As sports become more specialized, more and more athletes are spending a vast amount of their free time in the same place, the weight room.
While some journey to the weight room to better themselves at the sport in which they wish to excel, a select few have found that weight training itself can become a sport all to its own. And whether it be in conventional weightlifting or powerlifting, those few are traveling the country to show off their weightlifting skills.
One group of such athletes are the 50 members of Team Georgia, who leave today for Florida to compete in the National School Age Weightlifting Championships at Disney’s Wide World of Sports. Although Team Georgia comprises more than 10 percent of the 370 competitors at the three-day event, the students traveling to the Lake Buena Vista, Fla., complex are going not to see how well they fare against their peers, but rather to see how they fare against themselves.
"One thing in weightlifting that we don’t want is for it to become me versus you," Team Georgia coach C.J. Stockel said of the event that is comprised of male and female competitors in three age groups (13 and under, 14-15, 16-17). "In weightlifting it’s me versus me. When it becomes me versus you, problems arise."
Stockel, who is also the strength and conditioning coach at Flowery Branch High, is at the center of the ever-growing sport of weightlifting in Hall County. Brought to Flowery Branch to help its athletes perform better on the field, Stockel, with the help of Flowery Branch football coach Lee Shaw and other coaches in the county, has turned a focus to building Team Georgia and the sport in general.
"We wanted to see if we can get other schools involved and get a team going," said Stockel, who is expecting four new schools to join Team Georgia next year. "Eventually we want weightlifting to become a high school sport."
As of now Team Georgia is comprised of eight schools, including Flowery Branch, North Hall, Jefferson, Chestatee and West Hall with students from the Flowery Branch, Chestatee, West Hall and Union County districts participating in this weekend’s event.
"If we keep getting four or five schools to join each year then, who knows, one day this could be a high school sport," Stockel said.
Not yet a Georgia High School Association sanctioned sport, weightlifting is already seeing a vast influx of participants. So much so that, today, Stockel will find out whether or not Team Georgia won its bid to host the National School Age Championships next year at the Georgia Mountains Center in Gainesville.
Savannah and Burlington, Vt., are the other two possible sites for next year’s event.
If Gainesville is to win the bid to host next year’s event, Stockel hopes to increase the number of Team Georgia participants to 100, but no matter how many participants are involved from his team, the goal will remain the same.
"Objective No. 1 is to set a personal record," Stockel said. "I look at medals as trinkets. If you get a trinket, good for you."
While gold medals may not be the main goal of the 50 members of Team Georgia, it’s all East Hall rising senior and powerlifter Tyler Brown has on his mind.
The 6-foot-4, 310 pound Brown has been involved with the sport of power lifting for more than a year, and already has made a name for himself.
At the American Powerlifting Committee National Championship on June 7 in Norfolk, Va. the 17-year-old Brown set new World United Amateur powerlifting world records in the squat (650 pounds), deadlift (473) and bench press (402).
"It’s a real good feeling knowing that you’re one of the strongest kids in the world," said Brown, who competes in the 16-17-year-old, 140-plus kilogram class.Like the lifters involved with Team Georgia, Brown initially got into the sport of powerlifting to increase his abilities on the football field, but what he didn’t realize was that power lifting would become his new favorite sport.
"There’s just something about picking up big weights," he said. "It’s just fun."
So fun, that even though he would like to play college football, he won’t, not unless he can continue powerlifting.
"I don’t think a college team will let me powerlift," he said.
That’s probably because most college programs incorporate a weight training similar to that of Stockel and Team Georgia, not of powerlifters.
"The scientific definition of the word power is speed," Stockel said.
"But if you look at power lifting, there’s no speed. It takes about four seconds to complete each of the lifts. In snatch, and clean and jerk (in weightlifting) it’s done in a second.
"I don’t think power lifting is negative," he added. "But it is known in the training world that if you train slow, you play slow and if you train fast, you play fast."
Brown sums up the difference between the two sports rather easily.
"Weightlifting is more technique," he said. "Power lifting is more brut strength."
That’s the glaring difference between weightlifting like Team Georgia and powerlifting like Brown, and although Stockel admitted that he doesn’t believe in powerlifting as a means to become a better athlete, he still feels that it yields results.
"There’s value in everything done in the weightroom," Stockel said.
"There’s a ton of ways to skin a cat."