by M. Anthony Davis
In the summer of 2021, Mark Bryant was convinced by a small group of his friends to compete in the upcoming powerlifting world championships. He hadn’t been sure he wanted to compete again. Bryant’s mother, Mary Chambers, had recently become severely ill, which led him to realize that he had never had family support him while he competed. Bryant is not married, he never had any children, and his brother passed away years ago.
“I just want to emphasize to people how important family is,” Bryant says. “When you have people that support you, particularly your family, it brings a lot of strength to you. You gain a lot of strength just by that support alone. And it may seem obvious to some people, but it wasn’t obvious to me, because even though I had friends [support me while competing], it’s not the same as having family.”
The last time the Emerald caught up with two-time hall-of-fame powerlifter Mark Bryant, he had recently won his eighth powerlifting world championship, and he was still training and optimistic about continuing to compete at the highest levels of powerlifting, even as his 62nd birthday approached.
Even though his mother wasn’t able to attend the competition, Bryant competed in the American Athletic Union Powerlifting World Championships in Las Vegas last September, because his friends reminded him that this would be his 10th world championship title, a milestone very few powerlifters had ever reached.
On Sept. 24, 2021, in front of a crowd that included a handful of close friends, Bryant won another world championship for his age group and weight class. He thought back on his life’s journey: how he survived physical and emotional abuse from his stepfather, struggles with the education system and being forced into special education, a hip-replacement surgery, and being legally blind. Now, here he was, a 10-time world champion — or so he thought.
When Bryant returned to Seattle, his friends were eager to greet him. One wanted a photo of Bryant wearing all of his world championship medals. As Bryant put on all the old medals — which he jokingly points out are extremely heavy on his neck — he added the newest medal and realized he had miscounted. He didn’t have 10 medals. He had 11.
“I made a mistake,” Bryant says. “That was my 11th world championship. I didn’t know. I mean, that’s a milestone. That’s huge. It’s huge. Who’s gonna think they’re going to go and get  world championships?”
Even as Bryant was able to win more world championships than he could count, as he stood on the stage in Las Vegas, in front of the crowd, he was filled with loneliness.
“I just felt so empty, drained of energy, and alone,” Bryant recalls. “When I win, and I celebrate, I’m taking pictures and it’s a good, glorious day, but yet, she’s not there.” He was missing his mother. Before heading to Las Vegas to compete, Bryant called his mom on the phone. “She was excited,” Bryant says. “She wished me luck and asked me to call and let her know the moment it was over.”
Mary Chambers passed away in November 2021, two months after Bryant won the competition. Bryant went to Georgia to visit Chambers a few weeks prior. He stayed for a week, and he found out about her passing shortly after returning to Seattle.
Bryant, now 63, works at the Southeast Seattle Senior Center as a fitness trainer for seniors. He’s worked there for 18 years, and he now finds himself questioning whether he could have done more for his own mother.
“It’s not easy,” says Bryant. “I work with clients, and I’m telling them how to get over injuries and how to make things better, and I think, ‘Why couldn’t this happen with my mom? Why couldn’t I be there to do the same thing for her?’ I’m getting everyone else better, and that is a really tough thing to deal with on a daily basis.”
But Bryant has pushed through the emotional pain to continue his impactful work in the community where his presence has been a staple for decades. He has lived in the same apartment in Columbia City for all the years he has worked at the senior center. He has longtime clients, like Mary Anne and Larry Herrin, who he has trained for 26 years and considers part of his family.
“He’s so fun,” Mary Anne says of Bryant. “Not only does he tell you why he’s having you do something or what he expects a particular exercise to accomplish, but he’s just fun. You know, he’s always dancing around.” Mary Anne says she started training with Bryant in 1995 while working in finance in Seattle. She would often take business trips and had trouble lifting 50-pound luggage into overhead storage in airplanes. Bryant not only helped her gain enough strength to lift 50 pounds over her head, but also inspired her to continue her journey to be physically fit, and she still trains with Bryant now that she is in her 70s.
Bryant, even with his 11th medal and a long career, isn’t planning on retiring anytime soon. “I just love giving,” says Bryant. “That’s my main message. I love giving back to the community. I have a gift. A gift from God. And you can’t be stubborn with a gift. You have to share it.”
M. Anthony Davis (Mike Davis) is a local journalist covering arts, culture, and sports.
📸 Featured Image: Mark Bryant stands outside the Southeast Seattle Senior Center with his many weightlifting medals. (Photo: Susan Fried)
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