MARINE CORPS BASE, CAMP LEJEUNE, N.C. -- A group of Marines at U.S. Marine Corps Forces, Special Operations Command have found a unique outlet from the stresses of daily life, work and the military; one that comes with the lifting of ridiculous amounts of weight. Staff Sgts. Erik Hodge, Diego Corr (of the 2nd Marine Division), Sgt. Thomas Geist and Cpl. Michael Politowicz, collectively known as the Stone Bay Bar Benders, have been powerlifting together for just under a year. They have competed in several tournaments, the most recent in Newport, N.C. on March 28, where each of the Bar Benders brought home trophies in the military, police and fire category of the spring military challenge. The competition was held to raise money for the Hope for the Warriors foundation, a charity that helps wounded warriors and their families through quarterly fundraising events.
Geist, a Marine Air Ground Task Force planner at MARSOC, formed the Bar Benders as “a stepping stone” toward a Camp Lejeune powerlifting team that he hopes to establish in the future. Ranked 27th in the nation in the 198-pound weight class, Geist began lifting in Iraq in 2008 to condition his body for combat. “Our commanding officer had this thing called ‘one-time strength.’ He didn’t care how much you could bench or curl, only if you could carry your buddy out of a firefight,” Geist said. “So as part of that, I started doing deadlifts and exercises like that.” Now Geist squats 615 pounds, benches 430 and deadlifts 550. He owns all the records for the Southern Powerlifting Federation (squat, bench, deadlift and the powerlifting total) for the military, police and fire 198-pound weight class.
Politowicz’s passion for lifting arose from combat as well, but indirectly. On April 5, 2011, the combat engineer stepped on an IED in Sangin, Afghanistan that blasted shrapnel through his forearm, tore the ligaments in his wrist and permanently damaged his neck and spine. After recovering at the Wounded Warrior Battalion he was temporarily assigned to MARSOC, where he met Hodge. “I was required to [conduct physical training] as part of my internship, so I linked up with Staff Sgt. Hodge and started doing his regimen with him,” said Politowicz. “When I started training again, I hadn’t had the use of my arm for over two years.” That didn’t slow him down. Since being injured, Politowicz has done a sprint triathlon, the Marine Corps marathon and the Marine Corps trials in shotput and discus, in which he took 4th place. Despite limited power in his left arm, his best lift so far is a 330-pound bench press. “His transformation from wounded warrior to powerlifter really shows his tenacity,” said Hodge, MARSOC’s Force Deployment, Planning and Execution chief. “He’s driven, and he’s committed to improving himself.” Hodge began powerlifting last year, and says the sport gives him “an outlet” from the stresses of work. “It’s something I look forward to. There’s actually a lot of therapy to it,” he said. Hodge raised over $550 for the Hope for the Warriors fund by getting his Masonic lodge to pledge money “per pound” for each of his lifts. “It’s a good cause,” he said. “It’s important that we help and support our own.”