By Dave Boyea, Bloomer Advance
Bloomer High School senior Ryan Ratcliff’s dream of representing the United States on the world stage became a reality around a month ago. Ratcliff donned Old Glory when he took the podium to receive his silver medal at the International Powerlifting Federation Bench Press World Championships in Rodby, Denmark, which was held April 18 through April 24.
“The atmosphere was really crazy, nothing like I’ve really experienced before,” Ratcliff said. “I’ve been to three national meets, which is also an extremely different atmosphere, but something about the world championships, it has its own unique atmosphere.”
Ratcliff, the son of Danielle and Robert Rubenzer, benched 341 pounds in the 264-plus pounds class in the Sub-Juniors Division, and just missed 418 pounds, which was the winning bench press weight by Poland’s Treytin Martin.
“I thought I was pretty big, but I went over there and he was very, very wide and very thick. Big kid, but very nice, and very respectful. Good athlete, you could tell he’s put tons of time in, and worked to get where he got,” Ratcliff said.
In state, national and world meets, lifters don’t know what they are lifting until afterwards. Ratcliff said he goes out there, he tells the loaders what he can do and for them to set him up in the best position.
“I didn’t know I had cleared 341 pounds, and didn’t know I went up to 418 pounds, which was actually pretty neat,” Ratcliff said.
Ratcliff traveled to Denmark by himself and paid for his trip and entry. Besides the humbling experience of attempting to communicate with people who don’t speak English, he said the most important thing was seeing the world’s best, including Olympic athletes.
“There is somebody out there better than you, there are people out there better than you, so stay humble and keep working hard. Don’t ever think for a minute that you are the greatest and you’re just going to have something handed to you,” Ratcliff said.
Though there were only around 100 people at the championships at Rodby, Ratcliff heard there were about 200,000 people watching the live stream, along with 400,000 tags on social media.
“His dream for the past six years has been to wear the United States’ flag and represent America in the world championship,” Danielle Rubenzer said. “We’re very proud to see him with the silver medal and flag. He’s worked really hard for it, and I feel he’s really deserving and did a really good job of representing the USA. It’s a pretty huge honor.”
Ratcliff’s 341-pound bench press is his personal best, which topped the 325-pound bench press he had at the USAPL High School National Powerlifting Championships in Orlando, Fla. Ratcliff finished second in the 275-plus pound division at the National Championships, which were held March 31 through April 3, and reached another milestone in his career – clearing 1,550 total pounds. His National total was 1,620 pounds, which also included a 640-pound squat lift and a 655-pound deadlift.
“One of the goals that he has always had is to lift a combined total of 1,550 pounds, and he always came up shy of that. Every time he’d get a haircut I’d carve that number into the back of his head. This year at Nationals he surpassed it by getting 1,620. That was a big thing for him. And then he got the phone call inviting him to the World Championsips, it was amazing. It was a huge honor for him, we were just ecstatic and we knew he was really strong and he has a lot of potential and he works really hard, probably the best drive I’ve ever seen someone have,” Rubenzer said.
Glen Steffen, physical education teacher at Bloomer Middle School, has been Ratcliff’s weight lifting and powerlifting coach since the beginning. Steffen started the Ironhawks Powerlifting team in 2002, and Ratcliff has been a member since seventh grade.
“Ryan is an awesome young man. He has big dreams and sets goals early. Many people say they want to do something but they are not willing to put the work in. Ryan did; he got up early and spent thousands of hours in the weight room when many of his classmates were still sleeping in their warm beds. He worked harder than most people will ever know,” Steffen said.
Rubenzer said Ratcliff gets up at 4:30 a.m., runs, lifts weights and trains. Ratcliff said he’s been putting in about 12 to 14 hours of lifting in a week during his senior year, along with harder practices. Before that he was putting in around eight hours a week, along with practices and other strength training.
And it has all paid off. In Ratcliff’s first powerlifting meet of his sophomore year, he lifted a total of 1,020 pounds.
“I told myself I am going to qualify for state no matter what it takes. I knew I had something in me and I could just keep working hard and working at it, I can do anything I set my mind to. I knew the payoff would be great, even though maybe I couldn’t see it at that point or I didn’t have it right away, I knew I could earn it and there wasn’t a thing I couldn’t do,” Ratcliff said.
He qualified for state with a total of 1,205 pounds, and then totaled 1,225 pounds at state. Ratcliff was then off to Kileen, Texas for his first Nationals competition. Ratcliff and Rubenzer traveled with the New Richmond Tigers powerlifting team. That trip produced great friendships for Ratcliff and his family, and also made Ratcliff an honorary member of the New Richmond team.
Since then, his totals have increased, records have been set, and two state championships captured. This weekend he will compete in the USA Powerlifting Men’s & Women’s National Championships in Aurora, Colo.
Ratcliff got his start weight lifting when he was 12 years old. Ratcliff was working on his grandfather Jerry Rubenzer’s farm when his uncle, Troy Rubenzer, said he was going to get Ratcliff into lifting weights. It wasn’t long after that Steffen suggested Ratcliff join the powerlifting team.
“Ryan’s powerlifting career began as a fifth grader when he took my summer school weight lifting class. I could never have dreamed he would achieve such amazing accomplishments. He started competing in power lifting meets in seventh grade. His excitement and enthusiasm were always evident. I remember his first meet when he was called for the deadlift. He literally ran up to the bar, grabbed it and pulled it up. There was no focus and no getting set. That’s changed a lot and at Nationals this past April Ryan set a new Wisconsin State Dead Lift record of an amazing 655 pounds,” Steffen said.
“Probably in seventh and eighth grade I saw a totally different kid” Rubenzer said.
“Ryan has always been easy to coach. He was always anxious to learn everything I could teach him about technique. He followed the Bigger, Faster, Stronger program that I use with all my lifters. It has been proven to be very successful with our lifters over the past 15 years,” Steffen said.
When Steffen has been unable to attend events, the New Richmond has taken over coaching Ratcliff, as have coaches from the Adams-Friendship team.
Ratcliff still works on his grandfather’s farm, as well as at McDonald’s, and cuts wood with Steffen and the Thompson family. He’s also been a mentor for younger kids. He coaches youth football and youth wrestling, and also works with his siblings, coaches them at home in football, wrestling and weight lifting.
After Nationals in Colorado, Ratcliff will compete in the Raw State Meet in Cudahy in June. Raw lifting is done without any support equipment. After that, competing in powerlifting will be for fun and camaraderie, because he will be focussed on playing football at the University of Minnesota-Crookston. The 6’ 3” 293-pound defensive tackle deaprts for Crookston July 25.
“I absolutely love everything about Crookston. Everything just seemed to click for me. The weight room was awesome; they are actually getting new facilities so next fall they are going to get a new weight room, and I’m pretty pumped about that too,” Ratcliff said.
“In terms of crediting my football career to the weight training, absolutely everything,” Ratcliff said.
Along with the weight training, he has done speed and agility and cardio training with it.
“So all of that training, and everything, without it I would be absolutely nothing. In the weight training, it really has made me extremely strong and given me something to stand out from everybody else. Everybody else is good, I have something else that some people don’t have. It gives me an edge,” Ratcliff said.
“I’m very proud of Ryan for all his hard work and all of his accomplishments. I am however most proud of the outstanding young man he has become Along the way Ryan and I became good friends. He’s become part of our family and I’m really going to miss him,” Steffen said.
“We’ve always told Ryan to be careful, don’t get hurt, pray hard, and anything’s possible if you set your mind to it and go for your dreams,” Rubenzer said.