Written on the tape across his left foot: Breathe.
Written on the tape across his right foot: Focus.
As he glares down at the barbell, Dustin Ma allows the words to penetrate his mind. He bends down, grips his chalky hands along the steel and attempts to hoist the weight above his head.
“When you’re on that stage, it’s all mental,” said Ma.
He is one of the 400 athletes competing in the 2014 USA National Weightlifting National Championships that run through Sunday in the Grand America Hotel’s Grand Ballrooom.
At 31 years old, Ma considers himself an old athlete in the “young man sport.” He is the second-oldest in his division, the oldest being 33 and the youngest 14.
However, weightlifting is really an ageless sport.
“You can compete at any age, and learn at any age,” said Mike Carroll, the coach of Team Praxis, Ma’s weightlifting team in Murray.
Ma has only been competitively lifting for less than two years, and this is his second nationals. Before that, he was a martial artist. But because of the number of injuries he accumulated, he switched to weightlifting.
So when he, or any participant walks out on to that platform, it’s them against the barbell.
Age doesn’t matter. Size doesn’t matter. The only thing that counts is how much is lifted in that moment.
After training for several months for six lifts, most athletes are physically prepared. It’s the mental battle that hangs many participants.
“The hard thing to train for is the mental game,” said Ma. “You know what you are capable of hitting, but to be able to do it on the big stage, with the people and the judge watching, and a limited amount of tires, It’s a bit different.”
Before every competition, Ma finds a corner and throws a towel or shirt over his head. He uses this time to visualize, the good and the bad that could happen when he steps on the stage.
“In order to perform at your best, you have to be in the present,” he said.
On Saturday, Ma wants to bet his personal best: 96 kilograms (about 212 pounds) in the snatch and 112 kilograms (about 247 pounds) in the clean and jerk. He is scheduled to lift at 3 p.m.
In the crowd to support him will be his family — that is, his weightlifting friends on Team Praxis.
Ma is a traveling physical therapist who was contracted with a job in Salt Lake City. High on his to-do list was to find a weightlifting gym to continue to train at.
“They took me in, and accepted me as one of their family members,” said the Houston native and Sandy resident.
Ma said the time he spends with Team Praxis prevents him from being bored in Utah.
“I love [weightlifting],” he said. “Regardless if it’s competitive or body-building, I just like it. But, the experience of being apart of a team makes it a lot more enjoyable.”
USA Weightlifting National Championships
O At the Grand America Hotel Grand Ballroom Lobby
Saturday • 7 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Sunday • 7 a.m. to 3 p.m.
Tickets • $5 per day
Availability • Walk-up purchases or online at