Gold-medal performance earns LHS student trip to Olympic training center

Published 10:00 pm Friday, July 15, 2016

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Kimberly Raber’s infectious smile nearly matches her Olympic-style weightlifting talent.

The Landrum High School rising junior has lots to smile about.

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In the 2016 USA Weightlifting National Youth Championship, Raber captured the gold medal in the clean and jerk. That performance earned her a rare invitation to the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, where she’s headed for an all-expense-paid training camp for select under-17 elite-level lifters. She will be there July 15-24.

Consider that Raber has worked at Olympic style lifting only since this past December. Before that, Raber, who competes in the 48-kilogram (105-pound) weight class, just started general weight lifting her freshman year.

Landrum weightlifting coach Chad Cooksey said most athletes who train with weights do so to “get better at their chosen sport.”

Raber had been a pole-vaulter, but displayed so much talent in lifting that she decided to focus on weight lifting. She shrugs off the notion that coordination plays a large part in her lifting success, responding, “I’m not coordinated.”

Find an uncoordinated pole-vaulter, and we’ll show you no one. Her lifting results speak to a good deal of coordination.

Raber is one of seven female Olympic lifters at Landrum. Sara King is another, also competing in the 48-kilogram class. King and Raber sometimes train together, where they can push each other to improve.

“Oh man,” gushed Cooksey, “We’ve got the best lifters.” Cooksey, in his third year as lifting coach, also has lots to smile about. He also has the only high school lifting team in South Carolina. “Our kids have done some really, really good stuff.”

After a recent competition, Landrum’s team was fourth in the U.S. Cooksey notes that all seven lifters have the same work ethic.

This past November, Raber and the team returned from the World Power Lifting Championship, where Raber won her weight class (for combined total weight in the squad, dead lift and bench press).

She announced to Cooksey that she wanted to compete in Olympic lifting. Cooksey reminded Raber that Olympic lifting is built on two lifts, the clean and jerk and the snatch. Both involve grabbing a barbell that rests on the floor, and putting it overhead, with the arms extended. The clean and jerk, as its name suggests, involves two moves. Both lifts require strength and, yes, coordination. Footwork contributes to success.

“I enjoy clean and jerk,” Raber smiled broadly. She trains six days per week, taking off Sundays. I enjoy it a lot,” she said. “It’s a lot of fun.”

Her gold medal came from a clean and jerk of 75 kilograms, or about 165 pounds. Cooksey notes that Raber could have put up a bit more weight, but didn’t need to, and agreed that it’s better to win with a lift a bit lower than one’s potential, than to fail to put up marginally heavier weight.

At that USA Weightlifting National Youth Championship competition, she was in sixth place after the snatch, Cooksey reported. “The clean and jerk put her in first,” he said.

Raber’s warm-up weight for the clean and jerk is 45 kilograms.

“The hardest thing in this process is learning kilograms,” Cooksey joked. Some Olympic style barbell plates display both pounds and kilograms, but those made for Olympic lifting competition display kilogram designations only.

At the Olympic Training Center Raber will be among 30 or so lifters—evenly divided by gender.

“We train there three times a day,” she noted, including technique work, “just to get better.”

Of course, Raber hopes to compete in the Olympics some day.

Cooksey reminds folks, “It’s very, very hard to earn a spot on the Olympic team.”

Aspiring Olympians must first compete internationally, many times. The higher one’s “medal potential (the percent of how one can medal overseas),” the better one’s chance of competing internationally at all.

Raber might be able to compete internationally as early as this September.

At this point, Raber is ranked 21st in the U.S. The top eight in each weight class qualify for international competition. Cooksey notes that the performance differences separating Raber from some higher-ranked lifters are tiny, and by posting slightly higher lift results, she could jump ahead in the rankings.

“To make the international team is huge,” Cooksey noted.

Along with the obvious weight work, training includes good sleep, and a beneficial diet. Gains in weightlifting, as in other high-energy activities, come from breaking down muscles and building them up, with smart diet and rest.

“Her goal is one gram of protein per pound of competition body weight, or about 105 grams of protein per day,” Cooksey said.

Along with protein, another weightlifting essential is magnesium chalk, the use of which helps keeps one’s hands from slipping on the bar.

“We couldn’t do it without the chalk,” Raber noted. “Some people think I bathe in the chalk, I use so much of it.”

Though not a professional, Raber does take advantage of small financial compensation offered by USA Weightlifting.

Currently, Raber has three sponsors, Olympia DX Gear, Fearless Lifting (whose shirt she’s wearing) and Better Body Foods.

While all this seems to come so easily to Raber, it’s the product of much dedication and hard work.

“She trains hard,” Cooksey emphasized. “She’s the perfect example of what hard work is. You would not find a more committed individual. Every single accolade that comes her way is earned.”