Road to Rio
This week, The Times will run a series of stories about Chestatee High graduate Jenny Arthur and her journey to compete in the Summer Olympics. Weightlifting events open Saturday.
Growing up in a house of 10, “there was never a dull moment,” or at least that’s how Jenny Arthur remembers it.
Arthur, a 2012 Chestatee High graduate who will be competing in this summer’s Rio Olympics for Team USA in weightlifting, has five older sisters and a younger twin sister and brother, now ranging from ages 21-28.
So when they were young, their parents kept everybody moving.
“My initial response was with that many children was you have to keep them busy,” Jenny’s father, Kelly Arthur Sr., said.
That often meant sports.
Jenny had the benefit of watching her older siblings compete athletically and be successful.
“When we started out with basketball and track and field, wherever we were, they were all doing what we were doing, but at a younger age,” said Julie, the oldest of the Arthur children. “They were following us, but they were little kids at the time.”
As the kids all grew, Julie said the Arthurs became known to many as “the athletic family” because of how good they were at their crafts. Their competitive edge came from facing each other as much as other kids.
“We would go out to the track or wherever, and whether it was football, basketball or anything we worked on, it was always competitive because we all have a competitive spirit,” Kelly Arthur Jr. said. “They pushed me. There was always competition, and we were fighting for another inch just to be a little bit better.”
Jenny, who mostly played softball and did track and field throughout school, began weightlifting as a way to get stronger for those sports. Those who saw her lift knew there was something special there.
Her father, though, was a little reluctant for Jenny to take on the sport.
“It was very surprising that she wanted to go into weightlifting,” Kelly Arthur Sr. said. “I was very reluctant for her to do weightlifting at first. I had seen women who had done weightlifting, and their bodies tend to lean toward that of a man, but, once I learned about Olympic weightlifting, we were all on board.”
Julie said weightlifting didn’t seem “so off the wall,”
“It was just the new thing Jenny was interested in and doing,” Julie said. “So everybody was on board. It was Team Jenny at that point.”
The athleticism obviously came naturally.
Jenny’s mother, Freda, was a track and field athlete in high school. Kelly Arthur Sr. played football at Gainesville High before moving on to play on scholarship at South Carolina State.
Freda’s brother Reggie Pleasant played football for Clemson in the 1980s and was drafted by the Atlanta Falcons in 1985. He later moved on to play in the Canadian Football League for 11 years, winning the Grey Cup with the Toronto Argonauts in 1991. Pleasant still holds the Argonauts record for most career interceptions and most career interception return yards.
Another of Freda’s brothers played baseball and another played football, with Kelly Arthur Sr. at South Carolina State.
“It’s a pretty well-rounded family when it comes to athletics,” Kelly Arthur Sr. said.
Still, regardless of the need to keep everybody active and busy, the Arthurs never forced their kids to play sports, just encouraged.
“Even in the early years at Lanier Elementary in Murrayville, they had the Presidential Awards activities. It all started then,” the father said. “We knew as parents that these events were coming, and we’d go out to Lanier and practice these things. We didn’t allow our kids to just show up unprepared. If I’m not mistaken, each one of them received the Presidential Award during the awards event.”
That athletic drive stuck with each of the kids with each of them competing in track and field. Some also played basketball, others softball and Kelly Arthur Jr. played football for the War Eagles.
Regardless of the competitive nature of the family — and everything down to a simple card game was a competition no one wanted to lose — it’s one big support group that can’t wait to watch Jenny at the Olympics.
“It’s going to be a dream come true,” Kelly Arthur Jr. said. “When I watch, I like to watch my sisters and my parents and see their faces. They’re just so proud of Jenny. When we turn it on, it’s a packed house in our living room and eyes don’t leave the screen.”
Kelly Arthur Jr. said Freda is usually jumping up and down and yelling with excitement when she watches Jenny lift in other competitions, but he’s not sure how she’ll react during the Olympics.
Jenny’s going to have family watching from many different states including South Carolina, New Jersey, Tennessee, Maryland and, of course, right at home in North Georgia.
The Arthurs, as well as some family from South Carolina, will be heading to the Kennesaw home of Jill, the second-oldest daughter, on Aug. 12 to watch as Jenny represents the U.S. in Rio.
The living room is expected to be packed.
And eyes are guaranteed not to leave the screen.