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New Jersey native still setting bench press records as he nears 80 years young

At 56 years old, John Mitsopoulos set the World Powerlifting Record in his age class with a 402.5-pound bench press lift in 2001. The record still stands.

Now at almost 80 – with a shoulder and hip replacement – Mitsopoulos is still setting records and so far, pretty healthy.

“I turn 80 in February and I’m looking forward to competing in this age group at the 198-pound weight class,” he said.

On Nov. 13, Mitsopoulos competed for the world record bench press in the 75-79 age class at the World National Powerlifting Championships, which was held at the Ramada Town Inn in Bordentown.

Pressing 235 pounds, Mitsopoulos met his goal.

He said he has always been a competitor.

“I love a challenge and weightlifting keeps me strong and healthy,” he said. “When I compete in the World Natural Powerlifting Federation (WNPF), the staff really knows how to get you pumped up.”

Mitsopoulos is a former Flemington resident, plus longtime mathematics teacher at Hillsborough High School and St. Joseph High School in Metuchen. He is also a professional magician.

Now living in Florida, Mitsopoulos hits the gym every day. He trains at the Fort Myers YMCA.

“I alternate between weightlifting and cardio and sometimes rest on Sunday,” he said. “The Monday before a competition, I bench semi heavy and try to lift what I expect to be my opening lift. This is a confidence booster. I bench press twice a week; one light day and one pretty heavy. On the days I don’t bench, I concentrate on back muscles, shoulders and triceps.”

It was his time at St. Joseph High School where Mitsopoulos met a young man who was training for a decathlon.

“He got me started lifting weights,” he said noting a decathlon competition involves the discus, shot put and pole vault. “I had to bulk up since I only weighed about 145 pounds. This was the beginning. I got hooked on the bench press because I was a natural. I was benching over 300 pounds after I left St. Joe’s to teach at Hillsborough.”

One day when he was working out at the YMCA in Flemington, the sports director asked Mitsopoulos if he was interested in competing in a powerlifting meet at that YMCA. At first, he said he was not interested.

Coming off a four-year track scholarship at St. John’s University in New York, Mitsopoulos said he wanted to rest and was not sure if he was interested in “competing” anymore.

“Well, the sports director begged me and said the meet is right here at the Y, close to home and we need people,” he said.

The rest is history and the beginning of Mitsopoulos’ powerlifting competitions.

During his first meet, Mitsopoulos beat “the second [place winner] in the Nationals competition,” which “inspired me to no end.”

Since then, Mitsopoulos has set numerous state, national and world records in various associations throughout the U.S., Canada, and Puerto Rico.

He was featured in Sports Illustrated “Faces In The Crowd” in the May 1, 1995 issue when he set a world record in the 50-54 age group.

When not at the gym or competing in powerlifting competitions, Mitsopoulos turns to his other passion – magic.

“I’ve dabbled in magic since I was 10 years old. As I got older, I started performing at birthday parties and now perform at many different venues with different themed magic shows,” he said.

“I ran a magic club at Hillsborough High School for 30 years and taught kids magic. Each year we put on a stage show in the spring and the kids competed for the Magician of the Year Award. Several of my students are still performing professionally and are doing quite well. Chappy Brazil went on to star in his own show in Las Vegas and George Galesky (Now George Gee) performs all over and became the president of the MAES (Magicians Alliance of Eastern States.) So proud of them!”

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