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Heaving Lifting: Student aims for Olympics and law school

September 2, 2018

LYNCHBURG, Va. (AP) — With aspirations for both law school and the Olympics, Meredith Alwine’s dreams require equal dedication to books and barbells for the junior-to-be at Randolph College.

And when it comes to both, Alwine does a lot of heavy lifting.

Her dead lift — which Alwine says isn’t “super impressive” — is 370 pounds, she back squats 350 pounds, and her clean and jerk, a common Olympic weightlifting technique, is at 290 pounds.

Her choice of reading materials: Socrates, Jean-Paul Sartre, Arthur Schopenhauer.

Alwine’s passions are philosophy, which brought her to Randolph, and pumping iron.

“A lot of people are surprised when I say philosophy,” Alwine said with a laugh as she sat on a box in CrossFit Lynchburg surrounded by weightlifting equipment in the expansive gym.

Alwine was introduced to philosophy around age 12 through a program for gifted youth. The Virginia Beach native became a gymnast almost as soon as she could walk, competing until the age of 10. She also competed in soccer and track before discovering CrossFit through a workout club at her high school. At age 17, she took a weightlifting class. After a month of hitting the weights, Alwine jumped in, unsuccessfully, to her first competition.

Though she “bombed out” of her first competition, unable to finish certain sets, she rebounded quickly, advanced to the Junior National Championships in February 2016 and earned a third-place finish.

Since then, Alwine has been on a tear, competing for the U.S. Junior National Team in Ecuador in May 2017 and in Japan in June 2017; she’s claimed silver medals at the Junior Pan American games and at this year’s Junior World Championships in Uzbekistan. Now Alwine is aiming for the 2020 Olympics or maybe 2024 and beyond.

“It wouldn’t be unheard of for me to be in this for another 10 years,” Alwine said.

Weightlifting has a rich history at the Olympics, where the sport was introduced at the first modern games in Athens in 1896. But it was only opened to women in 2000, according to the Olympics website. In 2000, Terra Nott claimed the first and only gold medal for U.S. weightlifting.

If she makes it, Alwine will have to consider putting her academic career on hold; though she expects to graduate before the 2020 Olympics arrive, she’ll have to defer law school.

A recent reorganization of weight classes may also make Alwine’s Olympic path more challenging as she moves up from 152-165 pound weight class to a new range of 156-167 weight class based on the changes.

For now, Alwine is focused on her strict training routine and keeping her weight consistent.

“Everything in my life is affected by weightlifting. How much water I drink, how much I’m eating, what I’m eating, when I’m eating, how much I sleep,” Alwine said.

She hits the gym five days a week, for two hours a day plus warm-ups.

“Everything revolves around making sure that I’m physically at my peak,” Alwine said.

Though Alwine said she sometimes gets “weird looks” from men while lifting at the gym, she’s part of a growing movement of female weightlifters that has spiked in the last decade.

“In recent years, we’ve enjoyed a surge of interest and engagement in our sport because of CrossFit,” USA Weightlifting Spokesperson Kevin Farley wrote via email. “CrossFit uses the Olympic lifts (snatch and the clean and jerk) in their sport, so, naturally, some athletes gravitated towards doing weightlifting full time. Furthermore, we have worked very hard to make our sport as inclusive as possible, and try to dispel the myth that weightlifting is for strong men only. Frankly, our women outperform our men on the international stage consistently.”

Farley noted that membership in USA Weightlifting, the governing body for competitions at all levels, has mushroomed overall, but particularly among women. According to numbers from the organization, USA Weightlifting had 869 female members in 2007; it now has 10,102.

Though Alwine said she gets occasional stares for being muscular, she also gets the awe of little girls who come to the gym with their parents and are captivated by her intense workouts.

“It’s really empowering. There’s really nothing about the sport that I regret,” Alwine said before a workout. “It requires a sort of discipline that betters you in everything else.”

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