As students traveled home for the Christmas holiday last semester, junior political science major Ray Jin stepped onto a mat at the B&W Gym in Chicago, and wrapped his hands around a bar that weighed 661.2 lbs, roughly the weight of a grizzly bear.
His arms extended, he pulled ferociously, slowly and smoothly straightening out his back and knees, until the bar was level with his hips.
After carefully returning the bar to the mat, a triumphant smile spread across Jin’s face — he had set a new personal record. The impressive deadlift also secured both his victory at the Dec. 19 USA Powerlifting Illinois Collegiate State Championship, only his sixth competition ever, and the newfound title of best collegiate lifter in Illinois.
Jin’s powerlifting journey began during his freshman year. As a member of the Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC) program at Wheaton College, which prepares students for a military career after graduation, Jin was already in the habit of maintaining physical fitness through weekly exercises that consist of sprints, calisthenics and long runs. When the U.S. Army adjusted their deadlift requirements for ROTC cadets in 2019, Jin discovered a new passion. The Army set its new standard at 3 reps of 340 lbs. Jin aimed for 400.
“I just felt like I could do it,” Jin said. “At the time, I thought that while I’m not there yet, I will get there some day.”
This attitude of self-discipline has characterized Jin’s powerlifting career. His close friend and fellow ROTC member, junior Luke Altorfer, said, “Ray is very, very competitive with himself. I think that helps him in his craft.”
Even after achieving the 400 lbs. goal, Jin continued to train to deadlift even more weight. He was inspired by his older brother, Richard, and his friend, a second Lieutenant in the U.S. Army currently stationed in South Korea, who had both competed in powerlifting before.
Unlike many of his competitors, Jin, who is originally from New Jersey, is entirely self-coached. He has crafted a strict training regimen using both information he found on Google as well as advice from the powerlifting coaches he follows on Instagram. “Combining the two allowed me to figure out my own style,” Jin said. He trains alone in the college’s Chrouser Sports Complex weight room, as Wheaton does not have a powerlifting team.
His training schedule begins with a three week period of hypertrophy, a time dedicated strictly to building muscle mass by completing a high number of reps with low weight. Following this period is a “shrink” block of several weeks, where Jin focuses on medium reps and medium weight.
Next he enters a three-week “peak block,” where he lifts weights at his maximum intensity. Jin describes this period as the time where he’s “at the top of [his] game.” The final block in his training regimen is the “taper.” During this time, Jin lowers the weight of his workouts and enjoys a period of “active rest.” This block is always strategically placed two to three days before a meet so Jin is ready to “leave everything out on the platform.”
Jin completes this two-to-three month schedule before every meet. He competes about every 8-12 weeks, although he has no set schedule or season. ”It really depends on life,” said Jin.
In each meet, Jin performs three different lifts: the squat, the benchpress and the deadlift. In addition to his 661.2 lbs deadlift record, his personal best for the squat is 606.2 lbs and 355 lbs for the benchpress. Jin’s best ever “total” — a powerlifting term that describes the aggregated weight of the three lifts — is 1,603 lbs.
Over the course of his powerlifting career, Jin has accumulated seven first place finishes, one second place finish and three Best Overall Lifter titles. After his December victory, Jin is currently the top ranked lifter in Illinois. At his next meet in March, Jin will be vying for the national championship.
Jin was accompanied by junior and friend Adam Parcel at the Powerlifting State Championship in December. As Jin’s powerlifting handler, Parcel is in charge of providing physical, mental and emotional support for Jin during meets. Parcel recalls that Jin initially struggled at this meet. He had missed his goals in both the benchpress and the squat, and by the time he was going up for deadlift, Jin just wanted to finish and leave. However, Parcel encouraged him to “send it.”
With his friend’s encouragement, Jin was able to lift a whopping 661.2 lbs, the equivalent of two full-sized refrigerators. This final lift pushed him into first place and secured him the title of best overall lifter. Jin described the lift as being akin to a “game-winning three-pointer” in basketball.
“It was a proud moment to see him work through some adversity through that day to get the weight up,” Parcel said.
Jin’s path to the top has not always been smooth. In June 2021, Jin suffered a life-threatening accident when he went skydiving with a malfunctioning parachute. While Jin did not break any bones, he was left with a severely bruised tailbone.
“I had to just restart from like zero in terms of my lifting career,” said Jin. “Before that time, I was totaling 1,565 lbs, but after that injury, it just went to zero because the range of motion was pretty much impossible.”
“We didn’t know if he was going to be able to lift again,” Parcel said.
But Jin says he never once considered giving up on the sport. After two months of intense physical therapy to regain his mobility, Jin was able to compete again. While he may not have been at his peak performance at the USPA powerlifting meet last summer, he still won best overall lifter.
He attributes this impressive recovery time to his 7-month-old cat, Homie (or King Homie, as Jin sometimes calls him), who helped him work through the mental trauma of the accident and regain his strength.
Jin believes powerlifting has taught him the value of pursuing balance in his life. “Sometimes there’s moments in life when you have to push through it, bite the bullet and persevere, and then there’s other times when you need to know when to take a step back,” he said.
Jin will be competing next on March 28, 2022 at the USA Powerlifting Collegiate and Junior Nationals in Lombard, Ill.