Nov. 28, 2007

Virginia Guard lifter grips for gold in Iraq

Sgt. Joseph Collins, a vehicle commander with B Company, 3rd Battalion, 116th Infantry, is an award-winning powerlifter who has won two Virginia championships in his weight class. He is continuing his workouts and competitions while deployed to Iraq. (Photo by 2nd Lt. David E. Leiva, B Company, 3rd Battalion, 116th Infantry.)

By 2nd Lt. David E. Leiva
B Company, 3rd Battalion, 116th Infantry

AL ASAD AIR BASE, Iraq – Once Sgt. Joseph Collins dips his hands into chalk, it’s on.  

On a recent Thursday evening, that meant putting aside the crowd of people who gathered around to see a handful of competitors for the NFL Lift. Not to mention an imposing 270-pound Marine peering down at him. 

Collins, a vehicle commander in B Company, 3rd Battalion, 116th Infantry, bench pressed 225 pounds 26 times. The bigger Marine finished with 27, but another Army Soldier matched Collins’ 26.

For the tie-break, Collins put away 21 more. So did the Soldier. Finally, on the third try, Collins pushed out another 21, outlasting the 200-pound Army Soldier by one repetition. For once, his opponent didn’t outweigh him by nearly 100 pounds.

“Had we done the event in weight class, I’m sure he would have come in first,” said Shelton James, the event organizer.

Collins’ lifts, though, were enough to place him fourth highest since the competition’s inception in 2004, according to James.

And so went another weightlifting meet for the 30-year-old Blacksburg, Va., resident, this one in Iraq’s Al Anbar province. And it added another notch on his award-winning power lifting belt that includes two Virginia championships in his weight class.

“Once I put chalk on my hands, my mind is set,” Collins said. “I put a number in my head, and that’s what I am going to do.”

At 5-foot, 8-inches and 180 pounds, Collins is clearly Bravo Company’s “Mighty Mouse.” Last month’s placement was a second for the Montgomery County Sheriff’s Office deputy since deploying for Operation Iraqi Freedom with the Virginia Army National Guard.

In Kuwait, he entered a competition and won easily with 26 repetitions. As a reference, during the 2006 NFL Scouting Combine last year, the average offensive lineman lifted the same weight 25 times, and most of them weigh more than 300 pounds.

Collins credits his father, John, a former Army drill sergeant and pastor in Elliston, Va., as the initial inspiration behind his hobby. He also credits his quest to add five more pounds. His personal best remains 405 pounds.

“You want more. It’s never good enough,” he said. “I just want to keep going and get stronger.”

Collins super-strength has been a source of encouragement for other Soldiers to hit the gym. More than a dozen members of Bravo Company follow his training regimen: five sets of five repetitions, each set progressively heavier.

Spc. Joseph Flippin of Martinsville, Va., has used the program with surprising results.

“I’m trying to get bigger. I’m trying to workout with somebody who has experience and knows what they’re doing,” Flippin said of his 40-pound bench press improvement. “He’s obviously a big guy.”

That stature extends beyond the weight room. As the assistant convoy commander, Collins is second-in-command of convoys headed throughout insurgent-held territory to bring supplies to nearly 32,000 Marines. Some convoys have values in excess of $30 million worth of equipment, vehicles and supplies.

“He’s definitely a strong, strong leader,” said 1st Lt. Alan Flippin, Collin’s platoon leader. “He’s someone Soldiers want to be around and learn from.”

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