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Raising the bar: Flowery Branch coach helps athletes compete at highest level
Flowery Branch High strength and conditioning coach C.J. Stockel will serve as the meet director for this weekend’s Weightlifting Olympic Trials. Stockel is the current coach of two lifters that will be competing. - photo by SARA GUEVARA | The Times


Flowery Branch strength and conditioning coach C.J. Stockel talks about preparing one of his athletes, Chandler Alford for the competition at the Olympic Trials.

Flowery Branch High’s strength and conditioning coach C.J. Stockel knows that athletes are made in the weightroom.

Time in the weightroom improves strength, speed and agility, which translates to better play on the field and, for some, a possible chance to play a sport in college or, in rare instances, professionally.

But for some athletes, the work in the weightroom might turn into something else: Olympic gold.

Starting today, the country’s top-30 male and top-30 female weightlifters will gather at Georgia Tech in Atlanta to compete in the 2008 Olympic Trials for a chance to represent the U.S. in the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing.

The competition consists of three sessions, with the No. 21-30-ranked participants competing in the first session this morning, the No. 11-20-ranked participants competing in the second session tonight and the top-10 weightlifters in the country competing Saturday afternoon. The top three males and top four females will make this year’s Olympic weightlifting team.

Watching closely will be Stockel, who is involved with the Olympic Trials for the first time in his career and who has ties to one-tenth of the 60 competitors at this weekend’s event.

“I have six kids that I started in this sport and that’s pretty cool,” said Stockel, who is also the head coach of Team Georgia Weightlifting which, along with Georgia Tech, is sponsoring this weekend’s Olympic Trials. “If you would have told me that when I started doing this with Henry Brower and Sarah Davis back in 1997 I wouldn’t have believed it.”

While he started coaching weightlifters in 1997, Stockel’s involvement in the art of the sport goes back 22 years, when he participated in a week long certification course at the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, Colo.

“My first initial thought was to learn how to lift in order to teach kids how to lift,” he said. “Not to be weightlifters, but to be better football players, track athletes and baseball players.”

Along the way he started training athletes how to lift weights for competitions and, in doing so, trained two of his former students (Shannon Sheesly and Natalie Friend) and two of his current students (Travis Cooper and Chandler Alford) to the Olympic Trials.

“I first met Shannon Sheesly when she was in the seventh grade,” Stockel said. “She weighed only 77 pounds and I told her mom that she was going to be a national champion one day.”

Since then, Sheesly has won three national championships and is currently ranked No. 28 in the country for women weightlifters. Stockel knows that the odds of Sheesly, Friend (No. 18) and Davis (No. 17) making the Olympic team is slim, especially since the competition at the top of the women’s rankings is so tough.

“The top 10 or 11 are the ones with the shots to go to China,” Stockel said. “The other ones have just earned the right to go to the trials.”

Three of those top 11 women and 12 total competitors are residents of Georgia, including No. 11-ranked female Kelly Polly, who has known Stockel for five years and has competed in meets held at Flowery Branch.

“I think there are 12 girls that could qualify for those four spots,” Polly said. “I would love to qualify, who wouldn’t be excited about that?

“But I won’t be disappointed if I don’t make the top four, unless I had a bad meet.”

According to Stockel, Polly’s teammate, No. 6-ranked Amanda Hubbard from Cumming, has “an outside shot” at cracking the top four and earning a trip to Beijing.

The competition among the males will be equally as difficult according to Stockel, who despite being the coach of two participants, will step back from coaching and focus on his responsibility as this weekend’s meet director.

“I’m glad I’m running the meet because it takes my mind off everything else that can be running in my head,” he said.

Like the performances of Alford and Cooper, who are ranked No. 17 and No. 15 respectively.

“Really we’re just focused on setting personal records for those two,” Stockel said. “Our goal is to be ranked in the top 10 at the end of the trials.”

While not watching the performances of his two students, Stockel’s eyes will be on fifth-ranked Casey Burgener.

“My heart goes out for Casey Burgener,” Stockel said. “I’ve known him since he was knee high to a curb.”

Regardless of how Burgener, Alford, Polly or any of the other participants that have crossed paths with Stockel perform, the coach is excited to have an opportunity to be a part of an event of this magnitude.

“It’s a great experience for the competitors and it’s a tremendous experience for myself,” he said. “But then again, this isn’t about me or any other coach, it’s about the kids that we coach and helping change their lives in a positive way.”