When Ben Hendrix made his final record-setting lift at this month’s Alabama State Power Lifting Championships, it marked the end of a two-year journey back from the brink and one final achievement in his victory over cancer.
The 15-year-old Benjamin Russell High School freshman competed individually in the Alabama State Power Lifting Championships in Mobile on Feb. 21, setting three state records and being crowned the overall power lifting state champion in the sub junior (14-18 years old) 163-pound weight class along the way.
Ben said he was a little nervous during the competition, which he entered after his father, Bill, noticed he possessed a talent in weight lifting.
“I’ve been lifting weights ever since middle school, but this is my first power lifting meet. It felt pretty good. At the beginning, it was real nerve wracking, but a lot of the guys that were more experienced kind of put me under their wing almost and made it fun,” Ben said. “We do maxes every now and then at school, and Dad thought that my maxes were pretty good, so he looked up some competitions and told me I should go do one of these meets.”
During the meet, Ben set three state records for his weight class, finishing first place in the squat with a lift of 292 pounds, finishing first in the dead lift with a lift of 358 pounds, and setting an overall combined weight record of 859.25 pounds.
Ben also finished second in the bench press with a lift of 209.25 pounds.
While Ben’s journey ended in triumph, it began with a battle against tragedy.
The Feb. 21 date of the state meet also holds significance because it marked two years since Ben’s final chemotherapy treatment in a long battle with Burkitt’s lymphoma, a form of cancer that affects the lymphatic system.
“He was 115 pounds and bald-headed two years ago. He was at Children’s Hospital doing his last round of chemo for Burkitt’s lymphoma,” Bill said. “This (competition) was a thing where I asked him, ‘Do you want to put an exclamation point on your defeating cancer by challenging yourself with this weightlifting competition?’ He’s worked so hard.”
Bill watched as his son achieved the goals he set out to reach. For the emotional father, it was an indescribable feeling to see his son’s success at the competition, not just because of any records set, but to know the struggle and how far Ben had to come to get to that point.
“It’s hard to put into words what his mother (Dedie) and I witnessed him go through from the lowest of the low with sickness and weakness to where he could barely walk at one point,” Bill said. “He has been his own toughest critic, meaning getting caught up in his school work, being able to compete in football and getting right back into the swing of things, and nothing has slowed him down.”
Faith, medicine and Ben’s desire to recover are what his father credits for his son’s success.
“His mother and I have an unbelievable respect knowing what other parents go through with any illness and any type of setback. There’s a couple things that I believe heals illness whether it is physical or emotional,” Bill said. “In my opinion, it’s the power of prayer and God, it’s doctors and medicine. In my opinion, it’s in that order. But it’s also somebody who has a burning desire inside of them to be passionate about something. And his love has always been athletics. I couldn’t be any prouder.
“There’s no worse feeling in a parent than to see your child sick and get those terrible words from the doctor that your child has cancer. But there’s nothing more rewarding than to see how hard your child works to defeat a disease.”
Moving forward, Ben has big aspirations. Along with a continued participation in football and soccer, he hopes to take his power lifting talents to national competition.
As for motivation, he said he has his coaches to thank for helping push him forward.
“The hardest thing I will have to push myself on is that I want to go to nationals, so I’m going to have to keep my weight down. I’m right at the weight limit,” Ben said. “Besides that, I don’t really have a problem pushing myself because Coach (Danny) Horn pushes me enough in the weight room at school, he and Coach (Wes) Tate do. They do a real good job of working us out three times a week and we run the other two days. That keeps me going.”
Ben said knowing that he was able to get this far after his battle with cancer is hard to put into words. But he will always remember that no matter how tough things got, he never let it keep him down.
“I don’t know really how to put it, but it just kind of makes you feel good. A disease can’t take over your life. Some diseases aren’t curable, but you can’t just let something like that keep you down,” Ben said. “You just have to go through it.”