From skinny to strong

Sen. Mike Enzi (R-Wyo.) has a new staff member to do all his heavy lifting — literally.

Alamhir Gutierrez, who joined the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee’s minority staff in January as a staff assistant, has time to make a name for himself in Congress. But he has already achieved greatness in gyms across America. The 22-year-old D.C. native holds the International Powerlifting Association’s world record for the deadlift in the “Teen 18-19” division in the 114-pound weight class.

Gutierrez’s new position represents a return to Enzi’s staff. He initially interned in the senator’s personal office in the summer of 2002 and again in 2005, 2006 and 2007. But the 5-foot-6 Tulane University graduate, now weighing in at 160 pounds, is a much different man from the scrawny, 105-pound teenager who started working for Enzi five years ago.    

The weightlifting champion was once a small, thin soccer player who would get out-muscled by female peers in high school gym class.

“My very first bench-press was like 75 pounds, and there were girls in my class who could bench-press more than me,” he says during an interview in the Hart Senate Office Building, dressed in a black pinstripe suit that hugged his filled-out chest and shoulders.

“That’s when I realized, ‘OK, I really need to get in shape,’ ” he says. “I felt undersized, definitely. I knew I wasn’t the biggest person, but I held my head up and tried not to let that get to me.”

Gutierrez can now bench-press 275 pounds. But he took up weightlifting for reasons more substantial than just to show off bulging biceps. Back when he still weighed 105 pounds, his doctor expressed concern about his being underweight and suggested that he start lifting weights to attain a healthier body composition.

So, in 10th grade, Gutierrez signed up for weightlifting.

A year later, he won his first weightlifting competition.

In his second competition, he was crowned the high school national champion in weightlifting. Although Gutierrez says he did not dwell on the mean-spiritedness that often characterizes American high schools, any revenge he wanted on class bullies came quickly.

During one weightlifting class, he and a classmate with whom he had a “mini-rivalry” were testing how much weight they could squat. After Gutierrez completed his squat, his rival took his turn.

“When he did his [squat], his shorts ripped,” he says, chuckling. “He still had the weight on his back, so he was standing there all the way down with nothing but his tighty-whiteys on.”

By the time Gutierrez reached Tulane, he knew he had found his passion. He won his college’s weightlifting competition in the fall semester of his freshman year. But he was still weighing in at under 115 pounds. He decided he needed to gain weight — and fast — to be more competitive with men in higher weight classes.

Gutierrez gained 30 pounds that fall — “my freshman 30,” he says — and 15 the following spring, bringing him to 160 pounds. He would still come in underweight, sometimes by 40 pounds, compared to some of the men against whom he competed. But that did not stop his winning streak.

While still in college Gutierrez began competing in Strong Man competitions, which included running with cement blocks that weigh more than 100 pounds each and flipping 350- to 400-pound tractor tires end over end for 40 yards.  
One of the hardest parts of competition is the hundreds of people who watch him. To Gutierrez, weightlifting is a private matter.

Still, he competes. During his junior year in college, he won a Strong Man event known as the vehicle pull. He pulled a Ford Econoline van, a14-passenger vehicle that weighs approximately 6,500 pounds, for 25 yards in 24 seconds.

Gutierrez is still adjusting to his new schedule and lifestyle as a staffer. He has yet to find a gym that has all the equipment he needs, like a squat rack, a leg-press sled and lots of heavy dumbbells. In the meantime, he has been working out at the Senate gym in the Dirksen Senate Office Building.

You would think his accomplishments would speak for themselves, but Gutierrez has had to fend off one doubter.

One of his hallmates in his college dorm didn’t believe him when Gutierrez told him that he competed in weightlifting events. The guy challenged him to a push-up contest.

“I think he gave up at 40,” says Gutierrez, who can do between 80 and 85 push-ups at a time.

Otherwise, he doesn’t like to brag about his strength, he says.

“I’m not trying to impress any chicks or anything,” says the single Senate staffer. “It’s something I just love to do, and it’s beneficial for my body.”