Author: Gabriel Dunatov
The sound of churning treadmills, enthusiastic grunts and the monotonous thump of dropping dumbbells is ever present at the Occidental Alumni Fitness Center. Yet this pattern is often shattered by a booming sound that makes headphones fall out of ears, eyes swivel and tempers flare: the sound of 400 pounds slamming onto a hardwood platform.
There are very few students at Occidental capable of handling such a weight. But Oren Torten (junior), only 18 years old, an economics major and emerging power lifter, cannot help but stand out.
Torten’s athletic origins were not spent fighting to lift nearly a quarter of a ton from the floor. Instead, he began with a different kind of fighting: Taekwondo. While he was in high school, he earned a second-degree black belt and was hired as an instructor at his local studio.
When he came to Occidental, he was unable to find a fitting Taekwondo studio. His solution: pumping iron. For Torten, stepping into the weight room was only natural.
“I still wanted to do something to keep active and healthy, so I started lifting weights, because that’s what people do,” Torten said.
Yet it was not long until Torten transformed his hobby beginning into a competitive path. Starting out with a workout plan taken from Bodybuilding.com, Torten pictured himself as a bodybuilder like Arnold Schwarzenegger. Yet he soon realized the sport was not for him.
“I quickly realized after looking at the sport as a whole [that] it’s very political. There’s no chance of success basically unless you’re on steroids,” Torten said. “That’s just how it is.”
Finding himself out of place in the world of bodybuilding, Torten gravitated toward powerlifting. He found the sport’s culture and mentality familiar after his years of martial arts.
“[It is] similar to Taekwondo,” Torten said. “If you hit the guy harder, the guy falls down. Powerlifting, if you lift more weight than the guy, it doesn’t matter if you are not as low body fat percentage, it doesn’t matter if your teeth are white enough: If you hit the weight bigger, you hit the weight bigger.”
Torten saw the chance to become a serious powerlifter after realizing how competitive his numbers were. Searching for a path to realize his newfound goal, Torten stumbled across the Wild Iron Gym while interning in San Francisco this past summer.
“It’s just this little warehouse full of strength training equipment [and] loud metal music,” Torten said. “Everyone there [are] monsters. They’re just complete monsters. World Record holders.”
The first few times he visited, he was silent, awed by the intimidating atmosphere.
“I remember the first time I was there, we were working with this guy who was doing squats,” Torten said. “And he goes down into the bottom of the squat, and on the way up he’s grinding, he’s fighting, he’s working really hard, and he blows a blood vessel in his nose and blood starts pouring down his face. And he still gets the weight up.”
This intensity, though daunting, told Torten he was in the right place. Once his fellow lifters saw that he kept returning (an unusual occurrence), they opened up to him. They soon became the closest thing Torten has ever had to powerlifting mentors, helping to correct his technique and coach him.
Coming back from summer stronger than ever, Oren signed up for his first ever powerlifting meet: The United States of America Powerlifting (USAPL) Fall Classic/SoCal Regional at California State University, Fullerton. This meet, which took place Nov. 14, was a chance for Torten to move from the regional level to the national level.
Powerlifting meets have competitors perform three lifts — the squat, the bench press and the deadlift — each for three attempts. The cumulative total weight for each lifter is the number used to judge the winner. Torten, as a “raw” lifter, competes with only the lightest of supporting equipment.
In the months and weeks leading up to the competition, Torten trained using the “Conjugate Method” he learned at the Wild Iron Gym. This meant training four times a week, with two days devoted to maximal effort and two others focused on dynamic effort, or speed. Yet for Torten, the heaviest burden is not the weight itself; it is the psychological toil it takes to lift it.
“For me, it’s less motivation when I’m moving the weight, because I do a lot of prep works in between lifts to get there,” Torten said. “So when I’m in the hole and it feels heavy, I know I can get it up. Leading up to it is where it’s really hard for me.”
When Torten first started lifting, caffeine and the music of Jay Z, Kanye West or Kendrick Lamar put him in the proper mindset. But before this meet, he cut out these stimulants. With everyone’s eyes fixed on him during the competition, he needed to make sure he could bring the weight up on his own.
During the meet itself, Torten’s strength of mind paid off. Though he completed only five of his nine lifts, he finished second in his weight division. While he only managed to complete his first squat and bench press attempts, when it came to deadlifting, Torten completed all three attempts and set a personal record of 182.5 kilograms, or 402 pounds.
“By the time that the deadlift came around, I was feeling angry,” Torten said via email. “I was angry that I hadn’t performed to expectation on the other two lifts, and I channeled that anger into the bar.”
Evan Bromberg (junior) traveled with Torten to support him as a friend, Phi Kappa Psi fraternity brother and fellow lifter.
“It must be really nerve racking for them because it’s one person at a time in front of everyone, so all the pressure is on — or so I imagine … I’m really proud of what he accomplished,” Bromberg said via email.
Looking forward, Torten plans on coming back stronger and more confident than ever.
“I’m not planning on taking silver again,” Torten said via email.
Growing up in the shadow of his father, a member of the 1988 Olympic sailing team, Torten’s goal is to compete at the international level. To get there, he circles back to the mentality that has gotten him so far.
“It goes back to my mindset of ‘How bad do you want it?’” Torten said. “If I want it, I will make time, I will find time to do it. Whether I have to be up until 2 in the morning, whether I have to wake up at 5 a.m., I will make the time. That’s just sort of the way I am. I’ll make it happen.”
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