---- — By Anthony Mitchell
For The Daily Item
HARRISBURG -- In front of some of the top weightlifters in the country, Tyler Hazlett validated the many hours he had spent in the gym training for a few minutes of action.
Hazlett was always interested in power lifting but only recently put his skills to use in competition
The State Games of America, held recently in the Harrisburg-Hershey area, gave the Southern Columbia High School paraprofessional an opportunity to compete against some of the top athletes in the nation.
It's safe to say that he made a wise decision.
A former competitive runner, Hazlett lifted weights for the right to lift the bronze medal around his neck at the State Games. Competing in the superheavyweight open raw division, meaning he completed his lifts without the use of a lifting belt or a shirt during his bench press, Hazlett hoisted a combined 705 pounds in the bench press and dead lift.
Hazlett acknowledged that he was happy to have received his medal but deflected praise onto some of his competitors who continue to love the sport at a later age.
"I was very proud during the competition," Hazlett said. "I was very proud to stand by men who are 75 and 81. Those deadlifts are very, very hard for someone in their age group to even lift. They did an exceptional job and worked hard during the competition."
Prior to the State Games, Hazlett won a silver medal at 2011 Keystone Games lifting in the 275-pound male open raw division.
For the 38-year old Berwick resident, 2013 was not the first time being introduced at the State Games of America, although it was his first time for weightlifting.
In 2001 in St. Louis, Mo., Hazlett competed in the 5K road race event, taking second place. Two years later in Hartford, Conn., Hazlett paced the field in the 5K, taking home a gold medal. However, an illness curtailed Hazlett's success in road racing and resulted in his devoting more of his time to lifting.
"I developed a respiratory infection that sidelined my racing," Hazlett said. "I decided to continue in the State Games in powerlifting."
After traveling across state lines to race in his previous two tries, Hazlett was able to stay close to home this year with the State Games being held on the East Coast for the second time.
"(The competition) had more meaning," Hazlett said referring to the location being in Pennsylvania. "That was home field. Like in football, you want to win at home. Winning on the road is nice but winning at home is even sweeter."
The reference to football is fitting considering that Hazlett works at Southern Columbia, well-known to area fans as a football powerhouse.
A self-described 'job coach,' Hazlett works at the high school level in the life skills sector of the Special Education department, helping students to find jobs during high school to help them once the students leave Southern Columbia.
"I feel that I have given (the students) confidence in doing what they need to do so they don't have to think what's next in life," Hazlett said. "They have an opportunity to understand there is a future for them and they can get a job as soon as they graduate."
With the way that Hazlett has performed on a grand stage in weightlifting, it's possible that his students have returned the confidence to him.