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Florida veteran sets weightlifting records

By JENNIFER EDWARDS-PARK | The News-Journal, Daytona Beach, Fla. | Published: November 28, 2016

PALM COAST, Fla. (Tribune News Service) — Shawn Roop holds a master's degree, was an associate professor at a community college, served as an Army officer in Iraq, and rose to the rank of captain with the Floyd County (Kentucky) Sheriff's Department.

The Palm Coast resident also spent more than two decades in military service, served back-to-back tours in Iraq, and returned with debilitating conditions that claimed his career and marriage — but also gave him new gifts.

Roop, 46, has set four national weightlifting records this year, and he's gunning for world records next year. In an odd way, it's at least partially due to the enduring trauma and pain of his military tours.

"When someone has [post traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injury], they can get in phenomenal physical shape," Roop said. "[After the pain they've experienced], they can push themselves to a limit other people can't ..."

Roop said his first tour in Iraq was in 2004, providing security for convoys. "I was involved with [improvised explosive devices], small arms fire, engaged about 140 times," mainly by IEDs, he said.

After a short break, Roop said he served a second tour in the notorious and now-closed Abu Ghraib prison, 20 miles west of Baghdad. He finished that tour in 2006.

He said he returned home with PTSD and TBI. After that, he felt his condition was a liability to his law enforcement career.

"It isn't what you do or don't do (as a police officer)," he said, "it's what a lawyer and a court can turn it into."

In all, Roop said he spent seven years on active duty in the Army, five years on active Army reserve, and 10 years with the Army National Guard. Because he was injured in action, he said he was able to retire as an active duty Army captain and draw a better pension.

A NEW LIFE

Roop moved to Palm Coast three years ago with his son, Karson, now 14, and started a new life. He also has a daughter, Storm, 24, and 3-year-old granddaughter, Aubree, who live in Kentucky.

Karson is a freshman at Matanzas High School. Of his son, Roop almost gets teary as he says, "He has helped me tremendously. He has been as helpful to me as I have been raising him."

That's pretty moving to hear from a guy who can jerk around 650 pounds at a time.

Karson speaks lovingly of his dad, too, saying, "He’s kind and smart. Yeah. He will help anyone if they needed a hand.”

He said he and his dad live in the C-section with their Shih Tzu, JoJo. Karson plans to join his dad in the gym and try weightlifting, too.

“I’m going to start getting into it with him soon," he said. "It’s just something we can do together."

The elder Roop wasn't expecting to break records when he started lifting. After a long break, Roop said he started weightlifting again two years ago. His muscle development makes his tattoos hard to miss. One is of his Floyd County sheriff's badge. Two are Bible verses, but he has trouble remembering them: Philippians 2:10-11 and Ephesians 6:12.

"I re-learn them, but forget them again," Roop said. "After I came back from Iraq the second time, I went on a tattoo phase."

Roop said the collected impact of concussions from the explosions have permanently affected his memory, conversation and attention span. But when he's in the gym, bench pressing more than 430 pounds, he forgets about the forgetting, the anxiety, the past.

In fact, all that becomes an advantage.

Karson Roop said weightlifting helps his dad. He was too young to remember the time before his father went to Iraq or to gauge how the tours changed him, but says he knows his father "does have trouble with [PTSD/TBI]."

Weightlifting, the younger Roop said, "has helped him a lot."

"It gives him something to do and it puts him in a better mood to get out there and do something," Karson said.

WEIGHTY MEASURES

Shawn Roop is at the gym for two hours most days of the week, working out a single body part. When he's not working out, he's still working on his strength.

"Your nutrition and eating is by far the biggest part," he said. He said most people wouldn't want his regimen. "I eat every two hours. You have to force-feed yourself."

Don Fields, owner of Pro Fitness in Prestonsburg, Kentucky, taught Roop the proper way to lift when he was in his 20s and is back on his side, advising him through Facebook on his routines and eating.

"He is one of the strongest people, pound for pound, that I’ve ever known," Fields said. "We saw his potential pretty quick."

The main difference between Roop in his 20s and Roop now is he's a bit more relaxed now," Fields said.

"He’s been through a lot with his police and military service," he said. "He’s retired now and he doesn’t have to do anything but worry about his health.”

It probably would be impossible for Roop to break national records if he was working a job or two; the regimen is just too demanding.

Roop recalls a chance meeting he and a friend had with former Kentucky head football coach Joker Phillips, now working as a coach with Ohio State, six years ago on a golf course. The two friends realized Phillips was in phenomenal shape.

"I said, 'What else does he have to do all day?'" other than work out, Roop said.

So, when it came his turn to leave the workaday world he said, "I'm retiring soon. What else do I have to do all day?"

The answer: Prepare for the American Powerlifting Federation nationals May 17 in Orlando, where he can compete for world records.

"I want to break more," he said with a smile.

©2016 The News-Journal, Daytona Beach, Fla.
Visit The News-Journal, Daytona Beach, Fla. at www.news-journalonline.com
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