I got to interview Natalie Woolfolk of the US Weightlifting team today at the Pan American Games.
She is 5'3' and 135 and it's all a bundle of energy. She won a bronze medal in the women's 63 kilogram class with a total of 213 kilograms (that's almost 470 pounds).
She was a great interview. She is small and perky and laughs readily. She likes to talk about life - not just about sport. She loves James Brown's music - which makes her a champion in my book. Before her bronze medal effort she was listening to "Get Up Offa That Thang" which she said pumped her up.
Natalie is the daughter of the strength and conditioning coach at the U.S. Naval Academy - Kirk Woolfolk. She has improved so much in the past few years that her dad says he won't lift with her any more.
She also loves to cook and hopes to open a bed a breakfast one day. We started comparing lasagna recipes - "do you use dry noodles or wet?" (she uses a combo noodle that's premoistened). "Do you start with peppers and onions in olive oil?" (she doesn't she uses onions and mushrooms). "Do you like it cold the next day?" (she does - but hey doesn't everyone?).
I was so charmed by this young woman - until I looked at her legs. This woman has the legs of a linebacker - I mean Brian Urlacher legs - which is where she gets her power from. That's the deceptive thing about her sport, too. People think that you have to be huge to be a weight lifter - like Vasiliy Alexiev of the former Soviet Union. But this is not so.
Natalie - like Tara Knott - is petite, and if you saw her in street clothes, you would not think she has the kind of power she has. But sitting about three feet from her talking about her sport, I could see how strong she is. She started in gymnastics and trained with weights in her garage once a growth spurt kept her off the balance beam. But it has paid off in many ways.
This girl plays for keeps. Her boyfriend is also a weight lifter - super heavyweight Casey Burgener. She used to work at the Home Depot, but now trains so much that she has no time for work. She also started a cooking club at the US Olympic training facility in Colorado Springs.
Natalie almost got teary when she talked about how much weight lifting has meant to her.
“I love weight lifting,” she said. “But I also enjoy – I have met my boyfriend through this. I have met my very, very best friends through weight lifting. It is very dear to me the opportunities that I have and the people I get to meet.”
In journalism school they teach you not to get too close to the story – to maintain a distance. But after talking to Natalie and getting to know her story, I couldn’t help hoping that I see her again next year in Beijing.