After the 2020-21 Riverhead school budget failed, taking down a slew of sports and extracurricular activities along with it, Andrew MacGray needed a lift. He found one, by doing precisely that — lifting.
In a remarkably short period of time, MacGray, 16, of Calverton, not only turned himself into a self-trained powerlifter, but an accomplished one. With just two competitions under his belt, he already lays claim to one world record, three national records and six state records for his age group and weight class. He has already earned five medals, a nice start to a promising trophy collection.
Three of those medals came from what was only his second competition, the United States Powerlifting Association National Championships held earlier this month in Palm Springs, Calif.
But, perhaps more importantly, in powerlifting MacGray found a sport that he said turned his life around.
“It’s a life-changer, definitely,” he said.
MacGray will enter his junior year at Riverhead High School in September. As a freshman, he played junior varsity football and was on the varsity wrestling team. Because of budget cuts, he lost his sophomore seasons in both of those sports.
Looking to shed pounds and add muscle, MacGray used money he had saved to buy a barbell and about 205 pounds of weight plates. By last November he was training hard. He had developed a routine: school, chicken and rice for lunch, working out for a couple of hours, shower, bed.
“I was trying to be the best I could and trying to be better than I was the day before,” he said.
MacGray became intrigued by powerlifting. Without a coach (which he still doesn’t have), he learned what he could from YouTube videos and rule books.
MacGray added onto what began as a squat rack and a few weight plates, building a home gym in his basement. “Now I have a lot of equipment,” he said. “It’s actually really nice.”
MacGray said he logged every single calorie that went into his body and lost 30 pounds in less than three months. It was time to enter the fray. He competed in the Kingdom Classic March 6 in Groton, Vt., where he was aided by Andrew Beckham, a coach and personal trainer. He took first place.
“It felt amazing,” MacGray said. “I had a smile on my face for a while after that.”
With the help of a GoFundMe Facebook page set up by Beckham and the sale of T-shirts, MacGray said close to $1,400 was raised to help fund his participation in the national championships. The T-shirts bore the words “Hard Work Pays Off” with a logo of a gorilla lifting a barbell, drawn by MacGray’s girlfriend, Madison Williams.
Competing in the 132-pound weight class in the men’s 16-17 age group at the nationals, MacGray lifted 292 pounds in the squat, 165 pounds in the bench press and 374 pounds in the dead lift for a total of 832 pounds. Another winning performance. His parents, Roberta and Stephen, were in attendance.
MacGray knows he can do even better.
“I’ve done more in my gym downstairs,” he said. “Actually, I’ve done about 10 pounds more in every single lift.”
MacGray said he is driven in part by his athletic-minded brother, Liam, 11. “I want to be the best that I can and I want to prove to him that he can be the best he can, and he said to me after the competition that he wanted to do what I do, and it just made me so happy. That made me more happy than the records, to be honest.”
It has been an amazing journey for MacGray, still a newcomer to the sport. So much has happened in seven months. MacGray has been invited to compete in the world championships to be held Nov. 4 in Costa Mesa, Calif., but is unsure if he will accept because of a possible conflict with the upcoming football season.
So, what has been the best thing about MacGray’s powerlifting experience? The records? The medals?
“Bettering myself,” he said. “That’s the focus, the best part, because the records are awesome, they’re flashy, but I’m not a big braggart and I like to keep a little more of a low key on my achievements.
“I do want to be the best in the world one day, and I know I can do it, so I’ll brag a little then.”