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Doing the heavy lifting

Julia McKairness won the girls under-13 class.

Published: Friday, July 19, 2013 at 3:00 a.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, July 18, 2013 at 2:45 p.m.

Six nearly and just becoming teenage girls are helping shatter myths about weightlifters.

The six, all members of the Myles Ahead Weightlifting team that trains at the Myles Ahead Weightlifting gym in Petaluma, proved it is technique more than weight and brawn that counts in their sport when they won a national championship at the USA Weightlifting National Youth Championships held at Western Missouri State University, the summer home of the Kansas City Chiefs NFL football team.

“It is not what you think it is,” says Freddie Myles, who not only owns Myles Ahead Weightlifting, but is also a pioneer of sorts, bringing the first weightlifting-oriented facility to the Redwood Empire in 2005. “It is really about technique. It involves a lot of timing, movement and flexibility. You have to be fast to be a good weightlifter. You don’t have to be big. Weightlifters come in all shapes and sizes.”

Competition is both as individuals and as a team. The Myles Ahead team won its national championship in the under-13 age group. Of the girls on the team, none finished lower than third place.

Julia McKairnes and Chloe Tacata both won national championships, McKairnes in the 35-kilogram weight class and Tacata in the 44-kilogram class.

Mia Zecowy in the 39-kilogram class, Mackenzie Barnes in the 44-kilogram class and Athena Schrijver in the 49-kilogram class each took second place and Rachel Nykamp finished third in the 39-kilogram class.

“They are really a great group of girls,” Myles said. “They did an amazing job against a lot of tough competition.” More than 350 young athletes, ages 11-17, competed in the event. All had qualified through tough area competition.

Myles Ahead also had some strong efforts from its boys. Petaluma’s Nathan Prokop took fifth in the boys under-13 56 kilogram class. Rico Medina, in the same age group, was fifth in the 50-kilogram weight class and Azriel Medina was fourth in the under 14, 50-kilogram weight class.

Myles thoroughly enjoys coaching the young athletes, but is quick to point out that weightlifting is a sport for all ages. “We have people from 9 to up in their 70s,” he explains.

He also quickly dispels two other myths.

One is that weightlifters are single-minded individuals who spend their lives in a gym. “Most of the young weightlifters are two-sport athletes who do both weightlifting and some other sport like soccer,” he says.

The other is that weightlifting is basically a training tool for other sports. Working with weights is a training method that almost all high school athletes use to strengthen themselves for football, baseball — whatever — but real weightlifting, the kind spelled as one word, is a highly competitive sport in its own right. It consists of two distinctly different events, the snatch and the clean and jerk, requiring different techniques and skills, and both requiring much work to master.

Although young, most of the girls on the championship team have been working at their sport for a number of years. “Most of them have been doing weightlifting for a while,” Myles says. “Some of them started when they were 9-years-old. Like any other sport, to reach your peak requires that you get an early start.”

Myles, 36, who will be competing in the open Nationals in Cincinnati in two weeks, did not start early. He was a track and field and soccer player at Petaluma High School, who began weightlifting to help him get faster for track.

His enthusiasm for weightlifting grew, eventually leading him not only to a sport, but a business. He and wife, Nikki, an outstanding weightlifter herself (she has a second-place finish in National competition), opened a weightlifting gym in Rohnert Park in 2005. At the time, it was the first in Sonoma County. He moved to Petaluma in 2012 and now has regulars come to his Payran Street gym from all over Sonoma County and Novato.

“The U.S. used to be the best in the world at the sport in the 1950s and ’60s, and it seems to be coming back,” he says. “When we started we were the only gym in the county, now there are five.”

He says that one of the attractions is that it can be an individual and a team sport. “The cool part is that you can be competitive with yourself,” Myles explains. “You don’t have to compete with other people, you can measure your own improvement against yourself.”

You can also become a national champion at 13 and just, maybe, go even farther.

Tacata has already been chosen to compete for the U.S. Junior team in the Pan American games.

“I think some of the girls may be track to represent us in the Olympics,” Myles says. “Wouldn’t that be something?

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