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Clah family builds powerlifting dynasty at Shiprock

Clah family builds powerlifting dynasty at Shiprock


On April 9, teams gathered at Rio Rancho High to compete at the state powerlifting event. There were hundreds of participants, all mixed in different divisions.

One of the students who won gold was Nalani Clah, representing Shiprock High.

Clah was the only female qualifier from Shiprock. She would come in first in the 165-weight class and made a new record of lifting a total of 620 pounds.

“I was surprised by that,” Clah said. “That was pretty cool.”

Her teammates who qualified were Jarvis Begay and Melvin Lee.

This is only the second year since Shiprock High started their powerlifting program but already they had students winning state.

The program was helped by coach Anthony Clah, Nalani’s father. Anthony Clah has been a collegiate strength and conditioning coach for over a decade, gaining experience that he said is helping their program.

“Hopefully, from what they’ve seen from their teammates, the team will feel more competitive and try to get to the state championships,” Anthony Clah said. “Overall I’m hoping that this type of success will now filter into the school and the community and there’ll be more students willing to come out and try powerlifting.”

Submitted | Anthony Clah
Nalani Clah holds her medal after winning in the 165-weight class, breaking the state record by lifting a total of 620 pounds at the New Mexico State Powerlifting competition.

Shiprock has three powerlifting state champions, six top-five finishers and 12 top-10 finishers.

One of the state champions is Kai’ulani Clah, Anthony Clah’s eldest daughter who won one of the program’s first medals.

Nalani Clah said her older sister and older brother, Kaleo Clah, inspired her through the years.

Kaleo Clah trained with his siblings, played with them and helped Nalani become comfortable interacting with others.

Nalani’s sister won state in 2021 and that motivated Nalani to continue the sport and build on that legacy.

“I like the idea of getting stronger,” she said. “I defeated my dad in arm wrestle once and he was surprised at my strength and I was like ‘Yes, this is what I want to do.’”

Nalani Clah said this year was challenging as they still had to abide from COVID-19 guidelines.

She felt like she could have been stronger if they were granted more use of the school gym and equipment. But in a way not having that available pushed them to train harder when they did get the opportunity to train with the equipment.

Competing while in her junior year was also challenging. She had to balance training, schoolwork and studying for exams, but she was able to maintain her grade and qualify for state.

At this year’s competition there was a lot more competitors than in 2021 as COVID-19 restrictions slowly receded.

Nalani Clah was feeling confident through most of the event. She felt a little intimidated when she missed her last rep for bench. But she trusted in her coach’s advice and, knowing her family was there cheering her on, helped her to push through it.

“She worked hard to be at all the training sessions, she was at every one of them,” Anthony Clah said. “I know she feels excited about the win and she was in tears and on her knees when she found out she had won the state title.

“So, it was just a feeling of accomplishment and standing on the podium, being the top person, knowing that you’re the best in the state was just overwhelming and a happy feeling for her,” he said.

Nalani Clah is pleased with her achievement this year and is aiming for the gold again next season.

She also hopes that more people will join the powerlifting team as their status slowly grows. Friends and classmates are asking her about the sport, especially details on how she became a state champion with a few saying they’re interested in trying.

Even incoming freshman are showing interest in the team.

Anthony Clah is pleased with the attention the program is gaining and is already planning the team’s strategy for next year.

“I’m grateful to the school, the community of the parents who allow their athletes to come and join these types of sports and to participate support them and all the sacrifice and time that they set aside to support their athletes and to come and watch,” he said.

For Nalani Clah, she wants the team to become one of the best in the state and hopes that the next girl who breaks her record will be from Shiprock.

“That is definitely my hope,” she said. “I really do think that the powerlifting program can expand and evolve in coming years and I hope that people break my record.”

“I really want girls to be more comfortable here because a lot of them are shy and I know that they can be really strong and I know that a boundary to them is a barricade that they need to break down,” she said.

“As a fact that they need to get more comfortable with just going out and doing stuff,” she added. “A lot of the powerlifting girls we had didn’t compete because they were afraid of that and I want them to be comfortable with it and show them that it’s possible.”

About The Author

David Smith

David Smith is Tódích’íi’nii and born for Dziłt’aadí. He is from Chinle and studied at Northern Arizona University. He studied journalism and English for five years while working part-time for NAU’s NAZ Today and the Lumberjack newspaper. After graduating in 2020, he joined the Navajo Times as a sportswriter for two years before leaving in September 2022. Smith returned in February 2023.


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