Two years after finding the sport, Alysan Casey sets two records on the world stage and discovers an equally powerful inner strength along the way

Story & Photography by Mackenzie Reiss

Just by looking at her, you probably wouldn’t guess that 22-year-old Alysan Casey is a world-record holding powerlifter.

For one, she stands about 5 feet tall and weighs no more than 120 pounds. On the surface, she isn’t what you’d call intimidating. But make no mistake — Casey is a powerhouse.

The Bigfork local made it to the world stage just two years after discovering the sport. In fact, the 2018 International Powerlifting League Drug Tested World Championships was only her second competition. And she did it all on a vegan diet.

So how did her impressive rise to the top begin?

Begrudgingly — at least at first.

World record-holding powerlifter Alysan Casey is pictured at Fuel Fitness in Kalispell Inn

Back in 2016, Casey had her sights set on an entirely different stage — body building. The former high school soccer star had put on 40 pounds since she stopped playing and was determined to fast track her weight loss by setting an improbable goal: compete in Missoula’s Big Sky Championship, just four months away.

“I thought, ‘You know what, I’m going to do something out of my comfort zone … something I commit to and can’t back out of,’” Casey said of the competition. “It was my New Year’s resolution and I stuck to it.”

Casey cut out processed foods, began a rigorous workout schedule and never gave up. When showtime came, however, she took dead last. While she was proud of herself for making it through competition day, that last place finish didn’t sit well with her.

She decided to do another show and reached out to trainer and Beast Athletes owner Donny Tudahl for help. Her goal was to put on more muscle, but Tudahl saw something else in her. The veteran lifter encouraged Casey to give powerlifting a try. She resisted at first, but eventually gave in.

“Honestly, I didn’t want to do it,” she said. “(But) I tried it out and really fell in love with being strong.”

Powerlifting consists of three lifts: the back squat, deadlift and bench press, and competitors are divided into weight classes and age groups. In the powerlifting world, strength is relative to size. Deadlifting your body weight, for example, is a fairly standard accomplishment. Twice your weight? We’re getting there. Three times your weight? Now we’re talking.

“When we started to figure out my numbers, we realized that for my body weight I was pretty strong,” she said.

As Casey became physically stronger, she also noticed changes taking place outside the gym.

“People started acknowledging me as a human being,” she said. “People would smile at me walking by. That’s when I noticed the way I was carrying myself was different. I was strong and I felt strong.”

As she dove deeper into the world of fitness, Casey also began focusing on what she put into her body and learned more about the food industry.

“There are some horrible things that happen to the animals,” she said. “For me, it was such an eye opener.”

So much so that Casey decided to go vegan, eschewing any kind of animal product, from eggs and cheese to fish and steak. That decision made her an anomaly in the weight room, but for her the benefits outweighed the gentle chiding she incurred from her fellow lifters.

“At first Donny was like, ‘You’d be stronger if you were eating meat,’ and I was like, ‘No, I’m going to prove you wrong.’ And I did,” Casey said. “It makes me feel special in a way. It makes me feel that I have something that I contribute that’s unique.”

It took extra effort, but by paying attention to her diet and expanding her palate, Casey was able to get the protein she needed to continue gaining strength and muscle.

Alysan Casey performs a set of dumbbell bench presses at Fuel Fitness in Kalispell

“I think it is a big misconception that vegans are deficient. You have to pay attention, but if you pay attention it’s not hard,” she said. “It really forced me to go out of my comfort zone and try new things like chickpeas and bean chips and other ways of getting extra protein in.”

In the meantime, her numbers continued to grow. She added over 100 pounds to her back squat and nearly doubled her bench press. She and Tudahl began an intense program that involved lifting heavy, often. The question morphed from, “Is she any good?” to, “How far can she go?”

“I saw the weight loss she achieved by sheer determination and knew I could take that stubbornness and give it direction,” Tudahl said. “She came in every day and pushed to whatever limit I asked her to. It was truly impressive to see what she was able to do with the coaching she received. She’s a hard worker who will achieve whatever she allows herself to.”

Casey competed at her first powerlifting meet in the summer of 2018 and hit numbers that qualified her for worlds. That November, she flew to Vegas for the 2018 IPL World Championships.

This was far from her hometown meet. This was the big leagues. This was where the best lifters in the world came to win. And Casey was among them.

But her journey wouldn’t be easy.

In preparation for Worlds, she had added 10 more pounds than her weight class allowed. She had to cut water weight, and fast, or risk missing the competition altogether.

“The whole day before, I was in and out of the hot tub. I was so irritated. I was hungry. I was hot,” Casey said. “I went from 124 to 114 in a day.”

There were tears. There were moments she didn’t think she’d make it.

Then came a message from fellow lifter Taylor Reed.

“He’s like, ‘Get your (act) together. It’s two days. People go weeks without food and water,’” she said. “Basically, he just put it in perspective. I needed to hear it. If you want to be a world champion, this is what you need to do.”

Although Casey made weight, her body wasn’t in peak condition come competition time.

Casey demonstrates her deadlift form at Fuel Fitness.

“Even then, throughout the competition, I was so dehydrated,” she said. “My lips were chapped. I was cramping. It was crazy.”

But when it came time to take the platform, Casey focused all of her energies on the task at hand. It was Casey and the bar. The iron didn’t care how she felt, what she looked like, where she came from. All that mattered was this: Could she move the weight or not?

And, boy, could she.

Casey squatted 248 pounds, benched 121.2 pounds and deadlifted 325.1 pounds. Her deadlift alone was a staggering 52 pounds over the previous world record for her weight class, while her total of 694.5 bested the old record by 32 pounds.

She also took first place in the junior’s division for her weight class and second in her weight class across all age groups, cementing her seat at the top.

“Being part of a small community is really humbling,” Casey said. “I guess I never realized how strong I really was until we went down there.”

Her experience at Worlds was about more than setting records and beating others.

“I’d never seen any other girls my age or size lift. It was really, really cool to see how many other women were there,” she said. “My immediate response wasn’t to be intimidated … my immediate response was, ‘Wow, that’s inspirational. All these girls are strong.’”

Since the competition, Casey has taken a step back from the sport to focus on other aspects of her life. You might find her walking her dogs in Bigfork, reading poetry or spending time with her dad, when she’s not at work as a consultant for 406 Nutrition in Kalispell.

“I don’t know where you go from Worlds,” she said with a smile.

Wherever her next journey takes her, Casey will go with the confidence she earned on the platform and the strength she’s developed — both inside and out.