By TOM BONE
Bluefield Daily Telegraph
Mike Horton stood in front of the power-lifting bench on Saturday afternoon at the Cole Chevy Mountain Festival, staring at the contraption as if it were a live adversary.
Psyching himself up, he yelled, “Woo! Let’s go! C’mon, c’mon!”
It worked. The Gary native, now living in Bluefield, put up a bench press of 540 pounds and claimed the top spot in the Third Annual Bench Press Expo.
“I have to really get myself psyched,” he said afterward. “I’ve played football all my life, and the way I approach it, I have to attack it. If I don’t, it will defeat me. So my attitude is to intimidate it, and to attack it.”
He smiled. “And most of the time, I win.”
Dorian Cox of Bluefield took second place with a lift of 435 pounds.
Horton said he was introduced to power lifting in 2000 by Donnie Robbins, who organized Saturday’s competition. Horton said he began competing in 2001, and lifts in “normally three or four (events) a year.”
He played football for Mount View High School, graduating in 1991. He was careful to point out that he was on the only Golden Knights football team to reach the championship game. He also played for the semi-pro Bluefield Barons football team in all three years of its existence.
He is now employed at the Federal Correctional Institution McDowell, in Welch.
He said when he goes to power lifting events, “My wife (Erica Horton) and children (Jamaikah, Laamaj and R.J.) are my No. 1 support system. She is there for all my meets. She takes care of all my nutrition; she feeds me really well.”
He said he also receives warm support from his “church family” at the House of Prayer in Bluefield, and from his friends at Superior Gym in Welch.
“We all consider each other family,” Horton said. “All one big family.”
He said the sport “has great potential for growth. The thing we have to tap into is the youth. There’s not a lot of stuff for young people around here. (Lifting) can carry over into other sports. You can do it in the off-season.”
Cox was a freshman defensive lineman on the Bluefield High School football championship team of 1997. He said he started power lifting competition in 1998, and has worked with Robbins since 2001.
“I’ve been lifting since I was 13 years old,” said Cox, 30. “For 17 years, I’ve been pretty much in the gym.”
He also has his pre-lift routine. “I usually psych myself up mentally,” he said. “I get in my little zone and stay to myself.”
He works out at the Greater Bluefield Community Center and mentioned his support group in the audience on Saturday — his mother Desiree, nephew Edward Cox III and fianceé Edwinna Cecil.
Cox is employed as a sanitation worker for the City of Bluefield.
He said about his power-lifting hobby, “It’s good and healthy. Sometime it’s a stress reliever. ... You come in, throw some weights up and get your stress out.”
He said about the local lifting scene, “I just hope we can have a lot of meets locally, for a lot of kids. And we’ve got some people around here who are really good lifters, but they don’t have the chance to show it. To me, personally, there’s just not enough notoriety around the area.”
“Big John” Bergner was among those returning to lift at the festival this year after competing last May in a Strong Man Competition. A former football player for Bluefield College, he graduated on May 4 with a degree in Exercise and Sports Science.
Bergner, who came in third in Saturday’s lifts, said he has gone on to participate in strong-man competitions in North Carolina and the Virginia Beach area.
The top lifters were Horton, 540 pounds; Cox, 435; Bergner, 405; D.J. Stinson, 380; Troy Rasnick, 355; Jared Palmer, 340; Mike Lesnett, 325; Justin Cline; 315; Steven Wessells, 280; and Parker Cline, 260.
— Contact Tom Bone at