After serious spine surgery, North Tonawanda man pursues his passion for powerlifting

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(WIVB) – North Tonawanda resident Travis Barke loves powerlifting.

His personal bests are 365 lbs. benching, 545 lbs. deadlift, and 440 lbs. squatting.

“I’m passionate about it- I can’t imagine my life without it,” Barke said. “My first competition was when I was 12 years old.”

From watching his lifting videos, you probably wouldn’t guess that there was a time when Barke didn’t know if he’d be able to lift weights again.

He was diagnosed with scoliosis in elementary school “during a routine check”, Barke said.

By the time he was 18, the pediatrician he was seeing said that he wouldn’t need surgery.

However, he kept having pain while he was studying for a criminal justice degree.

He went back for x-rays- and doctors discovered that his spine was bent at 58 degrees.

“You see the x-ray, and it’s like an “S”,” Barke recalled. “He said it would eventually cut into my lung.”

Barke, then 20 in 2012, underwent an eight-hour surgery to fix his spine.

Afterward, he needed help with everything.

“They had to logroll me into bed for six months,” Barke said. “I couldn’t lay down normally, take showers or go to the bathroom by myself- I needed help doing everything which was horrible because I went from doing all these sports to not being able to do anything.”

Barke, who was hoping to become a corrections officer, was recommended to get a desk job.

“They said “you’ll never lift to the extent that you did before”,” Barke said.

A year after the surgery, when Barke’s doctor checked his spine, Barke asked if he could start lifting again.

“He said, ‘go slow’,” Barke said.

At first, even lifting the bar hurt.

“I was so stiff from not moving,” Barke said. “I thought I’d never lift heavy again because everything was hurting, but I slowly progressed, adding five pounds each week.”

He’s since participated in powerlifting competitions and works in maintenance.

He also got his personal training certificate from NCCC, and plans to start training clients after the pandemic-especially people who find themselves in similar situations.

“I would say wait until you’re fully recovered and listen to your body,” Barke said. “Nobody knows it better than you- people will speak when they’ve never done anything athletic- don’t let them write your obituary for you.”

Kaley Lynch is a digital reporter who has been part of the News 4 team since 2017. See more of her work here.

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