On Saturday, June 10 at around 8:34 a.m., Lauren Rodriguez, 20, arrived at the Cross Fit Storm gym in Miramar prepared to face the ultimate test of strength for the first time in 2023’s Summer Slam. She was one of 120 athletes who, depending on their weight class, had to lift more than their opponents to win.
The meets are often very competitive events, where athletes showcase their technique, power and strength. In each weight category, a limited number of participants try to lift the most in two events: the snatch and clean and jerk.
At the slam, Rodriguez was participating in the 55 kilogram weight class. After weighing in at 54.4 kg (about 120 pounds), she began to stretch with the rest of the lifters as they all waited to perform. Rodriguez tried to determine who her biggest competition would be.
Introductions were made by the judges, Rodriguez felt nervous but being confident that her starting weight was good.
At about 12:07 p.m. she was called to perform in front of a panel of judges.
As she did her snatch lifts, she said, “I didn’t expect to be so nervous… I fully blacked out, I think, and that goes for all my snatch attempts.”
Olympic weightlifting is a sport that requires consistency and drive. All lifters are divided into categories according to their weight, for women these range from 45 kg to 87kg. The official procedure for these meets consists of all participants competing in the snatch and clean and jerk lifts. The competitor who attempts the least weight performs first, and if they succeed they will incrementally progress to lifting heavier in the course of the competition. The athlete who lifts the most weight first will get the highest placing.
Rodriguez’s weightlifting journey began at age 16, when she discovered the world of CrossFit exercises. Over time she found she was passionate about weightlifting. Seven months ago, she decided to train solely for weightlifting and she started seeking opportunities to participate in competitions.
“Mastering those lifts and competing in weightlifting has always been a goal of mine,” Rodriguez shared.
While the physical aspect of training is often challenging, Rodriguez has also encountered times when she must also push herself mentally. She has taken on a new focus.
“Pushing past those challenges and staying disciplined and determined is one of the hardest things,” Rodriguez said. “During my preparation for my meet… I often found myself exhausted [and] frustrated.”
One challenge she had to overcome was spraining her ankle a couple of weeks before her competition. She closely monitored this injury and modified some of her exercises. After learning she could still work towards her goal while rehabbing her wrist, she stayed motivated.
“I think the way that I choose to stay motivated during training is just imagining my potential in the sport,” she said. “I often daydream of becoming an elite athlete one day and…reflect on how far I have come since getting into sports and lifting.”
Another challenge Rodriguez encounters is keeping up with all of her responsibilities.
“I work at 5 a.m., get out and lift, and then go home and study,” she said. “Sometimes I don’t get to study as hard because I am busy lifting with my barbell club until 10 p.m.”
A part of being successful in the sport is getting adequate rest, something Rodriguez prioritized for the day of her first meet. For the competition, she aims for eight hours of sleep, although she admits she had some jitters, which cause her to get only seven and a half hours. Reflecting on her progress on the day of the competition she said: “It felt like all of my preparation, challenges and hard work had finally come together and were worth it.”
Rodriguez has felt supported by her community, especially her coach, who taught her a Navy seal breathing technique to calm her nerves before her second lift, the clean and jerk.
After her breathing exercises helped her calm down, she was able to focus better. She approached the lift with confidence, despite knowing it would be a challenge. She knew if she accomplished it, she would solidify her place in the top three. Then “Rosemary” by the Deftones, which she had asked DJ to play the night before, started.
“To my surprise, the song I had requested played,” she said. “This was the lift I needed… It was all done. All the months of preparing, all the hours of training, the frustration. It would all be worth it if I made this lift.”
Rodriguez needed three of the judges to lift white flags with her third and last lift, which would have been a personal record for her.
Her family and friends cheered her on as she took a deep breath and attempted her lift.
Then she watched the judges all wave white flags in unison, confirming her success. She smiled, knowing that all of her hard work had paid off.
“I couldn’t believe it,” she said. “I let out the biggest smile ever.”