Pushing limits: lifting an outlet for Prairie native

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Bailey Halvorson gets ready to perform a squat lift. Halvorson has competed at multiple UPA events in the area. (Photo courtesy of Bailey Halvorson, taken by Ellen Likens, owner of Ravenbelle Photography)

By Steve Van Kooten


People with confidence can turn heads. When someone like Bailey Halvorson walks into a room, her smile and her handshake make an impression. She’s 5-foot-5 or so, but she has the personality of a giant. 

Even with that big personality, many people probably wouldn’t guess she can lift more than twice her body weight.

“Being a little girl that squats 300 pounds is pretty cool,” said Halvorson. “Girls are supposed to be little and dainty, but that’s definitely not the case anymore.”

Halvorson, a junior at Prairie du Chien High School, became interested in weight lifting after taking a core class her freshman year, and she had a talent for it.

“I kind of learned my way around the weight room, and then I started to go to the Anytime Fitness gym here in Prairie. I kept going and getting stronger, and I realized I would probably be competitive with the numbers I was getting.”

After training and “doing her own thing” for a year and a half, she signed up for her first event this past November: a United Powerlifting Association Power Weekend in Dubuque, Iowa.

“I really had no idea what I was doing at first, but I had a decent idea since I was already putting up some big numbers.”

During the event, Halvorson made two important connections. The first was Ellen Likens, a photographer, who helped connect Halvorson to the women’s powerlifting coach at Ottawa University in Kansas, and the second was Aaron Nance, another powerlifting competitor, who helped coach her during the event.

Nance continued to coach her as she prepared for a second competition in March, guiding her through obstacles in her training, offering ways for her to improve and finding the things she does well.

“He brings me back to reality a little bit,” said Halvorson, who considers herself a perfectionist. “If I don’t perform to my standards, I get extremely frustrated. You can always get better; there’s always a way.”

At the March event, Halvorson added 100 pounds to her total score, which combines her performance in the squat, bench press and dead lifts. She also managed to set new personal records for every lift except her bench.

For the (personal) record, her current PR’s are 292 pounds for the squat, 143 for the bench and 315 for the deadlift.

“In my prep this last time, I lost a bunch of weight. I failed 135 pounds for eight weeks in a row and hit 137 in my meet because I lost my confidence… It’s a mental game.”

Weight loss has a dramatic effect on bench performance, especially for women. “You lose bench almost pound-for-pound when you lose weight.”

But it’s not just the weight. Everything matters: diet, exercise, routines, sleep — the list goes on.

“I could squat 275 easy one day and fail it the next week,” she said. “Between hormones and how tired you are and what you ate that day, all of that affects everything. It’s very consuming.”

Even with the time commitment, even with sports, work and artistic pursuits, Halvorson has carved out a space in her life for lifting because for every minute it takes to get better, it has given her opportunities for self-actualization.

“The way I have changed from the beginning to now has made my confidence go up dramatically,” she said. “Having a long day and just waiting to go lift really helps me get there. When you can put your headphones on, do your own thing and be in your own world is the best thing.”

It may also give her an opportunity to pursue her passion at a high level.

“I’m hoping to continue it for a really long time. This is the one thing I’ve been really, really good at — just naturally, really good at — and I don’t want to waste that potential. Using that at a collegiate level would be cool.”

The future is undecided, but Halvorson knows she earned every record, every total and every success. 

“I’m not lucky; I work for it. There’s a difference between drive and luck.”

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