For just a few seconds, Nate McCoole allows adrenaline to take over.
Tucked inside the back corner of Powerhouse Gym on North Florida Avenue, his nice-guy demeanor momentarily is obscured by a couple of deep, forcefully exhaled breaths. After aggressively approaching a competition dead-lift bar bearing 545 pounds of weights, he lifts it – easily.
Seconds later the successful lift is followed by a booming thud and rattle as the weighted bar falls from his grip to the padded floor.
McCoole, a senior at Sunlake High School in Land O' Lakes, is unique. He's a kid who has rewritten national lifting record books as well as ascended to the rank of Eagle Scout, the highest rank in the Boy Scouts of America.
The Lutz teen's accomplishments don't surprise his mother, Laura McCoole.
"Honestly, yes, I did always think that about him," Laura McCoole said of seeing her eldest child achieve his goals. "Even from a very early age, there was something about him that was different from his peers."
Nate McCoole and his father, Michael McCoole, began Nate's scouting career in Cub Scouts. As years passed and his accomplishments piled up, McCoole, now 17, moved on to Boy Scouts.
Then came cancer.
Stricken with a form of sarcoma called GIST — gastrointestinal stromal tumor — which attacks the digestive system, Michael McCoole fought for several years before succumbing to the illness.
Nate was 11 years old when his father died. His sister, Micah, was 9. Before he died, Michael McCoole encouraged his family and friends to keep Nate involved in scouting.
Nate McCoole stuck with the program until he reached high school, when the rigors of academics and football pulled him away from the organization for about two years.
The only thing he lacked to attain the rank of Eagle was a community project required of all Eagle candidates. After some contemplation – and urging from his mother – he jumped back in.
"One of the things he [Michael McCoole] told me before he passed was he wanted me to fulfill that rank of Eagle," McCoole said. "That's one of the main reasons I decided to go back.
"Looking back, after a few years, I realized I needed to do this."
All requirements for the rank — 21 merit badges and the community project — must be completed before a scout turns 18.
McCoole's project took place late last year at Maniscalco Elementary School in Lutz, where his mother is a fifth-grade teacher. He and a group of family and friends refurbished a playground used by students with disabilities.
"He's a very responsible kid; a very polite kid," Troop 212 Scoutmaster Mark Rose said. "He's a great kid. He's good with the younger scouts. A good role model. He's the kind of kid you'd want on your team."
Rose met McCoole as a fresh-faced Cub Scout attached to Pack 212.
The skills and mindset McCoole developed as a scout – some, for example, learned while biking 50 miles; others while fending for himself alone in woods overnight — have fed his passion for power-lifting.
McCoole, who is 6 feet tall and weighs 315 pounds, set a national age group record by bench pressing 320 pounds as a 14-year-old. The next year he set national records for the bench press — 395 pounds — and the dead lift — 540 pounds. As a 16-year-old, he put up a national record 1,707 pounds (540 assisted bench press; 556 dead lift; 611 squat) for his age group.
He hopes to set another record in a national competition in May in Baton Rouge, La. If he does as well as hoped, he should qualify for the world meet in Las Vegas.
"I was a scout, too, years and years and years ago," said Andrew Yerrakadu, a power lifter who has coached McCoole for the past year. "A lot of the qualities you look for in scouts and in scouting I think they bleed over into everything. Power lifting is one of these sports that require focus, dedication, a level of curiosity, being able to work with others, patience, resilience – these are all traits you emphasize in scouting.
"Even going back to the [Boy Scouts] motto, 'Be prepared,' that's what power lifting is, in essence."
No matter how many 45-pound plates he slaps on a bar, McCoole understands the heavy lifting has been done by more than one person in his life.
"My mom has been a huge part of my life and a huge inspiration to me and has really helped me and supported me throughout everything," said McCoole, who will attend the University of Central Florida next fall and power lift for the Knights. "She's never missed a competition; she really urged me through scouting and has had to play a hard role as a mother and father.
"I definitely owe a lot to her."