FREEPORT, Ill. — When you've already won 96 world titles and set 117 world records, what keeps you motivated?
Duane Burlingame, a powerlifter from Freeport, says it's simple. You just keep going because working hard is an investment in your health.
"The trophies I have now don't really mean anything to me because they're past experience," he said. "I just want to keep doing the best I can for as long as I can."
Burlingame, 59, has competed in drug-tested weightlifting events all over the United States since 1998, and he's not accustomed to losing. Aside from his world titles, he's captured 28 world cups, 56 national titles and 72 regional titles. In the process, he's also set 139 national and 152 state records.
And he's not just lifting for himself. Burlingame started a program called "Lift For Life" where he asks people to pledge a certain amount for each pound he lifts or record he sets. So far, he said he's raised and donated about $10,000 to St. Jude's Children's Hospital and The American Cancer Society and for Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, or SIDS, research.
The charities are close to his heart. Burlingame lost his mother to cancer and his first son to SIDS. Just eight months after losing his son, Burlingame's girlfriend and two friends died in a one-vehicle accident. He said his heartache was sending him down the wrong path, living a partying lifestyle. It was not until his friend convinced him to attend church that his life began to turn around, he said.
"I found what you would call faith," he said. "I just felt a huge weight lift off my shoulders. I can't explain it."
Burlingame has taken his life story and used it to show others that you can always get through whatever is troubling you. He's taken his message to local churches and schools.
"It's easy to do," he said. "It's easy to fall down, and it's easy to become a statistic when you go through some of those dark times. What I try to remind people is when you have a storm, the light always comes through."
Besides training for his own events, he's also helping others achieve their dreams. He works full-time as a personal trainer, coaching a small group of clients who range in age from 15 to 73. He trains people in his home gym, which he said has cost him about $90,000 factoring in everything from remodeling the basement to buying new workout equipment. Burlingame said his clients can feel more comfortable working out in his gym, since there is no one else there besides himself and his 7-year-old Yorkie.
Ethan Gift, 15, has been training with Burlingame for the past two months to get stronger for football, cheerleading and track at Lena-Winslow High School. He said learning the proper techniques and receiving encouragement has already helped him grow as an athlete. He said Burlingame treats him more as a friend than a client.
"We usually talk about whatever is going on in our lives, but I'm still lifting weights," he said.
Burlingame said that training others gives him almost the same sense of accomplishment as setting a new record.
"It's hugely rewarding because I take it personally," he said. "I care about people, and their goals are my goals."