‘Donuts and deadlifts’: Father and daughter bonded in gym after dog attack


9-year-old Carissa Cooke said her favorite thing about powerlifting is that she likes to be “stronger than the boys”.

PENDLETON, Ind. – For the Cooke family, Sunday means two things: donuts and deadlifts

Robert Cooke and his daughter dedicate Sunday as a weekly father-daughter bonding time.

“It makes me happy and I love it,” said Carissa Cooke, 9. “I just love that we spend time together.”

First they grab donuts, then they go to the gym to do powerlifting.

Carissa said deadlifts are her favorite.

“Me too,” his father added. “And we’re both good at it.”

Carissa got into powerlifting at the age of eight.

“The first time I did it, I was little and I didn’t know what it was called, but I knew there was a bar that you could take and everything,” she said.

Her dad has been weight training since he was 18.

“So 32 years old,” Robert said.

He said that after leaving the military he stopped running and focused heavily on bodybuilding.

“I started competing around 29 or 28 (when I was 28),” said Robert.

He said going to the gym, in many ways, was like therapy.

“About a year ago she was like ‘hey, I want to go to the gym with you’ and I was like ‘okay!'” Robert said with a smile.

“As a dad and a bodybuilder and you’ve been lifting weights for thirty years as a kid, you’re like ‘I want to go to the gym’, that’s pretty cool,” Robert said.

Carissa said her favorite thing about powerlifting is that she likes to be “stronger than the boys.”

When Carissa started powerlifting last year, her workouts were more “sporadic, here, chest here, arms here,” said Robert.

But in October, Robert said a dog attack had become a turning point.

“We were at my mom’s house and the dog bit her head,” Robert said.

He says Carissa was bitten three times and had to have her head shaved.

Friends of the Cookes donated a wig and it made Carissa feel more comfortable leaving the house. After I got the wig “She said, ‘Daddy, can I go back to the gym?'”

Robert was delighted to see that his daughter wanted to start lifting again.

“I ran into Rocky (Tilson) while I was in the gym,” Robert said. “I said ‘hey, I heard you coach.”

Tilson is a well-known powerlifter who has coached children in the past.

Tilson did some exercises with Carissa and then agreed to coach her. Tilson said that while Carissa is clearly 8 and still loves being a kid when it comes to turning her on for a competition or during practices, she is fierce.

“At USPC, she owns them all (the records) now,” Robert said.

“She holds the deadlift record, she’s pulled over twice her body weight. She squats a little above her body weight. And puts about half of it on the benches,” Robert said.

As for weight, she lifts pounds, it’s “97.8 on the deadlift, about 45 on the squat and 22 on her bench,” said Robert..

Although Carissa is clearly a fierce competitor, she still knows how to have fun.

“I had her dolls here, literally take them to her dolls (to the gym), bring them to me and tell me about them, then set a world record three seconds later,” Tilson said.

Tilson said Carissa is also an orangutan hold wonder.

“Her hands are so small at nine that she can only put three fingers on the bar,” Tilson said.

“And with three fingers on the bar, she stands on a global level,” he added.

“Overall I have the world record right now, but I can’t get close to her,” Tilson said.

“I’m like a minute, she’s double me,” he said with wide eyes.

Being a badass is a family affair.

“Her mom is tough, she did roller derby for a while and speed skating. And then there’s me: ex-serviceman, bodybuilder, mountain games,” said Robert.

“She hangs out with a bunch of alphas,” Robert said with a smile.

He said that during a bodybuilding competition, he could hear his daughter screaming for him. “I usually go that way and then give him a little wave,” said Robert.

“She’s my little side kick,” he added.

“It’s just a great feeling that you have in your heart when your kid has the same hobby as you. And then she does it well. She set the first national record in the house, so I have had to run after her, “Robert said.

Carissa cherishes her tied to her father and described her saying “I love having a father”. She looked at him then, Robert smiling back at her.

“It’s just special,” she said, looking at him. Robert winked at his daughter.

“I love it,” Carissa said.


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