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Power unleashed:

Shane Hamman’s faith fuels his quest for Olympic gold

By Scott Harrup

A ripe watermelon can weigh 25 pounds. A mature pumpkin, 30 or more. So perhaps it’s providential that Shane Hamman — one of three athletes representing the United States in weightlifting at the 2004 Summer Olympics in Athens, Greece — grew up in Mustang, Okla., picking thousands of watermelons and pumpkins for his parents’ farmers market stand.

“Mustang is a little town outside of Oklahoma City,” Shane says of his hometown. “It’s got a small-town feel, but it’s close to the city.”

Growing up in the country meant plenty of hard work for the three Hamman boys. But it also meant that Shane, the youngest, could thrive in Oklahoma’s wide-open spaces.

“I was playing in the creek all the time and riding motorcycles,” he remembers.

Shane Hamman

Hometown: Mustang, Oklahoma

Born: June 20, 1972

• Height: 5-foot-9

• Weight: 370 pounds

• Neck: 22 inches

• Biceps: 22 inches

• Calves: 22 inches

• Thighs: 36 inches

• Waist: 47 inches

• Chest: 62 inches

• Hamman is considered the strongest man in the United States. He can clean and jerk 500 pounds, snatch 430 pounds, and squatted a one-time record 1,008 pounds.


Life-changing decisions

In the midst of sweat-popping work in the fields and equally strenuous play, Shane discovered athletics. He played soccer from the age of 7 to 13, and then got serious about football and wrestling in high school.

He also discovered his need to allow God to shape his spirit even as he disciplined his body.

“I was raised going to church since I was a baby,” Shane says. “My mom’s dad was an Assemblies of God preacher his whole life in small towns throughout Oklahoma, so I went to a number of A/G churches as a child.” He accepted Christ as his Savior when he was 7. He believes that decision to allow God to guide him has led to every good decision he has made since.

When he was 13, Shane’s family began attending a Foursquare church in Moore, Okla., and it was there that Shane was baptized in the Holy Spirit at age 18. Under the anointing of the Spirit, he spoke in tongues. It’s an experience described in the Book of Acts among Christians in the Early Church and a key Christian expression for Pentecostals around the world today. He felt his faith energized.

Today, Shane doesn’t shy away from his profession of faith in Christ or his reliance on the Holy Spirit.

“God has had His hand on me the whole time,” he says. “The baptism in the Spirit has helped me throughout my career. A lot of times I’m so nervous when I’m about to compete, and I don’t have words to say. So I can just pray in the Spirit and it really builds me up. It’s awesome.”

Nervous? At a loss for words before a competition? People who look at Shane Hamman find this hard to believe. His physical size encompasses the mass of two average men. At only 5 feet 9 inches tall, he weighs 370 pounds. And the weight is concentrated muscle. With a blast of energy from 36-inch thighs, he can slam-dunk a basketball or perform a vertical leap of more than 3 feet.

When that same energy is applied to a barbell, an almost inhuman amount of steel comes off a competition stage. At several national events, Shane, 32, has raised more than 500 pounds above his head. During his years of powerlifting competition, he set a record by squatting just over half a ton. That was 1,008 pounds pressing across his shoulders during a complete deep-knee bend and return to a vertical stance.

“I started powerlifting out of high school,” he remembers. “It just happened so fast. I improved very quickly and realized this was a gift from God and something I needed to start using for Him, for His glory. I dedicated it to Him.”

God honored that dedication. For Shane, competitions became deeply personal exercises of faith.

“Whenever I would go out to lift, I felt the Holy Spirit’s presence and I would start crying,” he says. “People would see that and they didn’t know what was going on. Reporters would write that there was some powerful feeling running around the room when I was competing. Stuff like that started happening. Weights started feeling weightless on the big lifts.”

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A new direction
Shane continued to stretch the record books in powerlifting. Then, at the height of his achievements, he distinctly felt God impressing him to make a radical change.

It was 1996. While lifting at a gym, Shane was watching the Olympic weightlifting competition on television. He realized that the very different forms of lifting he was observing were the very forms God wanted him to pursue.

In world-class competition, athletes typically don’t transition from one sport to another as mature adults. At 24, Shane appeared to be set in his identity as a powerlifter. His slabs of muscle had been meticulously trained to deadlift, squat and bench press staggering poundages. Now God was leading him to set that aside and learn the intricacies of the Olympic snatch and the clean and jerk. The transition tested him like no other competitive endeavor.

“It taught me patience,” he says now. “I had to go from squatting over 1,000 pounds and being rated as the strongest powerlifter in the world to lifting a broomstick. I did nothing but lift a broomstick for a month in order to study the Olympic technique. It was a really difficult time, but it worked out.”

Most authorities claim it requires a minimum of four or five years to master Olympic weightlifting. Shane absorbed his training with such focus that in only nine months he had won his first national championship in 1997. By 2000, he was the best in the United States and on his way to Sydney, Australia, where he placed 10th overall against the best lifters in the world at that year’s summer Olympics.

This spring, in St. Joseph, Mo., Shane again demonstrated world-class ability in his new discipline and handily won his current spot on the 2004 Olympic team. He dreams of gold this time around in Athens.

But is the medal his ultimate focus? He quickly puts to rest that kind of speculation. Yes, he wants to win this competition before the world for the honor of his country. But his entire life, day in and day out, is focused on honoring God and helping other people encounter their Creator.

“It’s such a buildup this time,” he says of his journey to Athens. “There’s a lot of pressure on me, people expecting me to do well. But that’s another thing that’s great about being a Christian. I put it in God’s hands and I don’t care what people think about me. I want them to see God in my life. That’s what I pray and ask for every day: ‘Jesus, I want You to be in my life and I want people to see something different about me. I want to represent You.’ When I do that, it puts it in His hands. That’s the way I look at it. I’m just a vessel doing what He wants me to do.”

That priority relationship with Christ means, for Shane, that all of his weightlifting accomplishments are secondary to God’s ultimate calling on his life.

“Honestly,” he says, “if God wanted me to quit weightlifting tomorrow and move to the mission field, that’s what I’m going to do. I’m going to do what He wants me to do.”

Tomorrow’s dreams

Every athlete has to honestly evaluate his or her mortality. The fastest sprinter will slow dramatically with age, as will the sleekest swimmer and the champion boxer with the lightning punch. One day, Shane Hamman will no longer think about trying to raise a quarter-ton over his head. But he doesn’t shy away from that future.

“I know that this has been building up all along just for my testimony,” he says of his international reputation for strength. “I’m excited about this career. It’s been fun. But I’m actually more excited about what’s going to happen afterwards. I truly am.”

And those plans? Speaking to high school students about making the right choices in life — with the ultimate choice being to accept Jesus Christ as Savior.

When he is not enduring an intensive training regimen, Shane travels as a representative of Rachel’s Challenge, a ministry started by the father of Columbine shooting victim Rachel Scott.

“We go to high schools,” he says. “It’s more towards antiviolence. It’s real motivational.” He plans to continue that involvement once he transitions from weightlifting to youth ministry. In high school auditoriums across the country he wants to motivate young people away from violence and negative peer pressure. Outside of the regulated high school environment, however, Shane plans to connect with young people through a no-holds-barred presentation of what Jesus Christ means in his life.

“I’ll also be doing summer camps and youth camps,” he says. “I’m sure I’ll be talking in churches too. My entire goal is to share my life and my career and everything that God has given me and hopefully challenge people and hopefully change some lives.”

Scott Harrup is associate editor of Today’s Pentecostal Evangel.

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