A broken bone or a torn ligament could be the end of many young athlete’s careers. But for Meghan Strey, 17, a fractured neck ended her gymnastics career and began one as a junior national weightlifting champion.
The Tahoma High School student, who will graduate with an associates degree from Green River College through the Running Start program, hopes to earn a bachelor’s degree in interior design. But, for now, Strey is taking a year or so off to pursue her weight lifting career.
Strey started as a young athlete, according to her mother Melanie Quaempts. Strey refers to her mother as her “manager,” and her biggest fan.
“Meaghan started out at Summit Gymnastics at the age of 9. She had begged me for years to sign her up for gymnastics and I finally was able to get her into a recreation class,” Quaempts told The Reporter. “On night one, the coaches there said they hoped she wasn’t signing up to compete because at her age it would be a difficult road. Within a month, they asked to move her over to the competitive side. They said they had never had a gymnast at her age ever have this type of natural ability. Shortly after, Summit decided to close their gymnastics program so she went onto Peak in Enumclaw. There she placed in the top three in all events in the state and eventually got so good that she had to switch gyms to compete in higher levels. Auburn gymnastics became her home until 15 months ago she injured herself coming off the vault and getting a neck fracture. She made the tough decision to end her gymnastic career.”
While recovering from her injury in June, 2018, her gymnastic coach told her she should try weightlifting to stay in shape. She started at Alpha Barbells in Pacific to gain her strength back but soon was poised to begin competing. At first Strey’s mom was wary, but when she saw how well Strey was doing at competitions she became all about weightlifting.
“Within six months it was clear she had a special talent. Long story short, she just took first at Junior Nationals weightlifting in California,” Quaempts said.
From there Strey was headed to senior nationals, but the competition has been pushed back due to the international coronavirus pandemic. She’s still practicing at home, since her school and gym are closed for quarantine, and is preparing to compete against some of the best.
“We’ll see if they have to postpone it but I really am hoping they don’t,” Strey said.
Many people maybe don’t know how lifting weights can become competitive. Strey said there is powerlifting and Olympic-style weight lifting. Strey competes in Olympic lifting. In Olympic lifting there are two main moves, the snatch and the clean and jerk. The snatch is when an athlete grabs their barbell weights from the floor and over their head in one movement. The clean and jerk is a composite of two weightlifting movements, most often performed with a barbell. During the clean, the lifter moves the barbell from the floor to a racked position across the deltoids, without resting fully on the clavicles. During the jerk the lifter raises the barbell to a stationary position above the head, finishing with straight arms and legs, and the feet in the same plane as the torso and barbell.
“I’ll always do squats, and I’ll do bench presses just as like an accessory,” Strey said. “I’ll do kind of like pulls, which is kind of powerlifting but I don’t really do powerlifting I focus on Olympic lifting.”
The weight measured in competition is measured by kilos. Strey said in the snatch event she’s lifted 106 kilos, equal to 233.69 pounds. In the clean and jerk she’s raised 103 kilos, or 227.07 pounds.
Strey said she’s decided to put off college right after high school because it’s harder to get back into weightlifting the older someone is, and she hopes to compete in the Junior Pan-American Games, set in Columbia in September, 2020.
“That’s the focus right now is to qualify for that team,” Strey said. “My weight class is a harder one because you kind of have to lift as the girls who are heavier than me but it’s a good motivator for training.”
Strey is taking this time during the pandemic to train and home and focus on her next goals, to represent Tahoma and King County internationally.
“To get to this level I have watched her turn into an elite athlete. Her mental and physical commitment is far above her 17-year-old age. I feel as though there is something beautiful in her story. Everyone cautioned us that she was just too old and even in weightlifting she has achieved what takes most people years to achieve,” Quaempts said.