came up with the idea, and I helped fix some of it.”

Grisham, she said, is skilled at bringing out the best in his team. “He is very patient and he works very well with people… he’s a really good trainer,” Huynh said. Many of her teammates said much the same.

State records

And the coach feels strongly about the potential in Huynh and the others on his team.

“Everybody follows a certain program, and so as everybody started to improve, I said, ‘You guys are doing really, really well. Why don’t I look up the state records for Alabama and see what they are compared to what you guys are lifting,’” Grisham recalled. 

“So, come to find out, probably four or five spots that these lifters filled had no state records. They were just blank. Mainly that’s because when people turn 40 or so, they don’t do anything like they do when they’re 20. So, there were no records for young 17-year-old girls. There were no records for female 60-year-olds, no records for female 70-year-olds, and there were no records for any guys over 75. 

“So I said, ‘Alright guys. We’re going to go set records, and you guys are going to show people that you can do it.’”

Huynh said she wanted to compete, but she was a bit anxious. 

“I was super nervous going in,” she said. “I’m kind of an introvert myself. I don’t like being around so many people. There were a lot of people, and I was going in there, and I was in the first block, and I was super nervous in front of so many people who do the same thing, but at the end of the day, I really enjoyed it. It was super fun.”

With a crowd watching that Huynh said was “super supportive,” she brought home first place and four state records in her age and weight class.

It was so much fun that Huynh said she is eager to do another competition. “I totally want to do it again,” she said. “There’s one coming up this winter that we might compete in again.”

While the lifters on Team Chalk came to the gym for different reasons, they all had to be motivated to compete. Grisham’s method involves getting them into the mindset to do their best, but letting them know he’s there for support.

“I always tell my lifters I’m never going to put anything on the bar you can’t lift,” he said. “No. 2, I’m always going to be behind you. If ever have a problem, I’ll be there. … They have the confidence knowing I’m behind them, that I’ve got my hands on the bar in case anything happens. 

“As a coach you come up with whatever button for each individual that you need to push … And when you push it the right way, everybody gets inspired, and they get motivated, and they’ll do things that they never thought they could. I always try to find something that’s relatable to the individual,” Grisham continued.

Huynh, who plans to attend culinary school when she graduates, is an unabashed advocate for the benefit of weightlifting, and particularly for Grisham, Chalk Gym and the team that works out there.

“Don’t be afraid to come in thinking that you have to know a lot,” she said. “You can just bring your gym gear, and we’ll take care of you.”