By KEVIN JAKAHI
Tribune-Herald sports writer
Ira Kekaualua II recently set an Oregon state record with a 622-pound deadlift at the World Bench Press and Dead Lift Championships at Las Vegas, a powerlifting exercise that requires a tremendous amount of grip strength.
It also helps to be in great shape. In the 198-pound class, Kekaualua deadlifted (pulling a loaded barbell to waist level from a bent position to a full stand) 622.7 pounds in November at Bally’s Hotel, putting his name in the World Association of Benchers and Deadlifters record books.
About five years ago, the former Hilo resident and 2000 Waiakea High graduate wasn’t in great shape. He was 320 pounds.
“I went to a routine checkup and weighed in at 320 pounds,” Kekaualua said. “I had moved to Oahu, where I met my wife (Jade) and fell in love with plate lunches. My mind registered that I weighed 220 pounds, but the nurse said, ‘No, you’re 320.’
“That’s when it hit me. If I keep this up, I’ll probably not move around and do stuff with my kids. I’m in way better shape now. It’s pretty crazy with that comeback. I look at pictures from five years ago and I don’t recognize myself. It’s a whole different transformation. Your body can do anything you want as long as your mind is strong enough.”
He’s named after his uncle of the same name. His grandfather is Ira Kekaualua, president of Hui Waa O Waiakea, the canoe paddling club for Moku O Hawaii Outrigger Canoe Racing Association. After Kekaualua lost that weight, another obstacle was waiting to test his dedication once again.
A year later, he was back home in Hilo when he badly injured his hand in a car accident. His truck flipped over and his hand was smashed between the vehicle and asphalt. His hand was a mess in 2008.
“I did six months of physical therapy and it wasn’t working,” Kekaualua said. “The bar is 45 pounds and I tried my hardest, but I couldn’t get it off the ground. I kept trying and a month later I was able to lift the bar.”
Another month passed and he put 135 pounds on the bar. He was getting stronger by the minute. But even better his left hand was improving.
“It helped my left hand. I could flex it,” he said. “One good thing about deadlifting was with six months of training I could do 600 pounds in the gym.”
In 2010, Kekaualua and his family, including his two sons, Irason, 6, Xander, 4, and daughter, Logan, 3, moved to Hillsboro, Ore., where Jade is a nurse at Kaiser. He’s trying to get into the sheriff or Portland police department.
He lifted weights during his football playing days at Waiakea. And once he got serious about powerlifting, Kekaualua started to break records. His next venture is bodybuilding.
“I broke the Oregon state record in the 242-pound class with a 512-pound deadlift. Then in June, I broke the record for the 220-pound class with a 622-pound deadlift,” he said. “When I broke the record at just 198 pounds at Bally’s Hotel, I literally jumped off the stage. I was happy. But as soon as I got off the stage I was mad. Every athlete is his own worst critic.
“Two days before I jumped on the scale and was 218 pounds. I had to cut 21 pounds in two days. That kind of killed me. I had to sit in the sauna for two days straight. I had to watch my friends eat all that good food and I couldn’t eat. I lifted the weight and it was all worth it.”
His journey from overweight father to Oregon state record-setter still has him shaking his head.
“Four or five years ago I couldn’t lift the bar,” he said. “I still look back how unbelievable it is that I got here. The big thing is I wanted to get my hand going. But for me, it’s been self-rewarding and all this takes considerable time. My biggest supporter and backbone has been my wife. She works her butt off, so I can do this stuff. Hopefully, one day I can return the favor.
“I’m humbled about my transformation. My wife spotted an old picture of me sitting with our first born son. My waist size was up to 50 inches. Now I can throw on a size 34, no problem. I don’t want go back there again. The better part of my life is spent with my kids and I enjoy it.”