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Pembroke man puts muscle into boys fight against cancer
Joseph Walraven of Pembroke practices powerlifting recently. He began lifting weights for his health but will compete in March to help raise funds for a 5-year-old leukemia patient in Minnesota, Isaac Yarmon.

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• Search “Tough Like Ike” on Facebook

Joseph Walraven got into powerlifting because he wanted to get in shape, but it’s become a way he can help someone else get well.
“I originally started lifting when I saw pictures of me when my daughter was born and I was started to look like Dad,” Walraven said. “He had a lot of health problems and died when I was young — it was Christmas break of my freshmen year of college when he passed away. I was 19. When I saw those photos, I saw the direction I was headed in and decided I had to do something about it.”
Now 32, Walraven, will compete March 28 in Minnesota as part of Relentless, a powerlifting event aimed at raising funds to help provide hope to kids fighting life-threatening illnesses.
He has been partnered on Team Hope with Isaac Yarmon, 5, who in May was diagnosed with leukemia and is being treated in Minnesota.
So far, Walraven has raised a little more than $1,200 toward his goal of $3,000 in honor of Yarmon, who goes by the nickname “Ike” and has both a website,, and Facebook page, “Tough Like Ike.”
A Jan. 8 status update on the Tough Like Ike page begins
“Today we start the next phase of Ike’s treatment, the maintenance phase. Ike will have a spinal tap and chemo this morning and then for the next 2.5 years will be on a daily oral chemo pill, weekly oral chemo and a spinal tap every 3 months.”
That’s some routine for a 5-year-old.
For Walraven — who with his wife, Tiffany, has two girls, Madelyn, 5, and Lily, 1 — the thought that a child the same age as his oldest daughter was so sick made him jump at the chance to take part in Relentless.
So did the fact his children were born after what Walraven called “high-risk pregnancies.”
“We were going from the lowest of lows and expecting the worst to there being nothing wrong with them,” he said. “So I could easily be in the same position they are — having to deal with a child that’s sick.
“And I don’t mean to slight anyone who has a sick child, because there’s every reason in the world I should be in the same position and I’m fortunate not to be there. And because of that, the opportunity to give back to these families and to help ease the burden of what they’re dealing with a little bit, that’s a big thing to me.”
Ike’s prognosis is good, Walraven said, noting he’s been in communication with the boy’s parents as he spends time getting to the know family as part of Team Hope.
“Ike’s my partner in everything I do,” Walraven said.

Moving to competition
Walraven got into powerlifting through the urging of friend Ronnie Williams.
“If there’s anyone to blame for it, it was him,” Walraven said.
He’s been training seriously for roughly five years — and he’s so serious about it he actually sold his pickup in 2007 to buy gym equipment so he could train at his Pembroke home. But he only began competing in 2013.
“This whole thing has evolved,” he said. “I’ve gone from trying to get into shape because I was not healthy into this becoming a part of who I am, a part of my life. I manage my time better, especially when I’m away from work.”
It also has translated into athletic success. Walraven is becoming one of the state’s top powerlifters in his division and in October finished second in the 220-pound men’s open class at the United States Powerlifting Association southeast regional championships in Lithia Springs.
There, Walraven lifted a total of 1,482 pounds — not bad for a man who stands 5-foot-7 and weighs around 215 pounds. So far, Walraven’s best lifts are a squat of 501 pounds, a 401-pound bench press and he’s dead lifted 578 pounds.
There’s something about seeing those numbers increase that appeals to Walraven’s sense of order.
“I like the sport because you can track your progress,” he said. “Three years ago to get 500 pounds up I was using wrist straps and a strap around the bar and I could barely do it,” Walraven said. “Now I can do 8-10 reps, barehanded.”

Faith plays a part
Walraven is active in his church, East Main Street Church of God in Statesboro, and talks openly of his faith and how he’s found more time to devote to his church, his family and others through powerlifting.
“It’s not about lifting weights, it’s about the changes it’s made in me,” Walraven said. “I never thought I’d be having phone conversations with a 5-year-old kid 2,000 miles away. But to watch that happen first hand, and knowing what these children — not just Ike, but all these other kids — are going through, and knowing we’ll put a smile on their face through what we’re doing is like nothing I’ve ever experienced.”
In fact, Walraven said he’s getting more than he’s giving.
“I’ve always been pretty active in things, from 4-H all through school to being in the fire department and being active in my church. But this has taken all that a step further. It’s affecting my family, my friends and even people who will never meet any of us,” he said.
“There are people who’ve donated who don’t know anything about us other than what we’re trying to do. They’re willing to give based on the fact we’re willing to try. And that’s a huge thing, it really is.”
There was a day in Harveys Supermarket when Walraven, who will be one of 100 powerlifters participating in Relentless, was talking to a friend about the event when someone he didn’t know overheard the conversation and made a donation.
Others have donated online, and his family also has had their airfare to the event donated so they can attend the event.
“Just out of the blue,” Walraven said. “This is more than lifting weights, it’s more than making money. It’s about all these people coming together to do something amazing.”

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