There was a lot of grunting, groaning and gritting teeth going on inside Ritz Epps Physical Fitness Center's gym at Fort Bragg, Saturday.

After pacing back and forth on the platform and swinging his arms to psyche himself up, Foster Parnell slid onto the bench and slowly lowered 405 pounds to his chest and pressed the weight up again to win the unlimited class during the 2012 Fort Bragg Sports Bench Press Competition.

After weighing in and telling Steve Johnson, Fort Bragg sports director the weight of their first lift, 36 weight lifters competed in different weight classes in the Men's Open, Men's 35 and older, Women Open and Women 35 and older categories in front of more than 50 spectators, said Paul Driessen, chief referee and instructional program specialist, Youth Services Branch.

Parnell, a Soldier with Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 2nd Battalion, 325 Parachute Infantry Regiment, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division, beat his training partner Kegan Dillon only because Parnell weighed in at a lower weight.

The two had met in Callahan Gym and started training together, said Parnell.

"I was a little disappointed with my first lift. I thought I was going to get 405 pretty easy, it felt like 500 pounds," said Dillon, a Soldier with the 1st Bn., 508th PIR, 4th BCT, 82nd Abn. Div. This was his first competition. "I got hurt on a jump in April so I've been only lifting for six months now. (It) gives me something to train for, a starting point."

In the women's' class, Leisha Berry broke a Fort Bragg record by lifting 225 pounds in the 148-pound weight class. Berry, from 1st Brigade Special Troops Battalion, 1st BCT, 82nd Abn. Div., was happy with her results and credits a lot of her training to playing on the Fort Bragg Women's Rugby Team.

Some competitors came as far away as Virginia to compete in the annual event.

Robert Freeman traveled from Washington D.C. to compete and see old friends. He won his weight class of 181 with a lift of 405 pounds. "It's a great opportunity for Soldiers to come out and perform. It's a boost to morale," said Freeman, an intern with the Joint Chiefs of Staff and Office of the Secretary of Defense.

Fellow lifter and training partner Larry Smith agrees.

"We've been doing this for a decade. We like to go out and cheer each other on," he said. Smith, retired from the Army 14 years ago. He won the 35 and over category and lifted 365 pounds in the 198-pound weight class. Both men spotted and encouraged each other during the tournament.

Derrick Byrd, who lifted 375 pounds to win the 220-pound weight class, traveled to Fort Bragg while on leave from Fort Lee, Va.

"It's a good thing to be back at Bragg and compete. They don't have these things at Fort Lee," he said. Formerly with the 7th Special Forces Group, Byrd is now with the Headquarters and Headquarters Company, Combined Arms Support Command, Fort Lee, Va.

Byrd had won at least three times before at Bragg. "It's good -- add another plaque to the mantle and I'm happy with it."

Some newcomers to the sport also went home with trophies.

Zoerina Davis, Mobilization and Deployment Brigade, and Kinya Miller, with the U.S. Army John F. Kennedy Special Warfare Center and School, both won in their weight class.

"I started lifting weights back in September 2011. I've been practicing two times a week. It's been challenging to … collaborate my diet into weightlifting and exercising," said Davis.

"This is my first time doing it," said Miller. "It's good experience. I'm in the military so (physical training) definitely helps. Coming in at a higher age, (at age) 35, I wanted to do something different. This is definitely an introduction to that," she said.

For more information about Fort Bragg sports programs, visit the Family and Morale, Welfare and Recreation website at or call 396-1217.

Page last updated Fri March 16th, 2012 at 16:03