WATERTOWN — The workout is done. Members of the 4:30 p.m. class at Star-Spangled CrossFit are milling about during open gym, when a few begin to gather around a short, but powerful-looking, 20-year-old blonde woman.
A section of PVC pipe formed into a handle, with the long end less than 2 feet wide and no more than a few inches off the ground, sits in front of her.
Kerri Keegan grasps the handle with both hands, flips her legs into the air, and performs a handstand in front of the gathering. Balanced on that piece of pipe, her body is virtually straight from ankles to hands, nary a wobble.
Sounds of wonder rise from her spectators. One of the gym’s owners exclaims “impressive,” and Keegan bounces back so her feet are on the ground again.
This is what Keegan can do with her body. Even among the most fit folks on the block, she can awe.
Two months ago, the former South Jefferson soccer, volleyball and track and field athlete participated in her first sanctioned powerlifting competition. She left the International Powerlifting Association’s April 26 meet in Ithaca with four world records.
“That’s pretty impressive first time out, with just six months experience focused on powerlifting,” said Eric Kendrew, the strength and conditioning coach at Watertown High School and Keegan’s coach.
Keegan, who turned 20 in May, set world marks for the women’s age 18-19, 123-pound category for squat (245 pounds), bench (158), deadlift (270) and total (673). She also set those marks in the raw division, which means she performed them without any special lifting equipment. And she broke the old record total by nearly 70 pounds, according to Kendrew.
“My coaches, all of them, have actually told me I’m really strong, since I haven’t really trained for this, and am just able to do it,” Keegan said, “And I have good movement, naturally.”
Keegan, who is from Rodman, is not even five feet tall — “a little under,” she says — but shattered the squat mark by almost 40 pounds. She is packed with power and the handstands — there is a Facebook post of her doing a handstand on the back of another woman who is lying prone — prove it.
“She’s the perfect size, the perfect strength, everything mixed in,” Kendrew said. “We always say she’s just a little bundle of muscles. Plus, she’s very technical, very skilled at the movements.”
Keegan had no intention of being a power lifter less than a year ago. A traditional athlete, she attended SUNY Cortland freshman year and played soccer. Looking for ways to train for the sport, she found CrossFit and became devoted to it, landing her certification and eventually ditching soccer. CrossFit then led her to weightlifting and she’s been participating regularly in powerlifting only since January.
As in the other sports, her body and her control over it is helping her excel.
“I had no idea how to squat before CrossFit, or to bench or deadlift,” she said. “I just wanted to get those better for CrossFit. So I would just mess around at (Cortland) with my friends who power-lift. And then they were like, ‘we need more girls on our team, be on our team.’ And I was like, ‘OK, sure.’ I had never done it before.”
Keegan’s boyfriend is an Olympic-style lifter and she is interested in trying to compete in that arena, too. When Kendrew and Keegan attended an Olympic lifting certification session, which included former Olympic Games athletes, they saw Keegan lift and advised her to drop everything else and commit to Olympic lifting because they saw so much talent.
Kendrew, who has helped train Division I lacrosse athletes both male and female, calls Keegan the top female athlete he has taught in about 20 years of coaching in the area.
“I still remember Day 1 working with her,” said Kendrew, who started coaching Keegan when she was a senior at South Jefferson, “and giving like 100 some pounds to a girl who weighs 110 pounds. I have never had someone start out their body weight as a female, ever.”
But Keegan, entering her junior year in the fall, is keeping her options open. She said she wants to try Olympic lifting but also continue powerlifting, as well as do well enough in CrossFit that she can start coaching. This summer she is planning to travel to California to watch the nationally televised CrossFit Games, and there is talk of her committing enough to the sport that she can make regionals.
“To me, I love that openness to go, ‘I’m not just singled out to one style,’” Kendrew said.
But he expects Keegan to continue in powerlifting and to branch out and attend other meets, whether it’s IPA or another sanctioning body. Keegan said she expects to continue lifting well after college.
Meanwhile, she, is trying to soak up as much about the sport as she can. Recently, she went to Long Island to take in a seminar from one of the world’s top female power lifters, Caitlyn Trout.
Trout is in early 20s and stands just 5-foot-1, an ideal role model for Keegan.
“That’s what’s nice (about powerlifting),” Keegan said. “There’s a ton of different body types in it. I’m not very tall, so there’s a lot of things (in life) that are harder or whatever, but … (powerlifting) is based on strength. It’s not aesthetics for powerlifting, which is refreshing.”
Keegan is studying exercise science at Cortland and looking into occupational therapy. When she returns in the fall, she’ll probably meet up with her lifting buddies on the Z-Squad team, but other than that, the future depends solely on her drive and her ability.
“Six months in (to powerlifting), you can’t beat that,” Kendrew said. “If she spends another five years at it, that’s going to be someone you’re going to see, that’s going to be a name you’re going to know.”