by Brandon Merriman and Francis Pellicciaro
Kelsey Eversole slaps the upper back of his identical twin brother, Cory, with both hands. Chalk dust from his hands forms two wide prints on his brother’s broad shoulders.
Cory’s body bends forward at the waist and his knees are bending in a half-squat.
He’s standing in the middle of a hex bar. It’s a hexagonal barbel which you stand inside as you lift it.
There are 375 pounds on the hex bar. Cory grips its handles and his face flashes to red. The veins in his neck press out against his skin. He lifts it with his entire body and he finishes standing straight up, his outstretched arms holding the hex bar just below his waist. He lets out a grunt through his gritted teeth.
Then he drops the weight.
Cory’s hands are covered in chalk just like his back. The chalk is there to give traction to sweaty hands that need to grip heavy weights.
He half squats again. Grips the weight again. Lifts and straightens up again. Grunts again. Drops the weight again.
Squat. Grip. Lift. Grunt. Drop.
Squat. Grip. Lift. Grunt. Drop.
The chalk prints on his back are the prints of two hands, pushing him onward.
Now it’s Kelsey’s turn. Cory slaps him hard on the back with both hands.
Their sport is a new type of weight lifting called PowerX. This will be the first year it’s included in the Arnold Sports Festival — Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Columbus sports festival.
PowerX originates from the sport of powerlifting, where a lifter puts up as much weight as they can manage a single time.
In PowerX, competitors get three minutes to complete up to twenty repetitions, or reps, of as much weight as they can manage.
There are three lifts in the competition: power clean, an overhand lift up to the shoulders; bench press, lying down and lifting from the chest; and deadlift, lifting from the ground until you’re standing straight and your arms hang fully extended with the bar in the air.
For competition, the number of reps is multiplied by the weight for each lift. The sum of each lift is the final score, a measure of strength and endurance.
The twins are busy. It was a school day, but this is a gym night and it is one of many gym nights to come. The Power Shack Fitness Center where they work out is sparse at 7 p.m. in the evening. There are only a dozen or so people here, walking among the hundreds of exercise machines. All of the metal frame bars of the bench presses and exercise machines are painted red. The air here has the clear, dry odor of vinyl and metal perpetually wiped of sweat.
Cory’s eyes are wide and wakeful. He talks quickly and evenly.
“I’m a slave, I’ve been up since 6 a.m. with school and work and everything,” Cory said.
A week later, February 13, the twins sit inside Knowlton Hall at the Ohio State University. Kelsey sips a coffee.
The’re both enrolled in OSU’s Fisher College of Business, 20 year-old sophomores majoring in finance.
It’s a natural major for them. They’ve been making money together for a long time.
Their first big payout came at age 12 when they sold cheap water during the Memorial Tournament, a PGA Tour golfing tournament in Dublin, Ohio.
They set up shop on their back fence, adjacent to the tenth hole and across the way from an expensive concession stand. The cops tried to shut the twins down a couple times, but they ended up making $1500 on the sly.
It was no surprise when they leveraged their talent to start a landscaping business. It seemed smart to work at what they were already used to doing at home, mowing lawns and spreading mulch.
Their parents, Ken and Christy Eversole, always told them if they wanted something, they had to work for it. They’re lifetime entrepreneurs who had the twins working the cash register at their Dairy Queen before they were teenagers.
The twins wanted to wear expensive clothes like their classmates, so they put their back into looking good.
Nowadays, they have around 50 landscaping clients. Last summer they worked 60-hour weeks between maintenance jobs at Dublin City Schools and landscaping. They make enough money to be independent of their parents, even though it’s a self-imposed burden.
“They think we’re spreading ourselves too thin, but I see it as, we’ve done it for so long that it’s become commonplace,” Kelsey said.
“I always thought, ‘Work hard now, so I don’t have to when I’m older.’” Cory said. “When I’m older I can have the fun I never got to have. It’s kind-of boring and morbid, but hey.”
They live at home, but they pay for everything else. Groceries, insurance, cars, everything.
While on vacation with a friend in Summer 2014, Cory met Craig Milam, Executive Producer and co-founder of PowerX. Craig invited him to a PowerX training session on a Tuesday last July.
“I knew I was going to do great things after meeting those people,” Cory said. “I thought, ‘this is going to be fun.’”
He convinced Kelsey to join him that Thursday.
“That first night was probably the best lift I had in God knows how long,” Kelsey said.
It was the first time they both worked out with Mariah Ligget, President and original founder of PowerX.
To the twins, Mariah is a trainer, training partner, and family member.
She’s put 30 years into the sport of powerlifting and earned fifteen powerlifting world championships. She also has a PhD in Exercise Physiology from OSU.
Like them, Mariah was no stranger to hard work in her youth. She got her start lifting bales of hay at the farm she grew up on.
She was 19 when she earned her first powerlifting world record.
“When somebody says, ‘what’s your favorite rush in the world? Is it chocolate, or a roller coaster?’ I say ‘Hell no, you better believe it’s a world record’,” Mariah said.
But, she knows lifting huge amounts aren’t ideal for the average athlete. This line of thinking lead to PowerX.
“They do sets and repetitions of about 10 to 15,” Mariah said. “So, why not give them what they already do? There wasn’t really a sport out there like that.”
The twins lift almost every day of the week. It’s their social time; between school and work, they can’t afford to go to parties and goof off.
The twins train for PowerX regularly with Mariah, Craig, and a couple of other young lifters.
“Right now, we’re like the inaugural lifters trying to get its name out there,” Kelsey said.
Mariah called the twins her poster boys for PowerX.
“One good, positive athlete like the twins leads to two or three more,” Mariah said.
The twins are in different weight classes, which Mariah prefers so that they don’t waste energy competing against each other.
“It’s more fun not knowing what the other person’s gonna do, ‘cause it makes you work harder,” said Kelsey.
Cory is a Fighter, PowerX’s 156 to 175 lbs. class. Kelsey is an Intimidator, the 176 to 195 lbs. class. This makes it easier to tell them apart, though they also style their hair differently and make sure their clothes don’t match.
Before PowerX, the twins had a confidence problem. They exhausted their emotions when they did poorly on an exam, or at work.
“You go in and you have a certain goal to achieve,” Cory said. “When you don’t achieve it, it just feels like, ‘wow, you’re letting everyone down, why am I even here?’”
Nowadays, they bring that nervous energy to the gym.
They started lifting in their sophomore year of high school, but up until last summer, they’d just been winging it.
Compared to other members of their high school football team, they were small at 5 feet, 6 inches.
“We got so much ball-busting from all of the upperclassmen,” Cory said.
When they see people they knew in high school nowadays, they almost aren’t recognized behind all of their muscles. They like to meet up with old acquaintances just to see their reactions.
“The look on their face just sells it,” Kelsey said. “I’m never going to quit this.”
“It’s just enjoyable to see all of those people that ever doubted you, doubting themselves.” Cory said.
They’re hoping those same people come to watch them at the Arnold.
“I don’t think I’ll even be nervous for the Arnold, honestly,” Kelsey said.
“We’ve done all of our studying prior,” Cory said. “We’re ready for this exam.”
“I’m ready to get an A,” Kelsey chuckles. “I’m trying to make that curve disappear behind everybody else.”
Two and a half weeks before the Arnold, Cory and Mariah are sitting side by side on rowing machines.
They take off.
They sit with their knees tucked to their chests and arms outstretched, holding the handles attached to long chains curled up inside the rowing machines.
Each pushes back with their legs and then leans back and pulls the chain farther out with their body, Then, they pull their arms back until their elbows are at their sides.
Then two grunts.
Then they draw back in, their arms stretch out and their legs scrunch up again.
Push, lean, pull, grunt, stretch, scrunch.
Push, lean, pull, grunt, stretch, scrunch
The chains rattle continuously as the two athletes make their motions again and again and again.
They stop, and Kelsey takes Mariah’s seat. Another of their training partners takes Cory’s seat.
Kelsey straps his feet onto the rowing machine’s footrest and the two of them begin the cycle.
If these rowing machines were row boats, they would be careening down a river. Kelsey’s shorts are caked with dried mud, so he looks the part. But this is not a river. It’s a carpeted floor, and they are all in the same boat.
“Shit,” Kelsey says, “my legs are gone.”
The round of rowing ends. He sits on the seat for a minute, legs spread wide and out of breath. The lights from the ceiling reflect off of his forehead.
He gets up and joins the others for their next exercise.
Cory stands on a platform a foot off of the ground and angled 20 degrees forward. His chest and shoulders are tucked into big cushions on a metal frame. He grips handles on its outside. It is a squat machine, and 270 pounds are attached to the frame.
With his foot, he presses a release to drop the weight.
He squats way down, slowly with the weight. Then he stands straight back up. His shoulders are anchored in, and his entire body is a piston.
Kelsey sits on a ledge by the window to the side of the squat machine and watches his brother.
“Got wide birthing hips,” Kelsey said.
It’s a consequence of doing squats. Kelsey said he bought khaki pants on Black Friday and they didn’t fit him by Christmas after all of the lower body workouts he had done.
Twenty minutes later, Cory lies on the gym floor and stares at the ceiling. His head rests in his palms and he breathes deeply. The front of his shirt is soaked with sweat. Mariah sits on the seat of an exercise machine next to him.
Mariah looks at Cory on the ground.
“We know it’s a good workout if we get to that point.”
Then she winks playfully,
“Some of us don’t get to it.”
Cory chimes in, “And that’s not the goal, it’s just a counterpart.”
Two nights a week the twins are at the Power Shack with the PowerX team, and they spend most Saturdays with them at a private powerlifting gym in Grove City, LexenXtreme.
LexenXtreme is in a small warehouse. A wall of the otherwise-dim entranceway is lit up and covered with photos of powerlifters who have been associated with the gym, including Mariah.
Banners from old events cover the walls of the gym proper. The music here feels twice as loud as what was playing in the Power Shack, and the lifters are twice as muscular.
The only people who work out here are those who have been invited. Mariah is an old friend of the gym’s owner, Dan Dague, another co-founder of PowerX.
Mariah drops a duffel bag and looks at the barbells haphazardly piled against the wall. Every corner is cluttered. It looks like a garage, and it really isn’t more than that. But, only serious lifters are allowed to work out here.
The first order of business is to test Mariah’s PowerX temporary tattoos. They’re big, grey blocks with space to write down how much you lifted for each event in the competition. Mariah applies Kelsey’s to his right forearm, while Cory’s is on his left bicep.
Craig tries to apply his himself, but he has some trouble.
“The key is to get the corners,” Mariah says to Craig, who grimaces as he presses a wet towel to his tattoo.
Half an hour later, Mariah is holding a pill bottle up to Kelsey’s nose. Kelsey takes one whiff and grunts.
“C’mon, you’ve got to use your brain now,” Mariah says, gently. “Cover your fear.”
It’s a bottle of smelling salts, little bags of ammonia. It’s meant to distract you from your anxiety before a lift.
“Whew!” he exhales.
“Don’t even think,” Mariah reminds him as he approaches the barbell. “Nobody is here.”
The Arnold is the day after tomorrow.
Kelsey stands in the lobby of the Power Shack, a reception desk to his right and an old brown leather couch to his left. He’s wearing basketball shorts and can see through the glass front doors into the snowy, icy parking lot.
Mariah is in the lobby when he gets there. She gives Kelsey a brown paper bag about as wide as his body and filled with shirts, including ones for the twins’ parents to wear at the Arnold.
Mariah’s broad face lights up.
“So, here’s the thing,” Mariah says. “We’ve got really cool first and second place trophies. And then third place? Here’s your T-shirt.”
Kelsey’s eyes turn toward the ground for a moment and he shakes his head.
“Honestly, I wouldn’t even want anything for third place,” Kelsey said. “I would feel like I’ve done so shitty that I don’t even deserve a thing.”
It’s March 7. The PowerX event of the Arnold is being held in the Rhodes Center of the Ohio Expo Center.
Noise fills every inch of the competitive space. Large speakers play a mix of rock-and-roll as the lifters warm up and spectators trickle in.
The speakers form a de-facto barrier between a semi-circle of about 100 folding chairs and the three carpets where each of the lifts will take place. A metal scaffold bridges in the air over each carpet, holding up screens that will show each athlete’s progress.
Thin black cloth hangs down to the ground to create a backstage area, a little alleyway between the lifting area and the wall where some of the lifters stretch and practice the lifts they’ll be doing.
By the time Kelsey and Cory come up before the crowd for a breakdown of the rules, all of the folding chairs are filled. More than forty spectators fill in behind and to the sides of the folding chairs.
Mariah is the master of ceremonies here. For every moment of action, she’s making a comment or asking questions of the judges.
She goes over each lift in detail, guiding a volunteer through the motions for everyone to watch and mentioning rules specific to PowerX.
“False grip is never really safe,” Mariah says as she goes over bench press. A false grip is when you don’t wrap your thumb around the bar, which is less secure than a regular grip when you do wrap your thumb around it.
“But,” she guffaws, “we’ll try to save your life if it falls!”
Now, it’s time for Mariah’s formal welcome. She uses the bench-press machine as a make-shift soapbox, a balancing act since the bench is about 10 inches wide and a few feet high. She gestures broadly and pivots around.
“Mr. Lormier on the [Arnold] committee said ‘We want to see a fast and furious show of strength,’” Mariah announces.
She points at the crowd.
“And that’s what you’re going to see.”
The Arnold is underway.
The speakers are now playing loud synthesized music. The music is louder than the ever-cheering crowd, and louder than Mariah.
Three athletes lift at a time in the three weight-lifting events.
On the left, power clean. In the middle, bench press. On the right, deadlift.
Competition has a staggered start so that at first power clean is the sole spectacle. Over a half-hour, the rest of the areas come to life.
Hundreds of pounds of metal hit the ground every time a rep of power clean or deadlift is finished. The concrete floor could crack if each lifting area wasn’t carpeted to dull the impact.
Watching the twins now is surprisingly similar to watching them in the gym: they make the same motions, and have the same faces of exertion. However, today there are 25 other athletes making those motions with different bodies, making their own versions of those faces of exertion.
Cory finished his set of power cleans, putting up 20 reps of 150 lbs. Now it was Kelsey’s turn to put up 20 reps of 165, more weight than the other three competing in his weight class.
Kelsey steps onto the mat and grabs the barbell.
He squats with the bar in his hands, straightens his legs, lifts the bar up with his arms, stands straight up, and bends his elbows so that his upper hands face his chest and he holds the barbell on his upward facing palms. He finishes by thrusting the barbel down with a clank.
“Six solid reps,” the judge calls.
Every rep is marked by the judge.
Squats, straightens, lifts, stands, bends, holds, clank.
“Seven. Eight strong reps.”
Squats, straightens, lifts, stands, bends, holds, clank.
After 47 seconds, he’s reached 13 reps and there is plenty of time for the last seven. His sister, Jennifer, is in the front row recording a video with her smartphone.
He takes a few breaths, looks at his hands, and then for the fourteenth time he squats, straightens, lifts, stands, bends, holds, clank. It’s as solid a rep as he has made innumerable times before.
Mariah bustles behind Kelsey’s spotter, the lifter posted right behind him in case he loses control of the weight.
“Keep him right there,” she instructs the spotter.
“Okay,” he replies.
Kelsey slides down onto one knee and adjusts his grip. The judge approaches him quickly.
“You touched your knee the the ground,” he says, pointing.
Kelsey lifts his leg and prepares for his fifteenth rep, thinking that maybe the judge didn’t really notice. But the judge has already ruled. A moment later, Kelsey stands up casually and walks away.
Mariah taps him on the chest gently with her live microphone. There’s a thump-thump over the PA.
She says something reassuring and he can’t help but to smile, but as soon as she walks away he’s shaking his head.
“I had 20 in me,” Kelsey said. I got thirteen and placed my knee down to get my hands fixed again. It was an easy mistake.”
It’s a rule Mariah implemented recently, so recently that Kelsey said it slipped his mind. It ensures lifters don’t look like they’re taking a load off during a breather in their three-minute set. You wouldn’t sit down while you’re doing a set of deadlifts, and you wouldn’t take a knee in the middle of your power cleans.
He put up 14, but the 14th didn’t count because of his mistake. Fifteen power clean reps would have given him enough points to place second, enough to earn one of the first ever PowerX medals. Spectators and even the judge agreed that Kelsey had it in him to do the whole 20.
Kelsey came in third place out of four in his weight class. He went on to set personal bests for his bench press and deadlift.
“I wanted to get a medal and I ended up just getting the T-shirt,” Kelsey said. “It’s still good, and I still got on the podium, but … who wouldn’t wanna be first or second?”
Cory placed fourth out of six in his weight class.
After the score was tallied, Cory was chatting casually with his family and friends, taking photos and enjoying the atmosphere.
“I did my best and I’m proud of what I did,” Cory said. “I’m not going to lose sleep over it.”
He was already thinking about the future.
“I think I’d be better at powerlifting honestly,” Cory said. “I’m good at those one-lift maxes.”
Arnold never showed up. Mariah was told to expect this, but it was a disappointment all the same.
The committee for the Arnold came in and out a couple times during the day. After seeing the custom PowerX medals, they asked Mariah if they could have one.
“I said, ‘nah, I need them!’ and I laughed them out of the room,” Mariah said.
When they told her the medal would be for Arnold himself, she caved in.
After the award ceremony and group photos, the crowd leaves the room in little groups of threes and fours and twos.
Mariah strolls about the room, making last minute conversation with athletes and their families. She reaches out to shake everyone’s hand. She never seems to stop talking, and a grin never leaves her face.
All the screens are being taken down. All the duffel bags full of lucky sweatbands and water bottles are being taken away. A few people mill about, staring emptily across the emptying room. Others wander next door into a powerlifting competition.
The twins hug their mother, and then pose for a family picture with both of their parents and their sister. Kelsey and Cory move about slowly, holding their heads high. The Eversole family leaves together, strolling out into the cold.
With help from the twins, and a nudge from Arnold himself, PowerX was seen by the right kinds of people.
“Monday morning after the Arnold, the phone started ringing off of the wall!” Mariah said.” People were saying, ‘Can you come to our gym?’ ‘Can you put one on?’ ‘Can you come to New York?’ ‘Can you come to Arizona?”
PowerX is going to be at the World Fitness Expo in June. Its CEO was at the event, watching from the back of the room.
Mariah has also put in a bid for PowerX to be at the Arnold Sports Festival in Europe.
As for the twins, they came to Mariah the following Tuesday with a different sport in mind.
“When we first started working out with her, she asked us what we wanted to do,” Kelsey said. “And we enjoyed the PowerX, but we had a more end goal to do straight powerlifting.”
Mariah is fully willing to train them in powerlifting, but it’s a different kind of workout than PowerX. They’ll be breaking down lifts bit by bit, pushing beyond what they even expected to be capable of.
“That’s going to take a little more technique and tooling than I think they understand, but they’re smart and they’ll get it,” Mariah said.
The twins are dropping weight so they can take advantage of their strength at a lighter weight class. They both got sick recently, so it happened a little faster than they expected. Still, if all goes well, they’ll compete at a powerlifting event by the end of the year.
Training up and dropping weight isn’t the only thing they need to move forward. Kelsey and Cory saw first-hand at the Arnold that the strongest powerlifters are older. They’ve had more time to build their strength.
“I see that I have potential to be as strong as they are, or stronger, if I keep at it,” Kelsey said. “I have a lot of room to grow, expand, become better and more mature in the sport.”
Kelsey talks about his future with certainty. He doesn’t wonder whether he’ll be lifting when he’s 40. He’s talking about what it will be like.
But, school and work will always be there too. They took their first training day after the Arnold off to work on a paper.
Kelsey and Cory Eversole are always working — whether it be at the gym, behind the desk, or on the job. Not only does their desire for success carry on, but it will carry them.