Love and barbells: Eagle duo forms unique power couple

Apr. 22—She is a state champion powerlifter in her weight class.

He briefly held a state record in powerlifting.

Together they form a unique power couple. Literally.

Joplin High School juniors Amy Kessler and Josiah Hazlewood first met in eighth grade.

Kessler said after she had just moved to Joplin from Michigan, she found herself sitting next to Hazlewood in some of her classes. She took the initiative.

"I asked him out," she said.

"I was pretty happy, but I was pretty invested in my books, so I didn't pursue her a whole lot immediately after that, much to her dismay," Hazlewood said with a grin.

Three years later, the couple said they are stronger than ever — in more ways than one.

Hazlewood was the first of the two to get into powerlifting.

"I was pretty big into lifting before my freshman year because football demanded a lot," he said.

But he wasn't the one who got Kessler into the sport of powerlifting.

"It was mainly the coaches, because they needed more girls on the powerlifting team," Kessler said. "After I tried it, I really liked it and got really involved in it after that."

Kessler said powerlifting has not only strengthened their bodies, but their relationship as well.

"It's nice to have somebody that is as serious about lifting as you and is interested in some of the same stuff that you are," Kessler said.

While Hazlewood uses lifting to bulk up for football, for Kessler, it is more her primary sport.


"I'm training a lot more than him, because I'm looking to go to college for it," Kessler said.

She has already sparked the interest of a couple of colleges.

Kessler said she trains about two hours each weekday morning, another hour during weight class and three hours each day of the weekend for a total of about 21 hours a week.

Hazlewood trains a little less than that during football and wrestling seasons, but during the off-season, he said his training regimen is similar to Kessler's.

That amount of time devoted to lifting requires a high level of commitment, something both Kessler and Hazlewood have been able to mirror in their relationship.

"We both have the idea of dating to marry," Hazlewood said. "So, obviously our end goal is marriage."

Like lifting, relationships take work.

"It definitely plays a role," Hazlewood said of putting work and commitment into a relationship. "It takes patience and understanding. You need to be in it with someone who isn't in it by word alone, but takes action."

As in relationships, Hazlewood said anyone who wishes to be successful in powerlifting has to be able to commit to it.

"If you're going to get into it, you really have to commit," Hazlewood said. "Your progress is really quick in the beginning if you stay on it — it just takes time and effort."

Kessler talked about some of the most challenging aspects of the sport.

"You're going to fail," Kessler said. "You're not going to hit the weight you want to. There are going to be off days and there are going to be good days. But even if you fail, you have to keep going."

'Exceptional kids'

Alan Linden, who along with fellow assistant football coach Nick Reid, helps train the powerlifters at JHS, talked about Hazlewood and Kessler's work ethic.

"It's unique and uncommon," Linden sad. "They are exceptional kids and they are really exceptional lifters. They're skilled and talented, but they work extremely hard for what they get."

Asked whether their relationship helps or hinders their success, Linden laughed.

"I think mostly it helps. I think they motivate each other and hold each other accountable," he said.

Kessler, a former soccer goalie and basketball player, now competes in volleyball and wrestling as well as powerlifting.

"I didn't want to play basketball anymore, because I kept fouling out of all the games," Kessler said with a smile. "So when one of the coaches came up to me and said, 'You're pretty physical and you can't foul out in wrestling,' they ended up kind of recruiting me."

Kessler talked about what attracted her to the sport of powerlifting.

"I have four older siblings, so I've had to be tough," she said with a smile. "I've always wanted to be stronger than all of my siblings so they couldn't pick on me anymore."

Hazlewood is currently an important cog in the 10-1 Eagle tennis team and also competes in wrestling and football. Hazlewood was a first team All-Area pick in football.

"Football was the biggest thing for me," Hazlewood said. "Being strong is a huge part of it and powerlifting is a go-to sport for getting stronger and bigger."

Hazlewood wrestled above his weight class this year — filling in at 285 pounds.

"It was a long year," he said with a laugh.

Breaking records

Because of scheduling problems this year, there was no state powerlifting championship meet, but Kessler won the state championships for girls in her weight class two years ago. Hazlewood finished fourth, despite setting a state record — albeit briefly.

"I set a deadlift state record, but it got broken about five minutes after that," Hazlewood said. "She did a lot better than me, though."

"Yeah, I set it and kept it," Kessler laughed.

Kessler remains the current state record holder for the girls 155-pound deadlift.

She said Hazlewood is her biggest supporter.

"Whenever I get a new PR, he's the first person, or he's right there spotting me," Kessler said. "He's the first person I go to for anything. He's not only my boyfriend, he's my best friend and the first person I want to tell things to."

"She always encourages me and stays on me to do what I need to do," Hazlewood said. "She calls me lazy when I try to skip. She's pretty good at holding me accountable."

He said another plus to their relationship is Kessler's cooking, especially her breakfast burritos. Kessler shared her secret ingredient.

"Just a lot of love," she said.

When they are not in the weight room — or on a court, field or mat — the two have interests that allow space for their own individuality.

"She really like rom-coms," Hazlewood said. "And I'm just there for the ride."

For Hazlewood, his guilty pleasure is video games, especially "Tom Clancy's Rainbow Six Seige."

In addition to their athletic successes, both Hazlewood and Kessler are standouts academically.

Hazlewood was named an Academic All-State first-team pick for football; Kessler is an Academic All-State first-team pick for volleyball.