DECATUR, Ill. (BVM) — Kholbe Leaks was a high school football star at Lutheran School Association (LSA) in Decatur, Ill. Initially, it looked like he would go on to play the sport in college as well. But after switching school commitments, he decided to become more serious with a new sport. And after seeing what he did late this summer, Leaks clearly has made the right decision.
The Decatur native played basketball and competed in track and field throughout his youth and high school athletic careers. Leaks also began playing football in 2005, and would play the sport up until he graduated high school in 2017.
Leaks would help turn the LSA football program around in his time there. As a freshman, Leaks described his team as “the laughingstock of their conference.” But by his junior year, the program qualified for the playoffs for the first time. The team would continue that success into Leaks’ senior season.
Personally, the 21-year-old was a force on the team’s defensive line, earning all-conference and all-county honors in each of his sophomore, junior and senior seasons. As a senior, Leaks was also invited to play in the Illinois High School Shrine Game.
During high school, Leaks committed to continue his football career at North Central College. He loved the campus, city, and coaching staff at North Central, but due to financial concerns, he decided not to attend, and instead began school at Millikin University.
His football career was over, but Leaks was still looking for something to help fill the void.
“I’m a very competitive person and I knew if I didn’t have something I was competing in in that competitive environment, I was not going to know what to do with my time,” Leaks said.
He began talking to coach Jerry Beach, who suggested Leaks start seriously competing in powerlifting — something he had done movements for during his high school career. Leaks decided to see where he could go in the sport, and his career has only taken off since.
As a powerlifter, Leaks has become a more confident person.
“Growing up, I didn’t have a lot of confidence compared to other kids,” Leaks said. “But when I first started getting really serious with powerlifting I gained this confidence I never had before. Every time I walk into the gym it comes back on and it honestly makes me feel like a different person. It’s a feeling that I don’t get from anything else or anywhere else.”
Leaks’ main motivation to keep working and get to a high level in his sport is his parents. The Millikin senior’s parents have an athletic background, as his mom has competed in several long distance races, while his dad frequently competes in CrossFit.
But one of Leaks’ greatest accomplishments over the past few years — in part due to powerlifting — has been being able to transform his body. Coming out of high school, Leaks weighed 280 pounds. But with watching what he eats, he has been able to get his weight down to a muscular 230 pounds.
“It might sound bad, but I did all of my research on YouTube,” Leaks said about working to get his weight down. “I followed a bunch of fitness people that gave me ideas and I had a macro calculator to count fats, carbs, and protein everyday. I weighed out every type of food I was eating and anything that went into my body. Going down from 280 to 230 was mind-blowing. Once you get your mind locked in, everything else is really easy.”
Leaks has competed in official powerlifting meets over the past couple years, realizing a natural talent in the sport right away. The 21-year-old has even set state records early on in his competitive career.
But it was this past month at the USPA Drug Tested National Championship held in Columbus, Ohio, where Leaks really made a name for himself. The competition features three different lifts: squat, deadlift, and bench press. Going into the event, Leaks’ main goal was to get a 1,600 pound total between all three lifts.
The powerlifter would end up achieving his lofty goal and then some with 352 pounds in the bench press, 589 pounds in the squat, and 672 pounds in the deadlift. Impressively, all three of these numbers were state records, and with his outstanding performance, Leaks went on to win the national championship.
It’s been a quick and impressive rise in the sport for Leaks, and he could not have been more proud once he knew he had won the national event.
“After my second attempt on deadlift, the founder of my powerlifting team came up and said, ‘hey buddy, congrats, you won nationals,’” Leaks said. “I was kind of shocked because I still had a lift left. My jaw dropped because I really didn’t expect that to happen at all. But, things happen for a reason and I’m super, super happy it did.
“I’m definitely happy about the state records as well. It’s something I’m really proud of and just shows that if you’re willing to go after it and work for it, it can be yours.”
To get to this championship level, Leaks has had to put in a lot of work. Of course, with his gym closed earlier this year due to COVID-19, Leaks had to find alternate ways to workout, often lifting in his friend’s basement. Over the summer, Leaks joined Hammer Strength and Fitness, a gym which he goes to at least four days a week.
While at Millikin, Leaks has majored in business management, specifically focusing on human resources. If Leaks does not end up working in a business setting someday, his dream job is to open up his own gym, aiming to train people in powerlifting and CrossFit.
But in the meantime, Leaks will continue with his rapidly emerging powerlifting career. He plans to take the rest of the year off outside of maybe competing in a CrossFit or Strongman competition. However, the work and training will not stop.
Over the long term, the 21-year-old hopes to accomplish a 2,000 pound total among all three lifts. He also hopes to begin training others within his sport.
In the short term — specifically next spring — Leaks plans on entering into another powerlifting competition. In powerlifting, there are no exemptions to the national competition, even if you are a past winner. The Millikin senior will again have to qualify the competition, but is confident he will do so.
Beyond that, Leaks hopes to qualify for the world championships next year in Europe as well. With the waves he is making in the sport already, it does not seem like that goal is too far off.
“I really have worlds on my mind right now,” Leaks said. “I know you have to take it step by step, but that would just be so awesome to do that and say I accomplished that.”