Kenzie Hower, an 18-year-old college freshman in the Nampa Idaho East Stake, is a world-class athlete in a sport that she undertook only four years ago.
At the Sub-junior World Powerlifting Championships on Sept. 12-13 in Ribeirao Preto, Brazil, Kenzie won the 82.5-kg weight class with a combined total of 1,042.8 lbs in the squat, bench press and dead lift. While that competition was open only to entrants 18 years and younger, Kenzie's rapid ascension through the powerlifting ranks has reached the point that the International Powerlifting Federation lists her on its Web site as the 10th-best lifter in the world, regardless of age, in the 82.5-kg classification.
Growing up, Kenzie enjoyed playing sports such as softball, volleyball, basketball and tennis, but she never excelled at any of them because of a body type that offers her little in terms of height or speed.
"Kenzie is short but she's stocky," said her mother, Tandy Killingbeck. "She's got a very strong lower body and she loves playing sports. She always went out for sports but she never got to play very much because she was just too short and not fast enough."
During her sophomore year of high school Kenzie was introduced to powerlifting by Amanda Moe, the older sister of Kenzie's best friend Amy.
"Amanda did powerlifting," Kenzie said. "They needed some more girls and she was just like, 'Come in and give it a try.' I went in and did it, not thinking that I would keep pursuing it. I ended up going and winning nationals my first year, and it kept progressing from that."
Even with her early success, the transformation from essentially being a benchwarmer in every other sport she'd ever played to becoming a world-class caliber powerlifter caught Kenzie off-guard.
"I had no idea," she said. "It was just one of those things that I found out as time went on. As I was training I kept getting stronger and stronger and my coach Steve Rayborn was like, 'Hey, we might have something here.' It was definitely something that came by surprise."
Four days a week, Kenzie trains for three or four hours. She is a student at Boise State University, where she aspires to earn a teaching credential in history. Although she still lives within walking distance of her family's home, Kenzie recently moved out and is enjoying the experience of attending the Nampa 31st Young Single Adult Ward.
"I was really nervous at first about going to the singles ward — it was just kind of intimidating," she said. "But now I love it. It's a lot of fun. Everybody's really nice there; they're really welcoming and I've made a lot of new friends."
For Kenzie, the gospel takes precedence over powerlifting. She is prepared to stop competing in the sport she excels at when she gets married in order to have children, and if she's not married by the time she turns 22 she'll put powerlifting on hiatus to serve a full-time mission.
"Kenzie's got a great spirit," Sister Killingbeck said. "She's very strong in the Church. When I've had tough times, she's always [said], 'Come on, Mom, let's say a prayer' or 'Come on, Mom, let's go to sacrament meeting.' She's just a very strong-spirited young woman."