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UAB medical student, group of gym buddies take a powerlifting competition by storm

BY NICK PATTERSON

OCTOBER 22, 2021

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Photo courtesy of Terry Grisham.

Mountain Brook native and UAB medical student Owen Ross.

One day early in July, Mountain Brook native and UAB medical student Owen Ross did something pretty remarkable: He went to a weightlifting competition and walked away with first place in his class.

What’s even more remarkable is the fact that he was part of a team of weightlifters, ranging in age from 16 to 75, who all attended that competition and all walked away with first-place trophies.

“It was incredible. I mean, the team really showed up and showed out, absolutely,” Ross said. “And it’s really cool, too, because — I might be biased, because like I said, I know all of them personally — but every single person in that group kind of has a story.”

For that group, Team Chalk, the story begins at one place: Chalk Gym, a training facility on Meadowlark Drive off U.S. 280. There, the owner, Terry Grisham, uses what he’s learned in training and coaching college and professional athletes to encourage and develop a diverse group of ordinary people into powerlifting champions.

All nine lifters from Team Chalk participated July 10 in the United States Powerlifting Association Club One Classic in Oxford and earned gold medals, plus several state records in their weight and age classes. Besides Ross, 24, who claimed first in the 82.5 kilogram (181 pound) weight class, Team Chalk was represented by Tyler McGill of Vestavia Hills; Tamdoan Huynh, a Spain Park High School senior from Greystone; Ali Priest, who works in software; Betty Petro, a grandmother from Mt. Laurel; Roy Jackson; Noah Kim; Carolyn Moore, a Trussville grandmother who broke her back a few years ago, and her husband Sandy Moore, a Vietnam veteran and former Homewood firefighter who still carries shrapnel from the 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 believe they could,” Grisham said.ExpandTeamChalkwithTerry.jpg

Photos courtesy of Terry Grisham.

Members of Team Chalk, including Owen Ross, third from right, pose with gym owner Terry Grisham during the United States Powerlifting Association Club One Classic in Oxford in July. Ross, 24, claimed first in the 82.5 kilogram (181 pound) weight class.

Sharing motivation

Chalk Gym — so named because of the chalk weightlifters often put on their hands to enhance their grip — began 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 remaining 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 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.

Getting stronger was what brought Ross into Chalk Gym. Ross had started lifting weights when he was a cross-country runner for Mountain Brook High School.

“In high school I was a pretty thin guy,” Ross said. “I wanted to start lifting weights initially just to gain a little bit of body weight and feel a little bit better about myself. But I found that I really enjoyed the main three lifts: the squat, the bench and the deadlift.

“So after doing that, I really looked forward to increasing those lifts while maintaining a certain body weight,” he said. “It was a lot of fun. I kind of stuck with it through high school and in college. It’s really been kind of an anchor for me during medical school to kind of add structure to my day. It’s also something I really look forward to.”

One day Ross was having lunch with a friend and a fellow medical student. “He was like, ‘Hey man, I found this gym, and the guy who runs it is really intense. He’s really focused on getting people that have certain goals — fitness goals, strength goals — to meet their goals.’ I was like, ‘That sounds good to me,’ because I had recently done a powerlifting competition in 2019, and so I was interested in improving on that performance.

“So I contacted Terry Grisham, the owner of the gym, and he said to drop in and meet him and so I did,” Ross continued. “And it’s really been a great experience. The gym is exactly like its owner. It’s intense. But it’s definitely intense to the person. He knows how to right the workout to where it fits to the individual.”

Ross was interested in trimming some weight — he had previously competed in the 93 kilogram class (205 pounds) — while maintaining his lift total, the combined weight of a squat, bench press and deadlift to the degree possible. His previous total was 1,100 pounds, he said.

He had the goal, but it was Grisham, who saw him five days a week at Chalk Gym, who talked him into the Club One Classic, Ross said.

“The way he kind of phrased it to me was like ‘Hey, even if you don’t put up your best total to-date, you’ve been in med school but … ‘Why not thrive, instead of survive?’” Ross said. “Going to the gym or not going to the gym, that’s something that I could do with no real goal in mind. But going to a competition allowed me to set a goal and do my best to achieve that goal. So it really put my actions in motion toward something.”

Grisham said he challenged the med school student to “do something extraordinary.”

“I said, instead of just surviving UAB med school, why don’t you thrive and why don’t you train for a competition while you’re going to med school and show everybody — ‘Hey, you can do more than you think you can.’ And that’s what he did.”

Besides that, though, Grisham saw additional potential in the others in the group.

“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.’”Expand

owendeadlift.jpg

Getting stronger was what brought Ross into Chalk Gym. He was interested in trimming some weight — he had previously competed in the 93 kilogram class (205 pounds) — while maintaining his lift total, the combined weight of a squat, bench press and deadlift to the degree possible.

Right mindset

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 you 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 said.

Ross managed to achieve his goal — almost. He won first place in the 82.5 kilogram weight class by lifting a total of 1,053 pounds,  just shy of his total from when he weighed more.

He’s a real believer in Grisham’s Chalk Gym methods. “Everyone in the gym is definitely committed to the mission of the gym. Everytime someone is preparing to do a set, that’s a hard and heavy set, squats or bench or a deadlift, the other members of the gym will stop what they’re doing and support the person that’s doing their heaviest set,” Ross said.

“That’s something that I’d never experienced in other gyms that I’d gone to. … At Chalk Gym, it’s really a unique and very supportive environment. Everyone of the members kind of knows each other very well and is very supportive of one another.”