By KEVIN JAKAHI
Tribune-Herald sports writer
Chad Bertelmann set a Hawaii state and limited-class world record with a bench press almost triple his weight, but any celebration would have to wait until a long plane ride back home to Hilo.
In the 220-pound weight class, he benched pressed 650.2 pounds at the World Bench Press and Dead Lift Championships in November in Las Vegas, setting a world record for the law-fire submaster division.
It’s a category for law enforcement and fire department weightlifters that was expanded to include homeland security. Bertelmann works for the Transportation Security Administration at Hilo International Airport.
The competition was supposed to be a family vacation, with his wife Sharon and two children, but instead it turned into an exercise of squeezing time into a thimble. They flew out on a red-eye on Sunday, landed Monday morning in Vegas, and Bertelmann had his weigh-in on Tuesday. He lifted on Wednesday and the family left that night.
It wasn’t a “Home Alone” movie situation, where some youngster was left at home unattended or not enough food was measured for the family dog. His daughter Chevelle, 13, and son Chayden, 7, each caught a miserable cold.
“My goal was to get the lift in and get home for the kids,” Bertelmann said. “I’m still in shock. One of the things I’ve always learned is to be humble.”
He works primarily as a TSA instructor, so he’s never had an incident where the screening machine accidentally fell on him and he had to bench press it off his body, setting YouTube ablaze with such an achievement.
Only one incident comes to mind. Bertelmann had a role as a peacemaker. He’s 5 feet 7, but needed his strength to keep two angry birds at bay.
“A fight broke out and I jumped in the middle of two guys,” he said. “This little guy was trying to get past me, but he was smaller than me. I’m not that big of a guy either. If there’s a heavy bag or equipment, I’m always getting asked to do it.”
Strength is strength, according to Bertelmann, no matter if you’re 5-7 with shorter arms than someone 6-1 and a longer push to get so much weight on the rack.
Besides no one’s height is listed on the wabdl.org record pages for either world, national or state records. Bertelmann’s name is all over the place for the Hawaii state records.
“That’s what my brother says, that I’ve got short arms,” he said. “The guy who hold the world record is 6-1 and lifted 1,000 pounds.”
In his first year of powerlifting in 2007, Bertelmann set a World Association of Benchers and Deadlifters state record with a 529-pound bench press in Class I, a division for first-timers.
“It was totally unexpected,” he said. “The record was four-something. Prior to the competition, the week before I did 584. I attempted that at the meet (on Oahu) and attempted 600. I used a bench shirt, the powerlifting gear, but the shirt broke on the 600 pulldown and I only did 529.”
He’s a 1995 Castle graduate and grew up on Oahu, participating in paddling as a school sport and also weightlifting for fun on the side. He was hired by the TSA in 2002 on Kauai, then lived on Oahu for five years.
It was at 24-hour Fitness, where curiosity while watching others power lift caught his attention. He was a quick study, improving his technique to stack on more and more weights. His new lifting home is Aloha Fitness, behind Target, where he hits the iron three or four times a week.
“I only compete in the bench press,” Bertelmann said. “I deadlift and squat in the gym. For me, bench press is what I excel in. I’m a naturally good bench presser.”
He’s hoping the achievement of a state and world record-holder from Hilo will draw attention to the sport. A powerlifting exhibition, Sonny’s Showdown, will be held March 10 in Honokaa. It’s an unsanctioned event, which means any lift won’t got into the WABDL record books. Bertelmann will be on hand to help, not lift.
He’s planning to next compete in a sanctioned Sonny’s Showdown in July on Oahu, looking to hit 660 pounds, triple his body weight, the grand achievement in lifting, similar to a 4-minute mile in running.
Bertelmann lifted 660 pound once during a practice, but never at a competition. At Vegas, he came close, but couldn’t lock his right arm. It’s the carrot he’ll keep chasing.
“When I’m lifting, I’m thinking, ‘Please don’t let it fall on me.’ I’ve been lucky, nothing critical happened to me,” he said. “I once pulled my chest and it was black and blue. I enjoy it because you challenge yourself.”
For more information on the Sonny’s Showdown, which is still holding registration, in Honokaa, call Jocelyn Ronolo at 387-8776.