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Jessica is our 2016 Olympic Hopeful and Sarah is our 2012 Olympian in Weightlifting. We're setting out to be "Pretty Strong" and we encourage you to do the same.


Thursday, September 15, 2016

My Second Olympic Experience (part one)

     It's been a month since I competed at my second Olympic Games! What a crazy, interesting, self-discovering, beautiful ride it has been! I can't wait to tell you all about it! Since winning Bronze (more on that later) I blew up on social media! There are a lot of people that don't really know me or my story. I'll try to be brief!
     I'm originally from Desert Hot Springs, Ca and I moved to San Jacinto, Ca and graduated SJHS in 2006. I wasn't a very athletic kid. I didn't even pick up sports until I was in 8th grade. I was trying to earn an award called, "Husky Elite." You get a special shirt, a plaque in the locker room and get to lead the class in exercises. While trying to earn that, one of the PE teachers noticed I had athletic ability. He encouraged me to compete in Track and Field. This is where I discovered my love for and talent in Shot Put (and Discus later). I threw Shot Put and Discus in high school being SJHS's first and only State Champion and All-American. During my high school years, I competed locally in weightlifting and wanted to pursue it later for fun when my track career was over. I received two full-ride scholarships to the University of Alabama and Arizona State University.
     While red-shirted at ASU, I needed a place to lift and I found my old Coach, Joe Micela. I competed at a local meet, qualified for Junior Nationals and placed third. I was ranked 8th on the USA Junior World ranking list and was just shy of making the team. The girl ahead of me pulled off the team and I got to compete placing second at the Junior World Championships. I parted ways with ASU and Track and Field and Pursued Weightlifting full time.
     In my time as a weightlifter, I have made every international team I have tried out for. This includes: 1 Junior World Championship, 1 World University Championship, 4 Senior World Championships, 3 Pan American Championships and one Pan Am Games, 2 Olympic Test Events, 2 invitations to compete at the Russian President's Cup, and ultimately, 2 Olympic Teams. Whew! I hold two University National Records, and I'm pretty close to breaking the American/Pan American Records.
     In 2012, I qualified for my first Olympic Team and placed a respectable 7th lifting a couple of PRs and had a great time! After London, I was considering quitting. The pay was unfair, the rules were constantly changing, leadership was a constant change, and I wasn't sure it was something I wanted to be part of any more. My coach at the time and I talked about it and I said something like "If you do it, I'll do it." We were a good team and I knew that I had unfinished business in my career. He wanted to emphasize that we were only going to focus on ourselves and take care of us and not let the outside variable affect how we felt about weightlifting. He said, "It's you and me against the world, kid." So we shook hands and after some time off, we made our go for the 2016 quad.
     However, things got sticky in 2013 when I received a two year sanction. See "Addressing the consequences of a difficult decision" for more information. My relationship with my coach was broken and I was no longer allowed to train with the coach and team I loved dearly.
     Until I was eligible to compete again, I had to figure out what to do. I stayed with a friend who let me live with her family until I got on my feet. I worked at Macy's part time and started throwing hammer to stay in shape and feel competitive. For a while, I was driving my barbell around town doing one week free memberships at different gyms until I found a really friendly Crossfit gym to train in. I looked for a new coach and by the time February of '14 rolled around I was ready to head to Houston, TX! Things were looking up. I moved to Houston, worked a few jobs and trained. We did mock competitions and did our best to get in shape, stay in shape, and be ready to compete 8/8/15.
     When the time came, I was ready! I lifted big and was back on track. A little digging around on the internet and you'll see how this past year of competition was "shrouded in controversy" and all that jazz with me qualifying for competitions and getting back involved in the sport. My goal was to lift big weights, try to make the Olympic Team, and medal at the Olympic Games. Despite the hurdles placed in my way (some self-inflicted, yes) I managed to make my dreams come true!

On to the experience!!!

     After London, I remember people asking me how my experience was and what prepared me for the Olympic Games. I said, "Nothing prepares you for the Olympic Games but the Olympic Games." There really is nothing that compares to it. The caliber of lifting is like that at the World Championship level and the Pan American Games are set up like a miniature Olympics but, the Games have a unique, magical, feel to them. There are a lot of eyes on the Games and subsequently more pressure. Having competed in London, I felt so much more prepared and calm this time around.
    We got into Brasil a few days before Opening Ceremonies and stayed all the way through Closing Ceremonies. Given how I was feeling after travel (not very recovered) and my previous experience of walking in the Ceremonies, I decided it wasn't a good idea this time because I had legitimate medal potential. None of the team participated. I felt bad for those at home that were excited to see us. Oh well!
    Our living arrangement was pretty good. Sometimes rooming with other people, especially strangers, can be difficult. I had my own room while my teammates Jenny and Morgan shared a room. We also shared the apartment with three Judokas. Six women in a small apartment was a messy and fun experience. It was unfinished (which was expected) but, definitely livable for the short period of time we were there. Our rooms had air conditioning, the living room had bean bag chairs, 24/7 Olympic Coverage on the TV, a nice view from the porch, and we had a mini-fridge.
     The time leading up to the competition was spent resting, eating, and training. It's amazing how many naps were taken by us and how long they could be! Haha In our down time we played on social media, read, watched other sports (mostly on TV), watched each other compete, went to the recovery room, and hang out in the "hang out room." It has an actual name but, that's essentially what it is.
     The cafeteria is one of the best parts about the Olympic experience, in my opinion anyway. Not only is there food there (yum) it's one of the only times people aren't separated. Yes, people are eating with their respective countries for the most part, but, almost anyone can bond over a meal. I can't say the food was the best there but, the people were! All of the volunteers were nice ad helpful and everyone wanted a USA pin. One day I ate lunch with a Nigerian Discus thrower, I ate dinner with coaches from Ghana, I ate dinner with Sprint coaches from Swaziland and I got to see old friends from different sports and make new ones from Team USA!

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