It was a sad day when the last train rolled through Livingston, Montana, in 1985. The Northern Pacific Railroad had pretty much built the entire town to its liking back in the early 1880s. A hundred years later, the railroad industry was on its heels, closing the repair yards, shrinking the local workforce, and sending the tiny, windswept town of Livingston into a decade-long funk.
The town, and its schools, might still be in that funk today were it not for tourism, the savior of so many once-fading rural towns. But even as the town rose from its ashes, the students of Livingston's lone high school, Park High, have battled against an inferiority complex. Why? Part of it was likely due to generational poverty and substance abuse in the community that remained after the railroad left. As the town's residents are all too aware, Livingston is the seat of the county with the highest suicide rate in Montana—the state with the nation's highest rate.
"We've been fighting a second-class mentality for a long time," says the school's strength coach, Ben Hahn.
The school's training facility reflected this fact. While the rest of Park High had been completely renovated, the weight room was still stuck in the 90s, or earlier.
The one part of the school designed to help students grow healthy and strong was old and decrepit—exercise bikes with no pedals, cracked weight plates, loose bolts on the weight machines.
It was time for someone to invest in these students, their health, and their potential. The Lift Life Foundation, a non-profit organization powered by Bodybuilding.com, did just that.
The Strength to Transform
In 2017, Park High became one of many high schools across the United States competing for a Lift Life weight room makeover. Lift Life looks for schools that stand out from the rest because of the benefit a new gym would bring to the community. In recent years, the foundation engineered renovations of gyms in Firth, Idaho; Knoxville, Tennessee; and Anderson, Indiana.
For Park High, the benefit would be to help students take pride in their school, in their athletic programs, and in their lives. Park High won the prize, and the renovation began.
Within a matter of weeks, the Lift Life crew and its partners, including Arsenal Strength of Knoxville, Tennessee, had designed a new weight room, torn down a wall, replaced lighting, and brought in and installed hundreds of thousands of pounds of strength training equipment. The walls and the weights were festooned with the school's name and the image of its mascot, the Ranger, and a gold ribbon was stretched across the closed door to the gym.
When the "reveal" day came in October and Park High administrators, teachers, coaches, and students streamed into the new space, what they saw caused mouths to gape and tears to fall. This was a place that would make any Livingstonian proud.
The project sent a loud and clear message to the student body that their town believed in them. They had control over their health, their strength, and their future.