Volunteerism in Sport & Life

I had recently moved to the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs and as resident athletes we were expected to do more than just lift.  We could either go to school, work part time or volunteer if it did not impact training and performance.  I had been there for a few months, and it was mid-semester so I was not able to get into school right away, I was not working either and I had yet to volunteer for anything.  Plus, my reasoning for slacking off a bit too was that I was still adjusting to the additional training time, and I was also indulging being in my twenties and out of the house (and in another state) for the first time.  Work-life balance as they say, but my slack time had run out. 

Earlier in the week our coaches mentioned that a few of us were going to be doing a presentation in the gym over the weekend.  The more senior teammates readily volunteered, as for me, I was voluntold to take part in the event. 

So, I really should not have gone out the night before, but after a long week of 2-a-day training it was time to relax with fellow lifters and other friends for a night of dancing and libations.   Somehow, I managed to get up on time and there I was at the gym on an early Sunday morning full of regrets and unsure of what was to come as my teammates, and I hosted a bunch of Girl Scouts to introduce them to weightlifting.

My teammates stood there basically shaking their heads in disapproval of my physical condition.  Several cups of coffee had not helped me.  I was looking rough.  So, I was told that I would present last to give me more time to gather myself.  I had understanding teammates, but they were also out with me that previous night so it was hard for them to talk shit.

As we were going over what our presentation would look like I could hear the Girl Scouts’ chatter approaching and could feel the excitement before they even entered the building.  And when those double doors to the gym opened, my stomach dropped a little because the last time I had done any public speaking was for my Jr. College Speech class and that did not go so well.  I felt more nervous for this than when stepping up for an opening attempt.

Also, I did not know that Girl Scouts had various levels and we had some Brownies in the gym that morning, and let me tell you, those 7–8-year-old girls were a tough crowd.  We did a demo of the squats, the snatch, and the clean & jerk, we passed around our shoes, straps, wraps and other equipment.  I made the mistake of passing a block of chalk that subsequently disappeared amongst the Brownies within seconds only to be found later in our presentation on their faces, their clothes, and the gym floor.  The mom chaperones were not too happy about it, but the girls loved it. 

And before we had them grab dowels, PVC pipes and bars, we had a Q&A session for them.  Their questions were a mix of curiosity, interest, and confusion because most of them had never seen women lifting weights.  After we answered some questions, we broke them up into groups because we must have had at least thirty girls and adults visiting.  Some of the girls could not wait to lift, while others were a bit on the shy side and some of them thought that girls could not lift weights at all, but they all eventually tried and had a blast.  It was especially nice to see the ones that thought girls could not lift, doing it themselves at the end.  Keep in mind that this is the early 2000s so social norms were a bit different even then, but thankfully they continue to evolve especially in the iron world. 

Even though it started out a little rough for me, I did learn a lot that Sunday morning and I cannot imagine what I would be like now had I not agreed to start volunteering.  I learned that I loved talking to them about weightlifting and coaching them, and that we were able to show them that girls could lift weights.  I hope we changed at least one mind that day.  After that experience I would begin to speak at schools about weightlifting, sportsmanship, or other topics and without realizing it, it would also serve as a form of personal development because public speaking is easy now, in fact I love getting on the mic to announce or roast my lifters on max out days. 

A few months after I had retired from lifting, I volunteered to coach my friend, Andy Garcy’s weightlifting team after his unexpected passing.  His team rallied through a tough time and in the subsequent months they successfully competed at many local and national events, winning medals, and championships before I handed the team off to another teammate of ours when I moved back to California.  The team and I grew up a bit through that difficult experience.  Today, Pinnacle Weightlifting is going strong with Jackie Black (née Berube) at the helm.  And, I never imagined that it would be the spark that would ignite the flame to become a coach myself years later. 

And, while a member of USA Weightlifting’s Board I would start to volunteer at National competitions which allowed me to learn separate roles and the ins-and-outs of running a sanctioned event.  I have been running events now for over a decade and at various levels, something that I would not be able to do had I not volunteered years ago.  Just last week our club hosted its 11th competition and largest to date with more in the works, and hosting an event is a huge undertaking that can only be accomplished through volunteers whom we are incredibly lucky to have on our team. 

So, aside from weightlifting and competing, I hope our club provides and cultivates a culture of volunteerism because sport provides for many opportunities and for me finding volunteerism through weightlifting has been one of the most valuable experiences.