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Grayson couple takes up powerlifting, hunger ministry

Staff Photo: Jason Braverman Russ and Dana Tripp sought out a way to lose weight and get in better shape. They have since become award-winning powerlifters and last year won a competition in Argentina. The couple created "Stronger than Hunger" and help raise money for the  Southeastern Gwinnett Co-Op ministry. Their relationship with the co-op began when their church, Grayson United Methodist, contributed canned goods to the ministry.

Staff Photo: Jason Braverman Russ and Dana Tripp sought out a way to lose weight and get in better shape. They have since become award-winning powerlifters and last year won a competition in Argentina. The couple created "Stronger than Hunger" and help raise money for the Southeastern Gwinnett Co-Op ministry. Their relationship with the co-op began when their church, Grayson United Methodist, contributed canned goods to the ministry.

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Staff Photo: Jason Braverman Russ and Dana Tripp became world record holders following the third annual Global Powerlifting Association World Powerlifting and Bench Press Championships last year in Villa Maria, Argentina. Dana won gold and Russ placed second in their respective classes.

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Special Photo Russ Tripp competes in the Global Powerlifting Association World Powerlifting and Bench Press Championships last year in Villa Maria, Argentina.

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Special Photo Dana Tripp competes in the Global Powerlifting Association World Powerlifting and Bench Press Championships last year in Villa Maria, Argentina.

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Special Photo Dana Tripp, with the help of her husband, started "Spooky to be Hungry," an annual canned food drive at their church.

GRAYSON -- About five years ago, after life -- raising a family and career -- had interrupted one of Russ Tripp's favorite college hobbies, the Grayson man learned he was now in the "old man" class of powerlifting, and wondered how he measured up.

Soon Tripp wasn't just rekindling old memories; he was getting in shape and spending time with his wife, who showed an interest in getting back into shape after they started a family.

So Russ and his wife, Dana, visited a meet in Athens and set up a workout area in their basement. They soon began competing in a national federation called the American Powerlifting Committee competitions in the "Raw" division, specializing in bench press.

"It was something for us to do together, which is really nice," said Russ, who lifted in college at Georgia State. "It doesn't just give us purpose, it helps to meet weight classes. We have incentives to keeping our weight down."

Added Dana, "We eat healthier. It's better all around, health-wise, for us."

Health aside, the couple has developed into American and world record holders following the third annual Global Powerlifting Association World Powerlifting and Bench Press Championships held from Nov. 29 through Dec. 3 in Villa Maria, Argentina.

Dana won a gold medal in the 52 kilogram weight class (about 114 pounds) in the 40-44 age group, while Russ finished second after he lost a tiebreaker in the 75 kilogram weight class (about 165 pounds) and 45-49 age group.

When they began lifting, and as their competition success grew, the Tripps set a priority to find a hunger-based charity to support and contribute pledges they gather for meets and travel to donate to the Southeastern Gwinnett Co-Op ministry. The cause they started is called "Stronger than Hunger" and sales from T-shirts and bracelets go to the co-op. Their relationship with the co-op began when their church, Grayson United Methodist, contributed canned goods to the ministry. Dana also coordinates an annual canned food drive in the fall.

The connection made sense because after lifting, the Tripps and their lifting mates' favorite hobby is eating. And because tiebreakers go to the lifter who weighs the least, making weight is reason to celebrate. That was never more evident than in Argentina when they had worked up an appetite, but couldn't satisfy that hunger during a siesta. The lifters' routine of eating every two hours was thrown off by the culture change.

"Trying to find a restaurant to get food during siesta was about impossible," Russ said.

Laura Drake, the director of the Southeastern Gwinnett Co-Op ministry, said the Tripps and their church, one of 32 in the area that support the ministry, helped contribute more than 10,000 items at a fall food drive.

"When you do something like this and it's your passion in your heart, it tends to be contagious in families," Drake said. "Families tend to serve together."

The Tripps are an example, Drake said, of everyone in the community having something to contribute. The Tripps are among 250 volunteers who help the ministry operate.

"They're making a difference," Drake said. "Everybody in the community can make a difference and they're an example of that. Everybody can do something. Not everybody can lift weights, but everybody can do something."

As for powerlifting, the couple plans to continue in competitions, and Russ' next goal is to drop from the 75 kilo class to 67 kilos, and while he said he would go until his body said, "No mas," he also wants to walk when he's 70.

Lifting 45 kilos now, Dana said she is aiming for 50 or even 61.

"If I can hit 50 kilos, I'll consider myself really competitive," she said. "But I'd love to get up to around 135 pounds (61 kilos)."

That could come at upcoming world meets in Finland and Australia, something that was a complete unknown to a girl originally from south Alabama.

"Did you ever think when you were a little girl down in south Alabama that one day you would hold a world record in powerlifting?" Russ asked his wife.

"It was a big deal for me to move from Alabama to Atlanta," she replied. "This came out of nowhere."