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Niko Iglesias will soon do what no Mauston powerlifter has done before him: compete at the world championships.

Iglesias will participate in the 2018 Sub-Junior World Powerlifting Championships put on by the International Powerlifting Federation as a member of Team USA. The championships will be held from September 2 to September 8 in Potchefstroom, South Africa.

He is the first Mauston powerlifter to ever represent Team USA at the world championships.

Iglesias, who graduated from Mauston High School in the spring, found out in late May that he would have the opportunity to join Team USA.

“I got the call from the head coach saying I got the bid, and I was speechless,” Iglesias said. “Even to this point, I still don’t know how to react.”

For Iglesias, the path to South Africa started during his freshman year, when he joined the powerlifting program as a way to get ready for football. But from the very start, he was drawn to the sport and soon began devoting himself to powerlifting first and foremost.

“My freshman year, I really had no idea. I just did powerlifting to get ready for football,” Iglesias said. “I had a few injuries and after that I really put all my time into powerlifting.”

Perhaps more than anything else, it was the individual aspect of powerlifting that attracted him to it compared to other sports like football.

“Pushing yourself, not having to rely on a team and just doing it all yourself. That really drew me into it,” Iglesias said. “Football, I liked it, but if one person made a mistake, everybody suffered instead of just dealing with your own mistakes.”

Right from the start, Mauston head coach Jerome Leak, who took over the position this past spring and previously was an assistant coach since 2014, believed the world championships were a possibility for Iglesias.

“We knew when he was that freshman/sophomore age that he had the ability, he just had to figure it out himself and figure out how to push himself,” Leak said. “With powerlifting, it’s a mind game.”

As Iglesias continued to progress throughout his high school career, he hit a major snag. A back injury caused him to sit out all competitions during his junior year and threatened to derail his dream of someday making the world championships.

When he returned to powerlifting during his senior year, he had to temper his expectations somewhat and just hope to progress back to where he was before the injury as the season went along. Soon enough, Iglesias returned to form, winning an individual state title at the Wisconsin state tournament before a home crowd in Mauston in March and placing third in his weight class at the national high school meet in Appleton in April.

The two individuals who finished ahead of him at nationals either declined to participate in the world championships or were turning 19 prior to the event and therefore ineligible to compete. This opened the door for Iglesias to be invited, who accepted this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

One of the trickiest parts of the process for powerlifters competing at the world championships is coming up with the money for it, as the trip is self-funded. But according to Leak and Iglesias, they have received strong support from local businesses and the community as a whole, continuing the growth of powerlifting in Mauston.

“The local support for powerlifting has grown a lot over the last few years,” Leak said. “We do a fundraiser every spring for the team where we go around for donations, and most of them are willing to do that. So when he goes around for something like this, they don’t bat an eye at it. Everyone in the community, for the most part, likes to support things like this.”

While earning a spot at world championships is a huge honor by itself, the fact that he gets to be Mauston’s first representative at the event makes it all the more special for Iglesias.

“In Necedah or Adams, where powerlifting may be a little bit bigger, they have a lot of kids going to worlds. I see how the team reacts, and it’s a big deal,” Iglesias said. “I guess I still haven’t come to the realization of how big this actually is. It’s a huge deal and I’m excited for it.”

Follow Zach Rastall on Twitter

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608-697-7943.