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Wednesday November 21st, 2018 5:02AM

A vision becomes reality: focused Arthur clinches Olympic status

By Morgan Lee Sports Editor
  Contact Editor

Gainesville native and weightlifter Jenny Arthur is one of the most attuned athletes in the world, her body a complex of taut muscles that she can command to explode with astounding power.

Not even all of Arthur's strength and control could keep her head from spinning this week, however.

It wasn't a missed lift or bad day in the gym that left her reeling -- far from it. In fact, Arthur's head was spinning thanks to the realization of a years-long dream finally made real.

Arthur discovered this week that she will represent the United States in the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro.

"I'm still in shock," Arthur said Thursday via a telephone interview from her training base in Colorado Springs, Colo. "I found out Tuesday. ... I'm still trying to wrap my head around it. I'm living out my dream."

Not bad for a woman who once balked at the realization of traveling out of state for her first national competition.

While still a student at Chestatee High, Arthur joined Team Georgia, a varsity-level Olympic weightlifting squad then led by Hall County-based coaches, including former Chestatee football head man Stan Luttrell. Luttrell saw Arthur's potential from the outset and believed that a bright future was in store for the lifter -- if he could just persuade her to travel.

"We can laugh about it now, but she won the USA Weightlifting Youth National Championship in 2010 and would have won it in 2009, but we couldn't get her to go," chuckled Luttrell, now head strength coach and assistant football coach at Buford High. "She had never left the state (in 2009) and just didn't have the confidence in herself yet."

Arthur found that confidence in abundance, however, and the records began to fall -- at all levels. And what initially started as a method to prep for other sports -- "I started lifting to help me get better at softball and track and field initially," said Arthur -- quickly became a passion that pushed all other sports onto the periphery. 

"It just felt right as soon as I started lifting," said Arthur, who now measures 5-foot-5, and roughly 165 pounds. "I would come in and hit a personal record, and there was just so much excitement about it for me and coaches and teammates. It was also funny when I lifted with some of the football players in the morning, they'd be shocked that I was lifting as much or more than some of them. My little brother was on the team then, and I think he was the most embarrassed. But I was getting up almost every morning at 6:30 to go and lift. I just wanted to be there."

Focusing on the two main Olympic lifts -- the snatch and the clean and jerk -- Arthur soaked in the complex physical and mental training required to excel in disciplines that force lifters to be inch-perfect to progress.

"I come from an athletic family and I definitely had some God-given talent, but it was more about work and technique," Arthur said. "I gravitated to it because of the challenge."

It was that combination that gave Luttrell high hopes.

"You could tell she was strong, but strength will only take you so far," Luttrell said. "She has matched all that athletic ability with a disciplined, hard-working life-style. And coming from the family she comes from, they know that it's about a process, and that you've got to work to be the best."

Arthur was also surrounded by an equally hard-working group of peers on team Georgia, including a group of young women that featured fellow high school students such as Megan Poole -- who set plenty of her own records and even accepted an invitation to the United States Olympic Center in Colorado Springs a year ahead of Arthur.

"Jenny came along at the right time, and I think that helped boost her confidence and competitiveness being around a group like we had on Team Georgia at that time," Luttrell said.

Arthur went on to win a silver medal at 2011 USAW Junior Nationals in the 69 kg class and again in 2012 when she was also named Junior National Champion and USAW American Open Champion. It was then that the offer came to continue her career at the US Olympic Center -- a big step toward that dream of one day competing at the Olympics.

"It's great to be around that atmosphere, and I'm learning so much; I really feel like I've just scratched the surface still," said Arthur, who continued to excel in competitions, moving up from the 69 to 75 kg class to win the Junior Pan Am Games, Junior Nationals and American Open in 2013. She also finished second in the Junior Worlds and full Pan Am Games that year.

The next year saw Arthur win the USA National Championships while also finishing 14th at the World Championships -- continuing a progression that saw her move up to eighth place at the 2015 World Championships. Along the way Arthur has set American records in the 75 kg class in the snatch, clean and jerk (138 kg) and total weight (244 kg).

That success did not come easy, however, and it pushed Arthur to the edge a few times, as -- like all athletes -- she suffered from injury and self-doubt.

"In 2013 I was packed and ready to come home; I was ready to give it up," Arthur said. "There were times I would cry to my parents at night. But, luckily I have very supportive family and friends. And when it gets really tough, you just have to remember why you do it. And I have a vision, and I believe in that vision and myself and the plan God has for me."

Certainly each week presents a grind, as Arthur spends three days (Monday, Wednesday and Friday) on Olympic lifts -- two sessions each day, which does not include stretching and recovery time, which is extensive and includes time in the hot tub, cold tub and sauna. Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday also feature lifting sessions, including accessory work to help improve specific muscle groupings (Olympic lifts require total body effort). 

When she does have free time she can also be found volunteering at a local hospital.

"I have a passion for so many things -- one of which is helping people," said Arthur, who envisions a future helping others, whether that be through healthcare or coaching. 

But that's still years down the road. For now, the Gainesville native is focused on reaching the pinnacle of her sport.

"My goal for Rio is to podium (finish top three)," said Arthur, who estimates that to do so, she will need to add at least six more kilograms (roughly 14 pounds) to her current totals. "It's all about focus on technique; it's 100 percent mental."

Her former coach believes in her too.

"A lot of people go out to Colorado and never make it this far," Luttrell said. "We worked hard at Chestatee, but the buy-in is so much greater now. But the No. 1 attribute of all successful people is grit; and that's a good way to describe Jenny. She has that grit mentally and physically. 

"She's an inspiration to all the young ladies lifting at Buford right now. We have 400 kids lifting every day here, and they're all inspired by her. And it's just so exciting that Jenny is able to do this -- what a positive role model she is of a healthy life-style and right attitude. It's really humbling to have been a part of that."

Luttrell is one of a small retinue that will be able to join Arthur in Rio, continuing the family atmosphere begun years ago in the Sardis community.

"I have so many people to thank; I didn't do this alone, but there's so many that helped I'm not even sure where to start," Arthur said. "I want to go hug the world right now."

After that the future Olympian can try her hand at lifting it.

  • Associated Categories: Sports
  • Associated Tags: olympics, Weightlifting, Jenny Arthur
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