When Milan Bunker walked into Protogym in Henderson for the first time near the end of her junior year at Foothill High School, she wasn’t thinking of breaking powerlifting records.
She just wanted to lose weight.
But as Bunker began working to accomplish her goal, dropping about 80 pounds, she found out something even more exciting. She was strong — really strong. Strong enough that she decided to give competing in powerlifting a try.
Three years later, Bunker, 19, is a national and world record-holder for her age division and the 198-plus-pound weight class in the dead lift and squat.
“I wasn’t really serious about it until my senior year of high school,” Bunker said. “I started doing my first competitions and have gone from there.”
At the U.S. Powerlifting Association’s Drug Tested National Championships this month in Palm Springs, California, Bunker set new standards with a dead lift of 402 pounds and squat of 347.2.
Bunker added a bench press of 165.3 pounds for a total of 914.5 to win her age division and take fourth in the open standings. She was the youngest competitor to finish in the top five by 13 years in the open division.
Not bad for someone who only wanted to lose weight.
“When we started, I was very impressed with her starting levels of strength,” said trainer Nathan Klipfel, who has worked with Bunker from the beginning. “I thought that was really cool. She lost a ton of weight really quickly, and her strength levels were jumping up astronomically.”
Bunker has her sights on the world championships in November in California. She hopes to increase her weight in the dead lift — her favorite event — by at least 20 pounds and to see steady progress in the squat and bench press.
Her ultimate dead-lift goal is 500 pounds.
“I love the dead lift. You feel more accomplished doing a dead lift,” Bunker said. “You pick something up, and if you can get it up and hold it for a second, you really feel the crowd (support), and it’s great.”
Klipfel said he couldn’t attend the meet in California, but he and Bunker were texting the entire time.
Fortunately, Klipfel said, powerlifting is unique among competitive sports in that everyone is supportive of one another, so Bunker wasn’t hurting for cheerleaders.
“One thing I think sets powerlifting apart from every other sport is the fact that it is such a strong community,” Klipfel said. “Everybody who goes into it has their own goals in mind. If they see somebody lift a weight they’ve never lifted before, they’re going to be cheering them on all the way.”
Bunker said she immediately knew her squat and dead lift were records but that it took awhile for what she had accomplished to set in.
“I don’t think I actually processed it until I got home, but it did feel really good,” she said. “I think I was a little tired from the whole event, but it was a lot of fun.”
Bunker expects to have fun in her next endeavor, too. She left Friday for Colorado to work as a wrangler on a dude ranch for two months.