At 20, Para Powerlifter Christian Largo Eager To See Where He Stacks Up Among Senior Competition At Worlds

By Shawn Smith | July 13, 2019, 1:10 p.m. (ET)

With competition getting underway this weekend at the 2019 World Para Powerlifting Championships in Nur-Sultan, Kazakhstan, Team USA's Christian Largo will be hoping for a repeat of the success he had two years ago.

It's been a long road to get to this point though.

Largo was born with spina bifida, a spinal condition that caused him to be paralyzed from the waist down. He's had over a dozen surgeries, including several back operations, throughout his life.

None of that stopped Largo, who uses a wheelchair for mobility, from getting involved in athletics at an early age.

As a kid living in Virginia, Largo joined a nearby organization, Sportable, that offered opportunities to participate in various adaptive sports. He started playing power soccer — a variant designed for wheelchairs — at age 5 before trying several other sports, including wheelchair basketball, wheelchair tennis and, more recently, rowing.

When he was 13 years old, a friend from his wheelchair basketball team suggested he visit a nearby gym that worked with people who have spinal cord disabilities. Initially, it was a good way for Largo to work out and stay in shape, but after finding out about a local powerlifting competition, he decided to enter it on a whim and discovered that he had a talent for it.

A few years later, Largo officially worked his way onto the U.S. Para powerlifting team after meeting the minimum qualifying standard with one of his competition lifts. That eventually led to an invitation to compete at the 2017 World Para Powerlifting Championships in Mexico City, where Largo had his breakthrough.

Upon arriving at the world championships, Largo didn't really have any expectations. Because he was just 18 years old at the time, he was competing in the junior division. In the competition, Largo successfully completed a 128 kg. lift on one of his attempts — a lift which bested all but one of his peers and earned him a silver medal in the junior men's 65 kg. category.

"It was almost surreal," Largo said of earning silver, which was Team USA's only medal from that event. "It didn't feel real to me until it happened and I was holding the medal in my hand.

"It's one thing to see the competition on a screen or in an article, but to experience it and to rank up there with them, that's incredible. It didn't really register. It's still kind of not registering with me."

Now 20 years old, Largo is just days away from his first senior-level international competition. The step up in class brings a degree of uncertainty, but that's not dissimilar from the position he was in two years ago, and he's eager to find out where he stacks up.

"My goal for Kazakhstan is to just lift well, have fun, and rank," Largo said. "Now I'm a senior and the competition's going to be a lot tougher, and I'm kind of in that place that I was in Mexico. I have a much better idea of where I rank, but it's still going to be interesting to see."

Largo has continued to improve since the last world championships. At a competition last year, he successfully completed a 136 kg. lift. That stands as his best in-competition lift — for now, at least. He hopes to break that mark in Kazakhstan.

Bettering that lift amount will be paramount to one of Largo's biggest long-term goals: qualifying for the Paralympic Games Tokyo 2020. Eight athletes will qualify for the Games in each weight category, and Largo hopes to represent the U.S. in his division. Qualification will be based off the World Para Powerlifting Paralympic ranking list, with countries being limited to just one athlete per weight category.

First up, though, will be the world championships, followed by a trip to Peru next month for the Parapan American Games. After that, it's back to balancing training and competing with schoolwork.

Largo, a communications major, is heading into his junior year at Randolph-Macon College in Virginia, where he also serves as a manager for the men's basketball team.

As Largo begins his quest for a Paralympic appearance, he hopes to serve as an inspiration for more than what people see.

"I want people to be inspired by my actions and who I am," Largo said. "Not because of my disability. Not because they see me and say, 'Oh, he's in a wheelchair, good for him.' But because of the person I am and what I'm doing."

The 2019 World Para Powerlifting Championships are set to run from July 12-20, and Largo's 65 kg. category will compete on Monday, July 15.

Shawn Smith is a writer from Washington, D.C., who has covered three Olympic Games for NBC Sports. He is a freelance contributor to TeamUSA.org on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.