“A lot goes into it. It’s a dream.”
When Janelle hears, “Standby… GO!” she knows it’s her turn to perform. She is flooded with adrenaline, takes a deep breath, thinks I’ve prepared as much as I can, and executes.
Janelle is an Olympic weightlifting and CrossFit champion, coach, and everyday female.
Beginning her college athletic career on a cheerleading scholarship, she found herself asking her strength and conditioning coach for extra workouts and longer training sessions. Whitney Rodden, Head Strength and Conditioning Coach at MidAmerica Nazarene University, saw her potential and asked Janelle if she might want to compete to qualify for University Nationals in Olympic Weightlifting.
Janelle simply replied, “Ok – sure!” And then she actually did qualify for Nationals. But that was just the beginning.
Winning the mental game and remaining confident is the hardest part, Janelle tells me. In her competitions she has to balance the athletic pressure to be good enough, fast enough, lean enough, muscular enough. But she’s a regular woman, too. Like a lot of us, she deals with pressures to fit into feminine stereotypes. “It’s hard not to compare yourself. It’s hard to not let that get into your head,” she says.
I cringed when she told me that in casual conversations with women, they regularly respond to her story in quite poor form... “That’s cool,” they say, “but I don’t want to look like you.”
Janelle responds with grace and a reality check, “I get what you’re saying. But I’m proud of who I am.” She’s working to break stereotypes by doing exactly what she loves. She also aims to help other women look past the boxes we feel we need to check - the dress sizes we think we need to fit into and the hobbies that are “appropriate” for women, to name a few. It happens more than we realize.
It still hurts, she admits, “I know I’m not what society may see as normal. But I’m still ok. I love being able to pick up a heavy barbell; I love having muscles. It’s different. I feel strong when I do the things I do.”
I asked Janelle what is positive about being a woman – neigh, a champion – in weightlifting and CrossFit. She responded simply, “It’s the friends I’ve made.” Janelle thrives in this team atmosphere and values the sincere support she and her teammates share every day. This community is always growing and changing. Meeting new people and making real connections in the gym, is actually how she met her fiancé!
“It’s still hard for me to personally believe I can achieve these goals, and I struggle just like any other athlete with good and bad days,” she explained, “But when you have people who believe in you, it makes you want to succeed all the more. It helps you believe in yourself.”
The Achilles Heel
That said, there are challenges in being a star athlete. In 2015 and the day after her birthday, Janelle was in Iowa at her last event on the last day of the Field of Teams Crossfit Competition. While doing a box jump, it felt as if someone had just clipped the back of her heel. She collapsed to the ground and couldn’t move. Time froze, but around her the event continued. The competition couldn’t stop because Janelle had.
Janelle had torn her Achilles heel, and right as the 2016 Crossfit Open and Regionals were approaching.
Facing the realities of surgery and a potential recovery time of up to a year, she realized how much she viewed herself in terms of her sport.
“I felt like I had lost my identity,” she explained.
Janelle did not gloss over how difficult this period was for her. However, the depth of support from her community got her through it. She was especially grateful for her fiancé’s patience in “receiving some of the backlash.” In retrospect she realized how upset and hurt she was about her situation.
Then she turned it around, and decided she was up for this complex challenge. She set goals for herself physically, but also explored her inner self. She realized that she was more than just an athlete.
“I’m Janelle, and I’m an athlete… but I’m more than that.”
At the end of the day, she wants to be a good human being. “I want people to feel like I care about them, that they matter.” She strives to do this to the best of her ability and as much as possible. The goal might be to win, but an equally important goal is realizing that if you’ve pursued something to your capacity, then there is no need for regret if it doesn’t work out.
…And sometimes, a Chinese food binge and some cartoons will soothe the soul while you work towards your next goal, Janelle tells me.
Janelle’s resolve is perhaps the most incredible part. She recovered from her Achilles tear in a (literally) record time of just 4 months. Though I was not even surprised!
So what do you do at a weightlifting competition?
Janelle explains that you have 3 attempts at the Snatch and then 3 attempts at the clean and jerk in competition. You are trying to get the highest number on both lifts. Add these two together to get your total - and the highest wins.
Janelle rattled off exercises I had never heard of, and could only imagine what they were from each quirky name. Here are some of her favorites:
Clean & jerk
Handstand push ups
Along the road, Janelle has faced some big disappointments, but she came back, trained really hard, continued to compete, faced her nerves, and has achieved many incredible successes. I think a list of her awards and competition medals (both local and international) would fill a whole other blog.
But you keep an eye on her here…. @THELinellez for inspiration.
Janelle recently began training at KC Weightlifting, and her new coach talked straight with her, “You have a shot at being on an Olympic team, and if not that, an international team. You can be at the top of your weight class.”
Janelle responded in her usual style, “Tell me what to do, and I’ll do it.”
JANELLE'S 3 FAVORITE THINGS
“Everyone knows I love Chinese food!” She eats it as often as possible – post competition, pre competition, after weigh in. She can’t get enough!
“I just have one cup a day to get me ready to coach my 5:30am class, then my 6:30am class, and then my own training at 9:30am.” …Damn, what a badass!
This is essential. Whether it’s her two gym communities, her fiancé, or her dog, Bishop, it’s the support network she has created that builds her up the most.
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