When Will Garcia is asked why he lifts all those weights, he flashes a confident smile and a non-verbal, "Look at me!"
He can't wait to explain.
"I feel strong when I'm lifting," Garcia says. "When I'm underneath 300 pounds, I feel like a million bucks. People my size aren't supposed to do that, but I do."
Garcia, 5-foot-2 and 121 pounds, could double as a tree stump. Muscles burst and bulge, though he won't go near that over-the-top bodybuilder appearance. He's 20, buffed and happy he's found his niche. "I want people to look at me and say, 'He's small but he's strong,' " he said.
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Probably happens every day. Then again, the Modesto Junior College sophomore almost can lift three times his weight. He's earned the right to flex in the mirror and walk with a bounce in his step.
Less than two years since he entered the weightroom, Garcia has become good — very good — at what he does. A public address announcer, working at the California State Games in San Diego earlier this month, called Garcia "one of the best benchpress athletes in the country right now."
No one apparently disagrees.
Garcia is ranked No. 1 in the nation in the 123-pound benchpress junior category by Powerlifting USA. At that meet in San Diego, he set both state and national records when he bench pressed 330 pounds, and a slight wobble erased a lift of 341.
Earlier in the year, he started to build his reputation at the USA Powerlifting Nationals in Palm Springs. A second-place overall finish was shadowed by his benchpress of 325 pounds, good for more state and national records in a three-lift competition.
"Good weightlifters can visualize the lift before they do it. Will has got so much confidence. He can visualize everything," says Dave Cummerow, the MJC weight training instructor who introduced Garcia to the sport and still works with his student.
Garcia is motivated by both success and tragedy.
The dogtags, dangling around his neck during a recent workout, are inscribed with the words, "In Loving Memory, Walter Leroy Garcia III."
"I feel like I'm not alone in the weightroom," Will says.
Walter Garcia, the father of Will and his younger brother Ryan, took his own life last fall. Roben Garcia, his widow, says her husband suffered from depression. Roben believes Will's weightlifting not only is good for him, it's also therapeutic for the whole family.
"He puts everything into it. That helps him through," Roben said. "I'm so proud of him."
Will's father, afraid of potential injury, discouraged Will from athletic competition. He eventually warmed to weightlifting, however, and accompanied Will to tournaments.
"I do this (weightlifting) now for a meaning and a cause. I told my dad I would be great someday," Will said. "Since he died, it stopped being this thing for fun."
Garcia thinks of his father each time he dons his bench-shirt, the tight-fitting polyester garment that serves as support for the lifter. It is not designed for comfort. One and sometimes two assistants are needed to squeeze Garcia into the bench-shirt.
Purists think the shirt doesn't belong in the sport. Garcia swears by it.
"This is my iron-man suit. When I have this on, I'm 30 pounds stronger," he says. "It keeps everything tight."
When the subject turns to performance-enhancing drugs, Garcia shakes his head. He knows his sport and PEDs almost are joined at the hip.
"I've been tested twice this year. I've never used that stuff in my life," he said. It is my record and my signature. It is all me out there," he said. "If I start using (PEDs), I'm no better than any of those other guys. What makes me who I am is that I'm doing it on my own."
Garcia points toward the USAPL Bench Nationals in late August in Virginia. Weight-wise, he thinks he soon can lift 360 pounds. Emotion-wise, he's armed with memories and goals.
Says Garcia, "This is my second coming."