Jason Foster could see the results of his work immediately.
He could see it in the mountain of muscles as he trained, and in the numbers on the scoreboard that kept going up.
One year after picking up the sport of powerlifting, the 14-year-old former Keene wrestler became a state champion, broke five state records and achieved a top-two national ranking.
Transition to a new sport doesn’t get much smoother than that.
“I like just knowing that the work that I put in will directly correlate to my success,” Foster said. “With wrestling it was like that. I put in work outside practice, and with powerlifting it’s like that. I put in my time at home, I put in my time in the gym and I see a direct correlation to how I’m gonna be lifting in meets.”
Foster was already a rare athletic talent as a wrestler. He spent eight years competing on the mat in elementary and middle school, earning a state championship, a number of runner-up and top-five finishes, and had most recently finished second at the New England Championships as an 8th grader.
Last April, his parents, Brian and Erin Foster, decided to enroll Jason in a local gym for some strength training to prepare him for his upcoming high school wrestling career. It changed Jason’s fate.
Jason Foster started training with local strength trainer Justin Goulet at Goulet’s gym on Emerald St. It took him some time to get the hang of the three main forms of powerlifting — the squat, the bench press and the deadlift — but once he did, he discovered a joy that wrestling hadn’t given him.
“However much work I put in, I see more of that on my body. I see more of what I want to see in the mirror when I wake up in the morning,” Foster said. “In wrestling, it’s all about who can be the lightest, who can go down weight brackets and stuff. Cutting for weight brackets, I didn’t hate it, but I want to be big, I want to be strong, I want to be the strongest kid I can be.”
Goulet describes himself as an “old-school” coach who’s not looking to make friends with the athletes he trains. Sometimes, he added, that can be hard in the early stages because it is intense.
But Foster was looking to be pushed, and the two built a bond of mutual respect — Goulet for his hard-working pupil, Foster for his esteemed trainer, who was himself an ex-competitive powerlifter.
“He trusts me and I trust him,” Goulet said. “We also know not to take ourselves too seriously; we have some laughs here and there.”
Foster’s strength grew exponentially as he trained with Goulet.
His personal-best lifts went up 20 and 30 pounds at a time, and he could see an image of the results every time in the mirror.
Foster drew his natural athleticism from a strong genetic background, from his father, a former Marine, and his mother, who had been active in fitness throughout her life. And his strength from his wrestling days transferred immediately to powerlifting.
Still, he had to perfect the proper technique for each of the three forms.
In the squat, lifters have to keep an upright torso while dropping down to a near-sitting position with the barbell over their shoulders. If the point of the hip doesn’t drop below the knee, it isn’t considered a proper squat.
The bench press requires even more precision, and judges will watch this event with eagle eyes to make sure it’s done properly. The bar can’t bounce when brought down to the lifter’s chest, and has to rest there before it’s brought back up again.
The deadlift, however, can be the most potentially dangerous if done improperly. Lifters have to rely on the strength of their legs to stand up with the bar and not use their back at all. Foster said a person could even end up in a wheelchair from doing this lift wrong.
“A lot of people look at powerlifters and think that we’re big, dumb animals, but we’re not,” Goulet said. “A good weightlifter with good technique has great body awareness … and Jason is just ... he’s a student of weightlifting.”
Strength and technique allowed Foster to gain an Archimedes-like power to lift weight one would think immovable for a 14-year-old weighing in at just more than 150 pounds.
On Nov. 18, entered his first meet, in Scituate, Mass.
He was by far the youngest competitor (the second-youngest was 19), so it was no surprise when he ranked sixth out of the eight male competitors with a cumulative weight of 854.3 pounds across the three disciplines.
The real surprise came later, when he found out that not only had he broken all five N.H. records — squat (275.6), bench press (226), bench press single lift (226), deadlift (352.7) and total (854.3) — in the Raw Teen 1 (age 14-15) 163-pound class, he was also ranked 18th in the nation.
“It was a Saturday morning,” Foster said. “I was in my room I think, playing the guitar or something, eating my cereal, and my dad called me in and showed me the rankings, and I saw I had all the state records. ... I was like, ‘wow that’s really cool,’ and then I saw 18th in the country and I was like, ‘jeez, that’s something right there.’
“As much excitement as I had, I was just as motivated to keep going.”
Foster’s national ranking would drop a few spots over the following months, but he continued training, and as he entered the N.H. and Vermont State Championship at ConVal Regional High School on April 20, the mantra “I’m only competing against myself” was no longer just a figure of speech.
Foster not only competed against himself, he beat himself, with wins across the board as he broke all his previous state records. His new marks: 308.7 in the squat, 253.5 in the bench press and 419 in the deadlift to give him a 981.2 total and the state title.
“What comes to mind is my last deadlift, when I had that 419 on the bar,” Foster said. “I had never hit 419 in the gym before, so just to get it up, I had a lot of motivation, a lot of adrenaline going through my body at that time, but it’s a very humbling experience.”
When the new national rankings came out, Foster had skyrocketed all the way to second, behind only Aaron White of Louisiana (1,041.7 total pounds).
But while the accolades are nice, Foster insists his main focus is just on increasing his own personal marks.
“I mean, it’s cool to see that accomplishment and everything, but I’m never gonna be content,” Foster said. “I’m never gonna plateau, I’m never gonna look at some national ranking and be, ‘Oh I’m first in the nation, I’m content now, I can take a break.’ As soon as I reach first, that’s just the first mark to keep moving forward and keep working harder.”
Goulet said if Foster really wants to go places, he needs to learn how to slow down.
“The hard part with powerlifting is that it is really hard on your body,” Goulet said. “So, I am trying to teach him how to be able to cycle the reps and sets and intensity so that he doesn’t burn out, because burnout is a thing. I retired as a powerlifter at 24 years old, and Jason wants to do it for the long haul.
“He’s got a lot of potential,” Goulet added. “He’s got a lot of raw ability and he’s got a lot of technical ability as a weightlifter already and he can go as far as he wants to.”