Megan Poole and Hope Stockel both have weighlifting in their blood.
Poole, a rising Chestatee High senior, found her way into the weight room after her older brother, Robbie, took up lifting. Stockel, a sophomore at Flowery Branch, is the daughter of the school’s conditioning coach and Team Georgia weightlifting coach, C.J. Stockel.
Now, both of these local students have a shot at a national title at the School Age National Championships starting Friday in Foster City, Calif., a southern suburb of San Francisco. Winners will represent the U.S. in the Youth Olympics later this summer in Singapore.
Lifters are divided into three age categories: 13-and-under, 14-15, and 16-17.
“I’m extremely excited for this opportunity,” Hope Stockel said. “I’ve worked my tail off the past couple of months to get ready for this.”
An opportunity like this is nothing new for Stockel and Poole. Both have been to a number of national championships for their age group, but getting on a plane for a trip to California is something many of the 26 participants representing Team Georgia — 10 from the Chestatee district — have never experienced.
While there, they’ll get to sample some of what the West coast has to offer with visits to the Redwood National Park, the beach and the San Francisco pier, as well as a drive across the Golden Gate Bridge, a ride on the trolleys and taking in a baseball game. Stockel says she’s probably most excited about the site-seeing opportunities, which she considers a reward for all her hard work to get to nationals.
However, that doesn’t mean for a second that she doesn’t take this trip seriously with regard to winning gold.
“If I lift what I think I can lift, then I have a good chance of winning,” said Stockel, who will be competing in the 14-15 age group.
Poole, a War Eagle cheerleader, will be looking to win her third national championship in the Olympic-style format, consisting of the snatch and clean-and-jerk lifts. Her main competition is Oklahoma’s Jessica Beed, who Poole defeated by only two kilograms at a meet in Minnesota earlier this year.
For Poole, competing comes first with an inevitable head-to-head battle against Beed on the horizon. Once lifting is in the background, she’ll let her hair down and enjoy the sights and sounds of the Bay Area.
“I’m ready,” Poole said. “I’ve been training a long time for this. There’s going to be a lot of people there and I have really high expectations for myself.”
C.J. Stockel and Chestatee head football coach Stan Luttrell both serve as coaches for Team Georgia. They’ve planned this trip since last year’s event was held at the Georgia Mountains Center. Coach Stockel said that on the lifting front, California’s Team, Hassle Free, will be the biggest competition.
However, neither wants to neglect the chance to see parts of the country many of the kids from northeast Georgia have never laid eyes on.
“We’re treating this like an end-of-June vacation,” coach Stockel said. “A lot of the families are going out, so it should be a lot of fun.”
“This is just exciting to go places that people have never gone before,” Luttrell said. “This is truly the best weightlifters in the country.”
The 10 Chestatee athletes coming with Lutrell are split evenly between boys and girls. He says the success Poole has had in the sport has encouraged other female athletes to give it a shot. Also traveling from Chestatee are Gracie Peck, Jenny Arthur, Riley Farrow, Nicole Long, Nathanael Peck, Jack Brown, Jonathan West, Tre’ Luttrell and Chase Nicholson.
Lutrell said the common thread they share is they also take part in other sports on campus.
“Good athletic ability transfers into weighlifting,” said Luttrell, whose son Tre’, 10, is the youngest member of the team. “The biggest thing is that they all take it very seriously.”
However, Poole will be stepping on the mat with some of the highest expectations. After winning back-to-back national championships, she wants to win again in her final season competing in the 17-and-under age group. Her ambition right now is to attend college in Colorado with plans of being invited to workout at the Olympic Training Center, in Colorado Springs, Colo.
From the time she weighs in for a meet, to the time she steps to the floor for competition, she says that her biggest hurdle are the nerves that result from self-imposed pressure to succeed. She counters the nerves with prayer to ease her mind.
“There’s a lot of people there,” Poole said. “When I get ready to lift, I just have to focus on myself and what I’m doing.”
Other lifters from Flowery Branch are Ellen Kercher, Kristina Foster, Jonah Matthes, Jacob Matthes, Jimmy McIntyre, Chase Bell and Jonathan Frick.
Stockel has a track record for producing top lifters. In the last Olympic trials, six of the 60 athletes had previously trained under his watch.
“Weightlifting is a blue-collar sport,” coach Stockel said. “There’s no glamour and no money in it, but everyone comes together as a team.”