The improbable tale of Melanie Roach and her Olympic-sized dream continues to grow and evolve, getting bigger and better with each passing chapter.
At an age where most world-class athletes are comfortable spinning hazy yarns from their glory days, the Bonney Lake resident continues to push the boundaries of strength and endurance. As many as six days a week, she can be found hoisting heavy metal in her renewed quest to remain on the world stage.
Roach is a weightlifter. And so much more.
For those who follow such things, the Roach name is well known and well respected. She was the first American woman to clean-and-jerk more than double her body weight; she earned a bronze medal at the 2007 Pan American Games and represented the United States at the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing, China, setting records on the way to a sixth-place finish on the world’s grandest stage.
That appeared to be her penultimate moment, the culmination of years of hard work, perseverance and recuperation from injury. There was no formal announcement of retirement from competitive lifting, but Roach – who turned 41 this week – returned home and settled into an already-busy life: she’s a business owner, overseeing Roach Gymnastics in Sumner; she’s married to a husband with a demanding job of his own; and then there’s the children. She and husband Dan – an elected member of the Pierce County Council, who previously served in the state legislature, had three kids at the time of the Beijing Olympics, a brood that has now grown to five, ranging in age from 4 to 14.
The competitive fire still burns
So, how does a busy mom/wife/entrepreneur find herself once again jetting off to weightlifting competition where she shares the stage with athletes perhaps half her age?
The condensed version goes like this: taking delivery of a new set of weights, Roach was again hooked by the feel of the steel, even the smell of metal plates. Still training a few times a week for personal and business reasons, she was encouraged by business partner Chelsea Herzog to resume competitive lifting.
Having posted some impressive numbers at the 2014 American Open, Roach then received a call from a representative with USA Weightlifting, a summertime call that came out of the blue and changed her life. The July call came on Friday and posed a series of questions: could she be in Toronto in three days, could she make the required weight and could she post the type of results shown in recent competition? She was being asked to participate in the Pan-Am Games, one of the qualifying events for those hoping to advance to the U.S. Olympic Trials.
“It really was a miracle that I even received the call,” Roach says, explaining that several competitors ahead of her had to withdraw for a variety of reasons.
But the Toronto experience opened the door to a world of possibilities. Roach involved her immediate and extended family in a discussion and the choice was clear – she would dedicate the coming months to seeing how far she could travel in the world of weightlifting.
She calls it “restructuring my commitment.” And it involves her mother moving into the Roach’s Bonney Lake home to lend a hand with the child-rearing duties while Herzog takes full responsibility of the business.
Since Toronto, she has been in full-time training mode. That means trips to Redmond most days, so she can train with coach Michael Street at his Fulcrum Training Hall. And there are weekly sessions with massage therapist Dan Christofferson, who specializes in the “structural integration” that Roach credits with turning her body into an efficient lifting machine.
“I’m still climbing back up to my personal best,” Roach notes, figuring she’s about 90 percent of the way toward matching her Beijing performance.
That proved plenty good earlier this month, when Roach headed to Reno, Nev., and the U.S. American Open Championships. There, she established American Masters records in the snatch (167 pounds), the clean-and-jerk (222 pounds) and combined total (389 pounds).
Those records might be nice, but Roach will not be defined by age. “I don’t think of myself as Masters,” she said, allowing that the descriptive phrase “vintage” might be more to her liking.
In the end, she maintains, “age will not limit me.”
Still, the years cannot be ignored. Of the 955 athletes in Reno, only three were older that Roach. Considering her competition, she freely admits, “I could be their mother.”
But the question of age is certainly nothing new. When Roach arrived at the Beijing Olympics she was 33, already fielding questions about competing at an advanced age – advanced, that is, in the world of Olympic sports.
A new way of looking at lifting
With her previous lifting coach retired, Roach turned to Street, who has provided a new approach. While physical strength is still required, Roach is aiming for technical proficiency, focusing on speed and explosiveness.
She is inspired by the results.
She is just as enthused about the change Christofferson has brought about with regard to her body. His approach to deep-tissue massage, Roach said, has freed her muscles to work independently, as they did when she was much younger.
The road gets tougher
Based on her recent success, Roach has been invited by USA Weightlifting to a Feb. 19 competition in Philadelphia that will go a long way toward determining her competitive future.
Following the February event, the top 15 women in the country – as determined by a complex formula – will be selected to take part in the Olympic Trials. The chosen 15 will be from across the seven weight classes making up the women’s sport.
“I think my chances are good,” Roach said of earning a trip to Salt Lake City, the site of the Olympic Trials. She currently is ranked 12th nationally.
The Trials are set for May 4-6 and will determine the team making the trip to the 2016 Summer Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.