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Girl Power

The teenage girl approaching the main entrance at Superior Athletic Club on Barnett Road is a high school student, a part-time employee, a daughter and a sister.

She's also a world-record powerlifter.

Trailing 17-year-old Alex Pecktol is her father, Sam, a large man who moves steadily through the glass doors and past the sign-in counter. Sam Pecktol looks like a bodyguard who is there for Alex and, in fact, he is a security guard at Amy's Kitchen in White City. He sometimes accompanies her to workouts to provide a spot or a word of advice.

This muscle-pumping hobby of theirs began almost as soon as Alex arrived. Lisa Pecktol's water broke the same day that Sam broke a world record in Medford. Sam got a 15-pound bar for Alex when she was 4 or 5 and had a high school shop teacher make 1-pound wooden weights to put on it.

"At 5 years old, I guarantee you she was the only kid in Medford who knew how to do cleans, deadlift, squats and bench," says the 58-year-old Sam, who has competed for 32 years.

Never did Sam force his obsession upon his children, he says, noting that he watched with pleasure as his son Josh quickly gravitated toward basketball and track. Alex just seemed to dig it, Sam says. By age 8, she was in her first competition and had abandoned her other sport (soccer) four years earlier.

The trophies would soon begin pouring in, including another world record for Alex on March 16. The Central Medford High junior owns five world records in the deadlift and bench press. Her freshest triumph was perhaps her most remarkable considering the circumstances.

The 132-pounder deadlifted 325 pounds — that would be six 45-pound plates, two 5-pound plates and a 45-pound bar — in the Teen 16-17 division at the World Association of Benchers and Deadlifters North American Championships.

She spent the before connected to IVs. She had gone too far in an attempt to drop 8 pounds and became dangerously dehydrated. Alex was taken to Providence Medford Medical Center, where Sam pulled out his phone and dialed up the meet director in Portland.

"I told them that Alex is out," Sam recalls. "We had to cancel."

Not so fast.

As the fluids flowed into Alex's system, Sam witnessed his daughter strengthen.

"It was like a flower starting to open up," the longtime coach and trainer says.

A few hours later, Sam reached for his phone again.

"We're on our way," he uttered to the director.

The duo drove to Portland and settled into their room at the Marriott. Alex says she loaded up on junk food that night, made weight by a fraction of a pound the next day and then topped her previous record of 310 pounds, which she set in a competition in Las Vegas in November.

"I thought I was going to be so weak," Alex says. "I didn't even know if I was going to break the record. But I ended up being the strongest I've ever been in my life."

And now here Alex and Sam stand together at Superior, heading toward the weight room. She works out for about one hour five times a week, focusing on her lower body on three of those days. Alex mostly completes three sets of eight repetitions for each exercise that she does. She hopes to keep breaking plateaus by building herself up. With Sam by her side, her goal is to someday deadlift 400 pounds (the all-time record for a woman is over 500 pounds).

"I feel comfortable with my dad around," says Alex, who works part-time at Veranda Park Retirement Living with Josh. "If I am by myself, I am scared to do squats, bench and deadlift. With him I am just like whatever, and I just do it."

At most competitions, powerlifters get three attempts in their event and then a fourth lift that is designated only for world records. The first repetition is usually with a weight that Alex would be capable of doing fairly easily three times, Sam says. Alex's second repetition is generally with the weight she maxed out with the previous year, and the third is an attempt to top that and win the meet.

Lift No. 4 is the one where Alex gives it everything she's got — and then a little more — Sam says.

"I don't know exactly how we've done it but a lot of it's luck," says Sam, who competes in the 55-59-year-old division and who says he still has six world records. "But for the last four years she's broken world records at every meet."

Alex's diet gives her power. She often cooks baked, seasoned chicken and a vegetable medley at home. With the help of two large whey protein shakes, she matches her body weight with grams of protein daily.

Alex says she hopes to get back to doing the bench (she injured herself a couple times so avoided it for a while) and compete in squats for the first time soon. Adding those events would complete the powerlifting triumvirate that Sam is used to.

"In the old days, old school, we had to do all three," he says.

Alex has already qualified for world competition but will aim for improved marks in the WABDL Northwest Regional Championships at the Ramada Medford and Convention Center on May 4. She'll also compete in the United States Powerlifting Association Oregon State and Northwest Open Championships at the same venue on June 8.

The WABDL Worlds are set for November at The Peppermill in Reno, Nev.

Life has presented some curveballs, like when Alex transferred from North Medford High to Central after missing too much school because of competitions. But when things have gotten hard, Sam and Alex have had each other's backs.

And in the game of powerlifting — and life — that's a good spot.

Reach reporter Dan Jones at 541-776-4499, or email djones@mailtribune.com

Alex Pectol, 17, performs a deadlift Wednesday at Superior Athletic Club in Medford. Mail Tribune / Julia Moore - Julia Moore