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2 carry heavy load toward Olympics
Seniors Kercher of Flowery Branch, Arthur of Chestatee to train at Colorado Springs center
Ellen Kercher, Flowery Branch High School senior, works on power snatch lifts Thursday in the school’s weight room. Kercher is currently training for the 2016 Olympics for weightlifting. - photo by SARA GUEVARA

For two area high school seniors, the road to success goes through Colorado Springs, Colo.

And it is paved with chalk, sweat and iron.

Ellen Kercher, a senior at Flowery Branch High School, and Jenny Arthur, a senior at Chestatee High School, both have been invited to train and live at the Olympic Training Center in Colorado.

Their goal: the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

But their sport of choice may shock those who have seen them walking the halls of their schools or out in their local communities.

Kercher is 5 feet 1 inch and 106 pounds.

Arthur is 5 feet 5 inches and 150 pounds.

They look more like track and field athletes or gymnasts, but they’re not.

They are weight lifters.

Arthur was stopped in the airport a couple of weeks ago while wearing an Olympic Training Center T-shirt. She was asked what sport she competed in.

When Arthur gave the curious travelers their answer, she said they were amazed.

“They’re like: ‘Wow’,” she said.

Kercher has received similar responses.

“Everyone looks at me and thinks that I’m not a weight lifter because of my size,” Kercher said. “They just kind of laugh at me.”

But the reality of making it to the Olympics is no laughing matter for the two. It’s a goal they plan to realize at the next summer games.

And their definition of weightlifting compared to the general public’s is very different.

“Olympic style weightlifting is more about technique and mental focus,” Arthur said. “It’s not like bodybuilding like some people think it is.”

The two girls should know — they’ve been training for years.

Kercher began lifting when she was in seventh grade to help out her basketball game.

Basketball isn’t her sport anymore.

“I hated (weightlifting) at first because I was so sore, but then I fell in love with it and kept doing it,” said Kercher.

Although she’s been training for more than five years, it wasn’t until last summer when she was invited to train at the center in Colorado that the possibility of the Olympics appeared on her radar.

“The thought of making the team and getting the chance to do this is amazing,” Kercher said. “I’m still awed by it.”

Arthur, who doesn’t train with close friend Kercher, said she started lifting weights in 2009 to make her “more explosive” on the track and softball field.

Her weight training coach asked her if she wanted to compete and last year she stopped playing softball and running track to focus on weightlifting full time.

“To be an Olympian has been my goal for a while now,” Arthur said. “I just didn’t know what I wanted to do. It was track at first, but I never thought it would be for weightlifting.”

After graduation, the two will live in the training center and train six days a week, twice a day in preparation for the 2016 games.

They also have hopes for the 2020 games as well.

“I think I have a pretty good chance,” said Kercher. “I think we both do. I think we’re both strong-willed and determined and it will help to know people up there.”

Olympic weightlifting has two areas of competition: the snatch and the clean and jerk.

The girls say it is not so much about being strong, but having the mental toughness to maintain the technique all the way through the lift.

“When you get the technique down, the strength comes with it,” said Arthur.

Kercher and Arthur have been honing their techniques all over the world at various competitions, collecting enough qualifying points to be invited to the training center.

That is one of the draws to the sport for the girls.

“How many sports can you go to other countries and compete and meet people?” said Kercher.

But one of the biggest draws is the competition and the constant challenge of getting better.

“I like challenges,” Kercher said. “I like to work at something and if it’s not challenging enough, I’m going to do something about it.”

For Arthur, it is about being the absolute best. That pinnacle, for her, is the Olympics.

“I want to be the best at everything I do,” she said. “That motivates me every single day.”

The road to the Olympics is paved with challenges, and Kercher and Arthur are set to travel.

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