Powerlifting wasn't exactly the kind of sport Charlene Scully was looking to take up as a hobby.
Having recently moved to the area from Hawaii, she sought new friends and something to occupy her time. "I didn't know that many people, and I like sports," is how she recalls being influenced to try something different.
Scully's friends introduced her to powerlifting, which she tried for a few weeks. But is wasn't until she met Michael Wright, her current coach, that she took the sport seriously.
And after competing in only four tournaments, the senior at Douglass High School captured her first national championship by recently winning her age and weight group at the American Drugfree Powerlifting National Championships in Tempe, Ariz.
"She's built perfectly for powerlifting; she's a mesomorph -- long trunk, med-short legs, med-short arms and a lot of mass," Wright said. "She's also gifted, has determination, endurance and the will to achieve."
Scully, 5 feet 2 and 129 pounds, works out in the basement of St. Paul's Moravian Church in Marlton. The gym started out as a haven for troubled youths, but is now the training home of some of the area's top women's powerlifters.
"The church is more of a family atmosphere -- if my friends and I wanted to go to a spa to work out, we could, but I know everyone here. We encourage each other and fulfill what we want to do," Scully said.
Wright, 33, started the program at the church in 1985. Now, seven of the Marlton resident's lifters are ranked nationally and five are state champions. That includes 11-year-old Robin Belt.
There are four organizations for powerlifters, but Scully competes exclusively in the ADFPA, which is the only one that requires mandatory testing for steroids for all events. The ADFPA, founded in 1981, has 4,000 members nationwide.
Powerlifting consists of three main events, squats, bench presses and deadlifts.
In the squat, the weighted bar is placed on the competitor's back. The lifter has to break a 90-degree angle with his knee and hips. This tests lower body strength. In the bench press, the weight is lifted while the competitor is supine. This tests upper body strength. And in the deadlift, competitors must lift the weighted bar. This tests overall body power.
Scully's best event is the squat; she has squatted 305 pounds in a meet. And overall, Wright said Scully "will be a dominating force for the next three years."
Scully said she has been most influenced in powerlifting by Wright and world champion Paul Anderson.
"He is the largest influence of my life," Wright said. Anderson travels around the country giving seminars and also runs a home in Georgia for troubled youths.
A former powerlifter, Wright coaches both boys and girls. He won several meets in the military in the early '70s and is in the process of coming out of retirement to compete again.
"Powerlifting is a relatively new, up-and-coming sport," Wright said. "Powerlifting will become an Olympic event within the next two or three Olympics. It's the fastest growing sport right now."
During the summer, Scully works out four times a week for two to three hours at a time, plus she has equipment at home. When she's in school, she works out two or three days a week. She also is taking an exercise class. She said she is on no special diet.
Scully said she competes in "fun tournaments -- just to see how much you've improved." Then there are the state and regional tournaments. "There, you have to make a goal and reach it. You build power so you increase your weight. You don't break training; you go straight through."
But to compete in the national championships in Arizona, Scully needed a sponsor. She found one in Elizabeth Fitzgerald, owner and president of a local beer distributing company. Fitzgerald didn't give the money directly to Scully; she sponsored her through the church. "This way, the sponsors believe in what we're doing, and we could go after what we wanted." she said.
With financial support, Scully went to the national championships able to concentrate on one thing -- lifting weights better than anyone in her division. Now she hopes to break the American squat record (366 pounds) for her age and weight group.
Scully has another goal in powerlifting. She hopes it will lift her to at least a partial college scholarship.