Meet Lillii Armstrong: East Jordan teenage, weightlifting record breaker.
By Al Parker | Feb. 29, 2020
Without much fanfare or fuss, one of America's outstanding young athletes works out every day in a small no-frills fitness center in East Jordan.
Seventeen-year-old Lillii Armstrong is a weightlifter. But not any ol’ teenage weightlifter. The soft-spoken high school senior has a racked up an impressive record of achievements in state, national, and even international weightlifting competitions.
More astonishing yet: She took up the sport only three years ago.
Already, since her freshman year in high school, Armstrong has posted 25 first place finishes and broken several records.
Perhaps the most surprising discovery to make about this exceptional athlete is that she is the last one you’ll hear bragging — or even talking about — her mental and physical toughness or the determination it takes to liberate ever-increasing pounds of iron from gravity.
“I don't feel anything special when I'm competing. I just go out there and do my thing,” she said. “You don't say you can't do something. You just don't stop.”
STATE OF MIND
'Doing her thing' included being named a state champion for three straight years, shattering eight lifting records in three different weight divisions, and being recognized as a national champion in 2018 by USA Powerlifting. In 2019, Armstrong set two state records and two national marks lifting during Natural Athlete Strength Association (NASA) events.
Ironically, much of that success came after East Jordan High School had dropped their weightlifting program following Armstrong’s freshman year. Tom Outman, owner of Jordan Valley Fitness, stepped up and started coaching her, and he has been instrumental in her success.
“I couldn't have done it without my coach Tom Outman,” Armstrong wrote on her Facebook page. “He has been my back bone and has pushed me to become the lifter and person I am today. He has always been there for me.”
Armstrong's personal records are 176 pounds in bench press, 285 pounds in squats, and 385 pounds in deadlift. She'd like to boost those to her goals: 200 in bench press, 300 in squats, and 400 in dead lift. While her weight has fluctuated from 204 down to 170 over the years, she's most comfortable competing in the 180–185 pound class.
“She's a perfectionist when it comes to certain things,” said her mother, Patsy Armstrong. “But she doesn't really compete against others, she competes against herself.”
Last May, Armstrong placed 3rd in the International Powerlifting Federation World Women's Classic Bench Press Championships in Japan. She will be going to Pilsen in the Czech Republic to represent the United States in this year's event in May.
Before that, in March, she'll go to Killeen ,Texas for an event that attracts the best high school lifters in the nation. Then comes the trip to the Czech Republic in early May, followed by her graduation from East Jordan High School later in May.
Then in June, Armstrong has been invited to Minsk, Belarus, again representing the U.S.
All of that traveling puts a financial strain on the members of “Team Armstrong,” made up of her mother, Patsy Armstrong, aunt Mickey Hoffman, and Outman. No one on the team is wealthy. Patsy works at Burnette Foods, running a cooker and helping with quality technology. Hoffman is a self-employed horse trainer. To help offset all these traveling expenses, a Go Fund Me account (www.gofundme.com/f/national-to-worlds) has been set up.
EARLY SIGNS OF PROMISE
Even as a toddler, Armstrong has always been an athletic dynamo and full of energy and creativity.
“She's my little force of nature,” said Hoffman. “She's always been exceptional. She was climbing rock walls all the way to the top when she was 3 or 4, just flying to the top. It was amazing. She drew a crowd watching her.”
Growing up, Armstrong tried basketball, loved soccer, and really wanted to play football, but settled easily into weightlifting, she said: “One day I walked into the gym and found out, 'Hey, I'm pretty good at this.’”
Her instinct was correct. In her very first weight lighting meet, she took first place. That win kicked off a string of impressive efforts that fuel her to this day.
But, Armstrong admits, she's paid a price for her success. Although she’s only 17, a string of physical injuries has plagued her, including knee and shoulder problems, plus a torn bicep tendon.
In addition to her physical pain and injuries, Lillii suffered through a period of bullying from others. It might be hard to believe that someone would bully a weightlifting champ, but like anybody who defies convention, Lillii endured a lot of criticism from others.
Armstrong handled it, said family members, and as you might expect from someone with her strength of mind, now spends significant time and effort encouraging others who suffer from bullying.
“I like to tell people they don't have to be abnormal to stand out,” said Lillii. “I'm a normal person. Treat me bad, and you'll lose my respect. Respect is a big thing in my family.”
BEYOND THE BARBELLS
When she's not lifting weights, Armstrong said she likes to spend time honing her juggling skills. She often performs with northern Michigan performer, Tommy Tropic.
“Lillii is an outstanding example of how hard work and determination will pay off,” said Matt Stevenson, Superintendent of East Jordan Public Schools. “ Whenever she has put her mind to something, she has succeeded. Whether this be in her classes, learning how to juggle, or just being a great person. Lillii has always put her all into it. She is a great asset to our student body and sets a wonderful example of what East Jordan PRIDE is all about.”
With high school graduation looming, Armstrong is on the radar of several colleges and has already received one offer of a full-ride scholarship from a Florida school.
But she has a different career path in mind, according to her mother.
“She want to become a welder,” said Patsy Armstrong. “She took three years of it in high school and just loves it.”
But weightlifting will always be a big part of her life.
“You can do powerlifting for all your life,” said Lilli. “I know there are people over 80 years old, and they're still lifting.”