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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!

Friday, July 22, 2016

Olympic Trials (Part 2) Finally

     The next morning I went to have lunch with my boyfriend and get some fresh air by visiting Temple Square. We took lots of breaks because I knew I couldn't be on my feet too long. We mostly went just to take some pictures. I rested and went to train and later that night we had dinner, relaxed and watched a movie at his grandma's house then I retired for the evening. I was starting to feel better having some support with me as well as getting food in me and moving some weights around.
     Competition day started out well. I had breakfast and did a very light morning workout snatching 45 kgs for a couple of triples and clean and jerking 65 kgs for a couple of doubles before going back to eat and nap and prepare for the competition that evening. Based on how I was feeling in the morning, I was starting to feel confident I'd put in a decent total and defend my ranking on the Olympic Team.
     Warm ups were feeling actually pretty good in the Snatch. I was doing well and was sticking to plan. I knew we'd have to pull back in the clean and jerks a little as the weight loss and illness were going to effect my leg strength. I snatched up to my last warm up attempt which was 115. Our goal was to open with 188 then go to 122 and 126. This would keep me on track to open within 15kgs of  my declared total, show improvement, and save my legs. I missed 115 in back and there wasn't any time to remake the weight before I had to get on the competition platform. That's not an ideal situation to be in but, I've missed weights in competition and made higher weights before and I've successfully done that in training so I had to rely on my experience to get me through. I didn't feel any panic or worry which was good. I missed my first attempt and tried to correct my technique for my second and missed it again. I've been in this position before where I've missed my first two and had to come back to make one attempt. If I didn't, I'd be out of the competition. Well, I didn't make it.
     After everything I had been through this past quad and knowing what was on the line and the tough competition I was up against, I felt defeated, humiliated, and the most vulnerable I had ever felt in my career. At any moment, I could be usurped from my position on the Olympic Team. All there was to do was wait.
     I went to the bathroom to cry a bit and regain my composure. That only lasted so long. I came back to the warm up area and was ready to pack my bags. I started crying again and my coach came up to me and said, "Are you ready to clean and jerk?" and I said, "What for?" I saw all as lost, and considering the National Championship was off the table, I figured my day was done. My coach had to give me a little talking to and if you know my coach, he can be quite intense. "Because the competition isn't over yet. There are a lot of people that don't want to see you go out there and make those jerks..." he began to step away and turned back to me and said, "But, there's also a lot of people that do."
     So I put my wrist wraps on and got to work. I cried all the way up to 135 kgs and felt kind of dizzy while lifting. It was probably dehydration. We opened with a 146 so I could keep within my 15kgs and I missed it, made it on my second, and finished the day off with 150. Part way through warming up, is when I found out that Morghan bumped me down a spot and we were just waiting to see if Mattie would take my place. She didn't and I felt blessed relief. I don't really know how or why things worked out the way they did this past quad for get me back to the Olympics but, I am very, very grateful and humbled by the experience.
     The Olympic Team was announced, awards were presented, and the opportunity for people to share in the moment with the athletes was presented. It was an amazing experience to be there with my mom, my friends, boyfriend, teammates and competitors.
     This was one of the best competitions I have ever competed in. Phil Andrews, USAW, and all the volunteers and workers did a great jib to make this Olympic Trials truly something special to remember for a lifetime.
     I stayed an extra day in Salt Lake City to actually spend time with my mom and a couple friends. We ate at a delicious waffle place and we went to see some botanical gardens.

Since then...
I have moved to Texas, assembled a great team of people to help prepare me for the Olympics, I live with a friend from church, it's really hot, and I'm excited to get shipped out next week to get ready for the Olympics.

Love, Sarah

Saturday, May 14, 2016

Olympic Trials...and more trials (Part 1)

I've been AMRAPing thing week (that means As Much Rest As Possible) and things have mostly settled down enough for me to reflect on my second Olympic Trials.

Training and competition Pre-Trials

Over the course of me being here at the OTC, I have been working on losing 10 kgs. After my suspension, I didn't have my thyroid or PCOS medications anymore (no insurance either). So my weight got really out of control. My goal was to be 140 kgs by May. I weigh in in the mornings (sans clothing/before eating) and knew I should compete at Trials at about 142-143 kgs.

My training overall was very good. I was starting to hit personal records in the Snatch and get my consistency back. I went through a snatch slump where I missed way too many of my working sets and my heavier reps as well. When I head back to Texas, I'm looking forward to getting some good technical coaching on my Snatch. I was clean and jerking 145-150 about twice a week. At the Rio Test Event, I hit 155. Three weeks before Trials I clean and jerked it pretty solidly as witnessed by the campers and coaches that were in house that week. I was intending on hitting 155 again and feeling pretty confident that I would be able to put together a 281-285 total by Trials.

Since coming back in August, I've been competing pretty hard.
August '15 (First local meet back) - 274
September '15 (National University) - 276
October '15 (Strongest Unicorn) - 266
November '15 (World Championships) - 279 6th place
February '16 (Russian President's Cup) - 278 1st Place
April '16 (Rio Test Event) - 275 1st Place
May '16 (Olympic Trials) - No total

As you can see, I've been lifting pretty hard and a lot this past year all while placing high internationally. Typically, within a year, an elite lifter competes in about four meets.

Anywho, after coming back from the Rio Test Event, I pulled or sprained my piroformis. This was something we were able to work through with modifications but, I wasn't able to squat much. This was pretty deep and I rehabbed well with various treatments in sport's med as well as doing the rehab exercises provided. Every athlete deals with nicks and dings in training, so this was just something to push through and started to heal really well.

April 22nd I clean and jerked the 155 and felt on fire! The next day, I felt like total crap. My nervous system was pretty fried. I was taking my time warming up and decided to take the day to just move around and feel better. I was front squatting 135 and felt some pain in my upper back. I've experienced this a couple of times in Texas, and knew that this would take about a week to come back from. When my back "went out" for lack of better description, I could hardly contract my back muscle to be able to pull the bar from the floor, compression on my body with the bar pained me as well as just holding the bar overhead. That close to Trials, I knew I had no time to rest, really. Also, the next week was supposed to be my last heavier week before the recovery week heading into Trials. Knowing I was in good shape, we had no choice but to flip the weeks. Injury week was spent as recovery and the next week was intended to build up to Sunday May 8th as my "heavy" day." During the "recovery" week, I was only able to lift four of those days. I decided to lift to pain tolerance. Uncomfortably, one day I did dead lift+RDL+pass bys with 65 kgs followed by very uncomfortable back squats with 95 kgs. I think the next day I did standing presses with 45 kgs, clean grip static holds (2" off ground) with 75 kgs or something. Whatever. Toward the end of that week Thursday I was able to Snatch 113 and Friday I was able to Clean and Jerk 140. Both of which were pretty sloppy because my rhythm was off. I was feeling better and more confident.

Monday the 2nd, I clean and jerked 150 and on Tuesday I Snatched 120. These were both what I was hoping to open with. The Plan A of Trials was to do something like 120, 125, 129 and 150,155,160. Realistically, with the snatch would be something more like 118,122,126. Either way, I was ready and in shape to do a 285 even though I hadn't squatted in two weeks. Wednesday we did power snatches and power clean and jerks for recovery and I had no pain.

Week of Trials

These timelines kind of blend together so bear with me. Also, there's going to be a little TMI but, bodily functions are natural, right? Wednesday evening I began to have diarrhea. I figured it was something that would pass within the day. I was going to try and squat on Thursday and take Friday off but, by Thursday, it was bad enough to make me avoid squatting for fear of "weightlifting poop accident." I did my therapy exercises and other things that didn't strike fear into my bowels Friday afternoon, I was to leave for Salt Lake. I was up late packing (I'm a horrible procrastinator) and by 1 am, I was feeling pretty nauseous. I decided to try to get to bed so I wouldn't think about it and actually make myself sick. I pretty much just tossed and turned for about an hour before I couldn't take it anymore. I took an anti-nausea tablet thing (in hindsight, I should have taken it earlier but didn't really think about it then) anywho, about ten minutes after that, I headed to the the toilet and started calling dinosaurs. I felt better, drank some water, took another anti nausea thing and tried to get to bed. I threw up/still had poopie problems twice more before having to head to the airport. I got maybe an hour or two of sleep. Miserable, I went to sport's med to get medicine and advice and then went to the airport. Whilst in Denver, I had "airport poop accident" and had to make an urgent wardrobe change. I was almost late to my flight, and we had plane trouble so we were on the ground for at least an hour before we took off. I tried to sleep as much as possible and drink as much as possible this entire time. I got to SLC almost two hours later than anticipated.

I knew I had to train. I wanted to do easy squats and  head out to rest but, after stretching and warming up, I knew we should stop. I had a pounding headache and holding my breath to perform squats was terrible. My personal coach said, "If you don't think you should do this, you don't have to, Rest is more important right now. You don't have to prove yourself to anyone." I looked at him and said, "I'm just so tired." And started crying. We took my stuff and I cried my way over to the Dr.

I was told to stay off my feet the rest of the night and drink like crazy and get some easy food (chicken, rice, crackers, etc) into me. He said it seemed like I had lost about 5 quarts of fluids. I took a shower, drank, drank, drank, picked at some noodles, went to bed and slept like a rock. 

To be continued...

Thursday, March 24, 2016


Occasionally, I try to reflect on my past experiences to see how they have impacted me. How have they molded me into who I am today. When I reflect on my athletic career, I try to think of the things that may have made me "special." One of the things that has made me stand out as an athlete and as a person, is my ability to lead. I am not perfect at it by any means but, I think this ability has helped separate me from the pack in many of my situations.

Are people natural leaders? Do they learn how to lead? Or is it a combination of the two? For me, I think it's a natural combination of the two.

Hopefully, through my experiences and my advice, you can improve your leadership skills or try to develop some on your own.

As a kid, when playing with my friends or brother, I'd always end up being the sidekick or the bad guy. Never the main character or the one who decides what we're going to to that day. I was always bigger and taller than most kids so adults always assumed I could do more or be more than I was. Frequently, I'd get mistaken more a grown-up. I was also a very strong kid. I was kicked out of day care because I pushed a girl our of a tricycle and hurt her. She asked me to push her. She just didn't specify in what direction, I guess. Haha. Who would have thought all these years later, I'd be speaking at graduations, conferences, and schools? How would have thought I'd be coaching people, and going to ribbon cutting ceremonies? Certainly not I.

I was never one to seek out leadership opportunities. They just kind of fell in my lap with the exception of one. In 8th grade, I wanted to get the Husky Elite Award. This was an award given to 4 people a year in physical education. The person who got it showed that they worked hard, tried to improve and did their best. I worked really hard and got it. The reward was to lead the class in exercises, they got a special shirt to wear and they had their names posted in the locker rooms. Also, as a consequence of working for this award, one of the PE teachers noticed I had athletic ability and encouraged me to try out for the track team. I was a successful track athlete and now weightlifter. Had it not been for that physical education program, I wouldn't be sitting hear trying to impart my knowledge unto you.

I was a girl scout until I graduated high school and one of my first leadership opportunities was to be a delegate. My friend Ruth and I helped lead flag ceremonies, be in front holding the flag in parades, and being a representative of our troop at different events. While competing in track in high school, I was elected to be a Team Captain for my junior and senior years. These opportunities I got just for being myself.

I try to help people the best I can but, I feel my best way to lead is to be myself. I try to do the right things at the right time in the right places with the right people. I am very social and can talk with just about anyone. I have a little bit of knowledge about a lot of things so it helps me connect with people.

In my older years, I have chosen to coach high school and college athletes, crossfitters, kids and older people. I really enjoy it. I have been asked to participate in parades and volunteer in the communities I'm from, speak at graduations, judge beauty pageants, represent small companies, write articles, go to the White House, be a part of the Thank You, Mom campaign, go to galas, etc. It's so cool! At church, whenever I get asked to help with something, it's to teach a class or organize and implement activities.

Speaking at a women's conference

Participating in a Christmas Parade

For people with anxiety or who are shy, this could all be overwhelming. At times I have gotten nervous. I have not had any professional training or any certifications or and degrees yet, I get great praises on how well I can teach something, lead, keep people engaged, or speaking techniques I literally just made up on the spot.

Here are a few things that I feel have impacted me for the better with leadership:
*We went to the VA hospital a lot growing up as kids. When I was 11, my dad had a stroke and lost his ability to speak. I was able to associate well with people with special needs, disabilities, and mental health issues. When you can associate well with people who are what society deems as "different" "defective" "hard to deal with" or whatever, you can associate well with everyone.
* Many of my friends growing up had problems at home with sexual abuse, poverty, mental health, mental disabilities, etc. Many people cast these people to the side but, again, if you are able to befriend someone in these situations, everyone benefits and learns. Just as with the people from the VA, you get a broader idea of what people go through, you can understand people better.
*I took a good deal of time investigating different religions. When you understand how and what people believe, you can relate to them better, build better relationships, and be more sensitive to other needs and hopes other than your own.
*I was a teacher's aide for special education in high school. I can't express enough how helping and loving other people can help you and make you a better person. There are times I would be these kids' only friends or the only one to stand up for them.
*Being the bigger/taller kid who had more expectations on them
*Being interviewed a lot
*Having to learn a lot of stuff on my own through experience as well as trial and error
*Dealing with heartaches, troubles, trauma, and  other types of difficulties over the years

The main things that frustrate me when it comes to being a leader are the different standards or abnormal expectations on a person who is just like everyone else, and the fact that often times, I can be placed automatically in a leadership position. Teaching and leading activities can be great but, sometimes, I just want to be a participant and just hang out/enjoy my time without responsibilities.

I can't tell you how to get leadership opportunities if you want them or how to avoid them if you don't but, I can give you advice for the time you find yourself in these positions or want to get yourself there.

1.) Be yourself. People wouldn't ask you to do what you're doing if they didn't appreciate what you have to offer. They also wouldn't do it if they didn't have faith in your knowledge or abilities. Alsok if you try to be like someone else, you will always come in second place. Someone else already did it, and they did it better. Be yourself and you'll be the best you.
2.) Don't be afraid to meet and talk with new people. Everyone has a different life journey and everyone can learn from each other. You never know what types of friendships or valuable business opportunities may present themselves to you; all because you decided to say, "My my name is _____" nd stuck your hand out
3.) Don't be intimidated by other people. If you see someone as greater than you for whatever reason, you will put a limit on yourself. Just as they have desirable talents and traits, so do you.
4.) Take opportunities when they present themselves to you. I went to a yelp event just to look at shiny, pretty jewelry, and eat snacks with my friends, only to meet my cosmetic sponsor.
5.) READ I try to read something every day. I have been complimented on how articulate I am and how easy it is to interview me. When you read, you expand your vocabulary, you increase the ways you are able to communicate with others, and you stimulate your imagination.
6.) Don't be afraid to fail. Failure is inevitable. Sorry. I have made huge mistakes that have cost me friendships, coaches, and damaged my career but, I bounced back. You will live to tell about it. Mistakes and failures often are not forgotten but, can easily be used as a tool to teach you how to be better and help others.
7.) Use your adversities to strengthen you as well as help and inspire others.
8.) Surround yourself with ambitious, smart, and successful people. Most of the time they have had similar struggles and can teach you how to overcome yours, inspire you when you're down, and give you opportunities when no one else will.
9.)Always try to improve yourself. Develop new talents, work on things that hold you back,  try new things, meet new people, take a chance on something.
10.)Don't be ashamed to admit you don't know or understand something. You will be respected more for this than trying to b.s. your way out of something or trying to avoid a question.
10.) Listen to your gut. Know who you are and what/who you represent and what you stand for. If people or opportunities don't align with what you're doing or who you are, you are welcome to say no. I avoided a lot of media after my suspension because I knew the people who wanted to talk to me didn't care about me and they just wanted to get some quotes on a hot button topic that would have just increased how much more negativity is out there. Who needs or wants that stress? Not I. So... no thank you. They say any publicity is good publicity. I'd rather have none than have a heavy feeling in my heart.

There ya go! Hope you enjoyed my long-winded post.

Yours in sport,


Saturday, February 20, 2016

Live life on your own terms

Living in Texas was one of the best things that ever happened. I was allowed to be my own person! There were lots of things that I had wanted to do or not do over the years but, was never able to because of time, work, educational or coaching restraints. Thanks to a coach who gives me a longer leash and one who really wants and cares for my personal happiness, I was able to start living life on my own terms. Doing so helped me become a better and happier person.

This post is to encourage you to do the same. If you are worried about what other my think of you or if what you are doing is lady-like or whatever it is that holds you back from doing the things you want, STOP. You are entitled to happiness.

Pluck those weeds in the garden that choke those happy blossoms. New flowers can't grow without the other ones opening up, right?

Somewhat recently, I was reading an article called "75+ Hobby Ideas For Your Free Time" on the website called "The Art of Manliness." This is a great website, by the way. There were a lot of cool hobby ideas!

Here are some I was already doing:
Weightlifting/Working Out
Leather Working
Letter Writing
Learning a foreign Language
Amateur Astronomy

There are still things I used to do but, don't have the time or means for and things I want to do but, I'm waiting until a better moment arises. All of these things are equally cool for women to do and make for great dates and/or hobbies to do with a significant other.

I graduated high school and I left home. I went far away too. I never turned back. Ok...yes, I did when I went home for a semester. Any who, that early independence and a diverse set of interests had led me into doing all kinds of cool things and meeting cool people all over the country.

Had I ever listened to anyone else but my heart as to what was acceptable or unacceptable for a woman, a Mormon, a young person, tall person, a fat person, a single person, a WHATEVER, there is little I would have accomplished in my life and little I would have done to help anyone else.

Living life on your own terms doesn't necessarily mean have fun doing hobbies all day. Living life on your own terms often times means learning new skill sets to help keep you independent. This saves you time, money, and gives you a ton of confidence. I know how to replace a car starter, air filter, battery, strip and replace a car battery terminal, check tire pressure and fluids, I can also change and rotate tires. I can fix holes in walls and replace outlets. I know how to operate drills, dremels, and saws. Unless it's a fancy, newer toilet, I can do some basic plumbing, install a fan, cut blinds and keys. I can change the lock on the bottom of a truck and operate a sit-down and standing forklift. Those are mainly "male" tasks. You know what? I can now save time and money and do that junk myself and feel awesome about it. On the other hand, I can do quite a bit of "female" tasks as well. I can schedule appointments and transfer calls, crochet, sew, cook, tend to children, shop and any other things other people deem "female."

My independence would be greatly diminished because I would have to get someone else to assist me in something I could otherwise do for myself had I not had these work experiences, learned these skills or tried these hobbies. It bothers me that inanimate objects, tasks, hobbies, interests and other things get so engendered, or limited to certain demographics. Culture can be messed up some times.

If you want your haircut a certain way, do it. It's just hair. You want to wear certain clothes because they make you happy and comfortable? Get 'em! Want to go somewhere but, no one else cares to join you? Go anyway!

Develop new skills, improve yourself, have fun, and leave your social stigmas and worries behind.

Many of the things awaiting to be seen and experienced by you are a mere decision away.

Little by little, you can gain more happiness.

Enjoy life!

Sunday, January 31, 2016

Sarah's Origin Story

Well, I'm not going to go THAT far back as to HOW I was created. You should know that by now and if you don't go talk to your parents. This story starts at about age 14:

Picture it: Sicily, I mean San Jacinto, Ca. A young, charismatic, track and field athlete and Girl Scout was introduced to the sport of weightlifting. 

Summer of my freshman year of high school, my head track coach who was a former weightlifter herself (2X National Champion, American Record Holder and 2000 Olympic Trials Participant), asked me if I wanted to go lift with her. I did and I was sore for about two weeks. I only lifted the bar! Now that I think about it, I wonder if two weeks was an exaggerated feeling? Hmm. Well, after that, I decided not to do it again as I thought I would be perpetually sore.

The next track season, her husband, my throwing coach (My head track coach's husband and former weightlifting coach) decided that I needed to actually lift as part of my training. At the time, he was coaching us part-time after coaching his team at a neighboring high school. Anywho, I hated it at first but, as I got stronger and my throws went further, I changed my tune.

One day, as I recall it, my throwing coach asked me if I'd like to be in a weightlifting competition. I think I said, "Not really." and his response was "Too bad, I signed you up and I'm picking you up at 6 am on Sunday." I had no idea what I was doing and just followed what everyone else was doing and trying to listen to my coach.

I was asked recently what my best numbers were when I started lifting. My very first weightlifting meet I snatched 50 kgs and I clean and jerked 60 kgs. I totaled 2 kgs over my own bodyweight. Score! From the very, very, beginning, I can't remember what my squats or presses were, to be honest. I can remember at the end of high school what I was doing in my major lifts. I never really deadlifted and I didn't really press heavy. By the time high school was over, I was able to snatch 75 kgs for 4 sets of 3 reps and clean and jerk 105 for 4 sets of 2. I front squatted only up to heavy singles; my best being 150 and I back squatted 140 for 5 sets of 8.

I started lifting in like 2004/2005  and did it mostly for fun. I originally wanted to do weightlifting after track and field was over as a way to stay in shape and have fun. I didn't get reintroduced to weightlifting until 2008 where I did it on the side as a red-shirted sophomore at ASU. In 2009 was when I switched over to weightlifting full time.

That's pretty much how I started weightlifting and the numbers I was doing then. I had very humble beginnings in my athletic career and life. What a difference 12 years can make!

Sunday, January 24, 2016

The TPS Project

I've had an idea for this type of project for a long time now but, haven't had the finances to do so. Now that I am at the OTC, I am in a better financial situation to "pay it forward" if you will and help others.

This TPS Project I am starting is my way of trying to help out other weightlifters. I know what it's like to be in need. We had a JR camp here recently and I heard about some talented lifters who didn't have good food to eat at home or money to buy the things they need yet, are talented enough to get invited to camps and qualify for the Jr. National Championships. How are athletes supposed to succeed when they have a hard time just taking care of the basics.

What does the TPS project do? I provide care packages for lifters in financial need. Care packages can include anything within my budget that can help the lifter. It saves them from using their money on things for training that they could be using for groceries or gas to get to training. The first three boxes I made included: money for groceries, Team USA sticker, block of chalk, roll of sport's tape, nuun hydration tablets, two powerbar brand protein bars, a pair of weightlifting straps, and a hand-written note from me.

Recently, my coach and team experienced tragedy. My coach's middle son passed away a few days after Christmas and was a big shock to all of us. My heart aches for my coach and his family. TPS stands for Timothy Patrick Swords; my coach's son's name. The "project" comes from our gym's nickname which is "The Garage Project." This is to honor his memory and help others.

Currently, this project is self-funded but, if anyone is feeling particularly generous and wants to help, I have a TPS Project Wishlist of things I would like/need to put in the care packages.

The goal is to help at least one athlete from around the country a month.

I have also updated my RIO 2016 Wishlist if you are interested in helping specifically me.

Thanks for reading! Have an awesome day!


Wednesday, January 20, 2016

2015 World Championships Part 2

The night I had that interview I didn't get any sleep. I was up at 5 am to get ready to go to work. I was at work at 7 am then got off at 12. I tried to make myself nap but, couldn't so I went to the training hall. I was very emotionally and physically tired that day. I contacted a friend of mine to text me funny jokes because I was doing my best not to cry that day. I don't know about you, but, when I get tired like that, I find it hard to control my emotions.

The rest of the day and week was spent eating with my teammates, hanging out with Jessica, I went and had some Thanksgiving dinner at my house, I watched world records and attempted to get to know my World Championship Team better.

The day before the competition, I spoke with my sports pysch/neuro coach Tom and he helped calm me down. I was worried that I wasn't ready for the competition, I was nervous that I wasn't rested enough, I felt pressure to perform well for Team USA, I was worried about other people's opinions. I was very distracted and I was worrying about all of the wrong things!

He helped remind me of who I was and that I didn't have to prove anything to anyone and at the end of the day, my friends/family/coaches would all still love me. He also reminded me of something very important: HAVE FUN. Having fun is one of my greatest motivators. I was letting all this stuff clutter my mind and I stopped having fun. Why put myself through mental and physical hell if I am not going to get any fun out of weightlifting? I needed to do what I did best and that was enjoy myself.

I spent the rest of the day watching weightlifting, talking to my friends, and watching funny videos. That night, I had the best night of sleep before a big competition than I ever had.

The morning of the competition, I just ate breakfast, did a very light shake-loose workout, showered, beautified myself and hung out. I was luck enough to have my session at the end of the competition and in the evening. That way, I have time to get a couple of good meals in me and see sports med or do anything that I need to get done.

I weighed in, and chilled out in the athlete lounge area and tried to rest my eyes a bit and enjoy my coach's company.

I had the pleasure of working with the National coach, my personal coach, and Jessica's original coach, Danny Camargo. Danny helped with loading weights and counting attempts, I'm not sure what the National Coach was doing but, I know it was important and Tim helped with weight loading, strategy, and making sure I was doing ok. Side note: Tim does an exceptional job tending to his athletes.

Anywho, warm ups went well and I don't think I had any misses (I'm writing this months later because I'm lazy) and I was pain and stress free. I was also enjoying myself.
My first attempt in the snatch was 118 kgs for a lift caught really high, that was followed by a solid attempt at 122 kgs.

 I felt really good and confident and we wanted to put 127 kgs on the bar to put myself in a position to possibly medal. I was ok with this call and felt confident I could make it. Well, I didn't. I pulled the heck out of it and it flew right over my head! Gosh dang it. Which has this hilarious moment of lamentation on the platform:

I had a fair amount of time to use the restroom, get a little snack in me and get ready for the clean and jerks. Warm ups went well. I had big plans for the clean and jerks this day. I really wanted to break the American Record which currently stands at 161 kgs. My goal was to take 152, 157, and 162 kgs attempts. Cheryl Haworth currently holds them and she had just got inducted into the hall of fame there so I thought it would be great to break the American Record that same weekend. My 152 and 157 attempts were solid and felt easy. After the 152 opener, the National Coach approached me asking if I wanted to take an 8 kgs jump to 160 kgs so we could be back in medal contention. I wasn't too comfortable with this as the most I had clean and jerked in training leading up to that was 145 kgs. I had cleaned and missed the jerk with 160 kgs back in summer of 2013. I didn't really feel like that was a safe bet. I was willing to budge a bit just to add kilos to the total and agreed to 148 but my coach, Tim stuck to his guns and we stayed with our game plan. By the time is came for us to take 162 kgs, I was sitting around a lot waiting to go. There was a lot of strategy going on with the coaches and athletes. This usually isn't too big of a problem for me but, sitting a long time like that, it's hard to stay focused. By the time 162 kgs was loaded on the bar, I thought I was feeling ready to go. I pulled the bar from the floor and by the time it got near the hip position, it felt like it was too far away and that I wouldn't be able to get under the bar to clean it so I dropped the weight. Even though I'm disappointed I didn't make the lift, I'm glad we had it on the bar. Better luck next time!

After all was said and done, I had a personal record snatch, clean and jerk, and total. I had my highest international placing to date, and I helped score valuable points to help secure 3 Olympic Slots.

I had people from work, and church and my club come watch me compete. This was so amazing. I rarely have anyone in the crowd to support me as I am far away from home and we usually compete in places my friends are not. This was a treat! I may be biased but I think I had the loudest and largest fan base in the competition venue that week. I encouraged those who came to wear silly costumes and to make signs. Here are some pictures:

After the competition was over, I had to go to drug testing, I spoke with the Houston Chronicle and made it out to see my friends and go to Texas Road House to gorge ourselves.

Thanks to everyone who supported me during my two year hiatus. Thank you to my supportive friends, family, followers, teammates and coaches who all helped make the 2015 World Championships a successful and happy competition.


Sunday, January 3, 2016

2015 World Championships: Part 1

This was my fourth World Championships and by far the most interesting.

A few weeks before the World Championships, I get a call asking if I would like to be put on the World Team as an alternate and I said yes. I'm not going to go too deep into the details of the ins and outs of this situation but, long story short, I ended up placed on the team to actually compete. This caused a big stink in the weightlifting community.

There was a big campaign about one of the other athletes and against me being on the team and was a bigger distraction to me than I should have allowed. The campaign felt like a personal attack, it was a distraction to myself, and it took away from the other athletes on the World Team and the fact that Team USA and Houston were hosting the largest and best World Championships ever. Just like when my suspension happened over two years ago, suddenly, people wanted me on their podcasts and interview me for their websites. I declined all but two interviews during this time. A.) I hate bandwagoners and people who try to exploit drama/heartache B.) There are way more important and better things to talk about that can actually help athletes and promote the sport and the athletes. C.) I needed to focus on training and competing. 

Anywho...back to me! World Champs! Yay!

So, originally, the plan was to prepare for the President's Cup in Russia. So accepting my position as an alternate cut out three weeks of training. I knew that even without being 100% I could score major points so I had that confidence under my belt. This was a stressful time for me as I had just pulled out of my classes because I couldn't do them while training/competing and I was told I was going to face "severe financial penalties" for doing so. I was trying to figure out finances, school, my car needed major repairs, I was planning a move to Colorado, I had the World Champs to prepare for then get ready for the President's Cup, oh and I was still working two jobs. I was feeling overwhelmed to say the least and I even cried at practice. Inconsequentially, all of my gear I was supposed to get from USAW for making the World Team and the President's Cup never got delivered to my address. So, I didn't have any Team USA gear. Which didn't help my perceived feelings of already not belonging on the team. While I was at the World Champs, the Nike Rep and Eleiko rep help give me some merchandise that the other team members has so I at least had something from my kit. I was most concerned about having a USA singlet. I wanted so much to look like and feel part of the team. Most of my Team USA gear was from 2012/2013 when I was 50 lbs lighter. So a lot of my own stuff was ill-fitting so I made due with what I had and what the reps gave me. Thanks, Nike and Eleiko!

I couldn't financially handle all the time I was going to have to take off for all of my competitions and travel so I decided to work the week of the World Champs. Jessica was my roommate and she had to compete Monday and her coach talked to me about staying at my house Sunday night as to not disturb her getting ready for work at 5 am. I love Jessica and I had to do what was right for Team USA. Jessica did a phenomenal job, so it all worked out! *pats self on back as if I had something to do with it.

That night, one of the USOC media guys wanted to interview me. Which, I accepted. I talked to him in great detail and frankly with him about a lot of things. After the interview I asked him what his angle was. What did he want to share? The last article written about me was a huge disappointment and was very upsetting. He said, "Well what did you want me to talk about?" I told him, "I would like it if you kept it about weightlifting and about the athletes and how exciting it is to have Team USA hosting the World Championships." You know, the important, relevant things. He responded "Well, now I don't want to write the article any more." "Why not?" "I don't want to make you mad." This was because off record I was telling him what happened with the last article and needless drama I've had to deal with for the past couple years. "I can tell you until I'm blue in the face what I'd like you to write about but, you're just going to do whatever you want anyway. So, the only thing I can ask you to do is 'do the right thing.'" That's how I left the conversation and went to my room to go to sleep. I had a horrible feeling in my gut about the interview and immediately regretted doing it and declined all further interviews except one after my competition. I didn't get any sleep that night except maybe an hour only to have to wake up at 5 am and go to work the next day.

Friday, October 30, 2015

Shout of to my Sponsors and Partners! -Jess

I just want to say thank you.

I believe in Olympic sports. The reason is the same reason I prefer college football to the NFL. HEART. Athletes that chose to dedicate their lives for something so short lived for nothing but a memory and in few cases a medal or trophy are truly heroes. The road for these athletes in my opinion is much bumpier with much less reward. What is more honorable than dedicating your entire life to something that doesn't offer much back? This said how many people out there do anything that doesn't offer anything in return? Very few in my experience. By no means am I trying to say feel sorry for these athletes or our life is so hard. Lots of people's life's are hard. Our life is what we chose. I want to work my ass for every single day. I WANT to be an Olympian. I WANT to beat my body down to nothing. I WANT to only feed my body things to help it work better. All I'm saying is these athletes deserve a lot of respect. The average Olympic athlete spends 10 years training before they have an opportunity to even attempt to make an Olympic team. The statistics of even that athlete making the Olympic team is still 1/39 million.Can you imagine spending half your life for something you may or may not ever get? Have you ever worked that long for anything? Have you ever worked that long at the same thing? Many business professionals don't even continue on the same journey for that long. 

As an Olympic athlete I want to draw some attention to the companies that respect the long, hard journey we chose. I made a personal choice a few years ago that my priority was going to be 100% God, and weightlifting. Staying true to that decision a lot of other things I wanted or smaller goals of mine were pushed to the sidelines. The companies I chose to surround myself with on my journey are so important to me for that reason.I pick companies supporting me that aren't just "sponsors". Yes, the money is helpful to not have to work as much and dedicate more time to recovery for weightlifting. However the money isn't my number one motive when either reaching out or accepting sponsors. 

My first priority and first question I ask is "why do you want to sponsor me?" I pray the answer is that they believe in me as an athlete and a person. I want people around me that know I can make my dreams come true even when I'm too beat up, tired or down to believe it myself. I also want them to understand and respect my choice to put weightlifting first. They respect who I am and who I want to be as a role model, an athlete and a wife. 

The second priority is what the company stands for. How do they present themselves on social media, what do they do for the community etc. My brand and my image is very important to me. I'm a Christian woman, I'm a wife, one day I hope to be a mother. I want my kids and my husband to be comfortable with the image of these companies. I don't want to have to be a sexual figure to make money or get publicity. Nothing against those that do, it's just not the path I want. Are these companies trying to make the world a better place? That's the bus I want to be on. That's the person I want to stand beside and help support. 

My third priority in picking a company is what I can do for them. If the company is asking so much from me that I know I can't follow through on or would cut into weightlifting, it's not a good fit for me. I want to be able to do as much as I possibly can while still balancing my life. That may sound bratty or like I'm being a diva but let's be honest, would you let anything stop you from something you've worked for this long? Probably not. 

Anyways, the point is every company that I'm involved with have inspired me, moved me or done something so special that I appreciate so much. This isn't about me, this is about them. I don't care about how much money they make me. Maybe this makes me a poor business woman, I really don't care. I care about my husband, my future kids and all the young girls growing into amazing strong fearless women. I care about using my goal and my dreams to teach them dreams come true. I care about changing someone's life. I care about growing my sport. I care about making the world a better place. 

Fearlessly, Jess