Courtesy Photo.

In 2019, Andrew MacGray of Calverton wrestled and played football for Riverhead High School. But once the pandemic put sports on hiatus, he was stuck without a way to compete.

With his strength from prior training fading, MacGray decided to pick up a few pieces of weightlifting equipment and create a home gym to get fit. It remained a hobby for a few months, a workout every once in a while with a friend. Eventually, he started lifting for two hours every day in October of last year. 

And then, in early February, MacGray was scrolling on Instagram, “I came across a video of a guy powerlifting in a competition and I thought that was really cool. So I looked into it, I watched lots of videos and did lots of research,” MacGray said.

Months later, what started as a hobby has turned MacGray into a state and national powerlifting record holder — and an opportunity to compete on an international stage later this year.

MacGray, then 15 years old, registered for his first powerlifting competition in northern Vermont. The “Kingdom Classic” was held on March 6 with MacGray as its youngest competitor. MacGray lifted in the 132lb weight class for competitors ages 13-15. with a 281.1lb squat, a 154.3 bench and a 374.8lb deadlift.

When the event was over, MacGray held the first place record for his deadlift and total competition score for his weight class, and second place for his squat, in all national events sponsored by the United States Powerlifting Association (USPA). He also broke all records for New York state competitors.

“After that, one of the directors that was putting on the meet was like you’re pretty strong, and told me that I got qualified for the national championship,” MacGray said.

And so, he kept training. What started as a home gym in his basement has grown into a full set to get him ready for competitions. “I started with a few weightlifting equipment like a barbell and a few plates, and now I have a whole set that costs me probably over like $8,000,” MacGray said.

MacGray, who currently does not have a coach, is self taught. He had to do extensive amounts of research when he started. 

“The only way I was learning was through YouTube, and watched hours on, hours of training videos to help me. I’ve read multiple books to try to get my training right, because it’s not just working out, it’s also dieting,” he said.

His diet since he’s started competing has consisted of Greek yogurt, rice and chicken, which MacGray said he ate over a pound of a day. “You can ask my parents, even they thought that was kind of crazy at first,” he said.

MacGray had done the training, he had qualified for the competition, now he had to get to California, where the national championships was held.

He started raising money for his trip with a GoFundMe and by designing and selling tee shirts, sweat shirts and tank tops with personalized logos that read the inspirational phrase “Hard Work Pays Off” and showed a Gorilla deadlifting. In the end he raised around $1,400 for him and his family to fly to the event and stay nearby.

The USPA National Championships was held in Palm Springs from July 12-16. MacGray, now 16, performed with a 292.1lb squat, a 165.3lb bench and a 374.8lb deadlift. 

“When I was competing, I was nervous of course because I’m a nervous human being,” MacGray said. “But after the first lift, the second lift… I remembered I had to stay calm, and I was having a good time and trying to give it my all.” 

His lift in the deadlift only competition received him an international powerlifting league junior men’s world record for in his weight class. He also broke previous state records with his deadlift and his squat for New York state.

“It was awesome because my family was there and they were super happy for me, and congratulating me,” MacGray said.

MacGray said he will continue to compete in future powerlifting events. His performance at the national championships has earned him a spot in the USPA World Championships in the beginning of November.

“I was really happy,” he said about his results in the national championship. “But I just knew that I have more that I can do. I’m trying to be the best.”

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Alek Lewis is a lifelong Riverhead resident and a 2021 graduate of Stony Brook University’s School of Communication and Journalism. Previously, he served as news editor of Stony Brook’s student newspaper, The Statesman, and was a member of the campus’s chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists.