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Snatching an opportunity

Weightlifter Amélie Romero trains for competition in the clean and jerk at Miller’s Gym in Santa Fe. (Eddie Moore/Albuquerque Journal)

Copyright © 2020 Albuquerque Journal

For four years, Amélie Romero struggled with gymnastics, trying to fine tune her moves to advance in the acrobatic sport.

And it just never happened.

Bu it didn’t take long in a weightlifting program for Romero, 16, a sophomore at Santa Fe High School, to realize that she had found her sport.

“I felt like I wanted to be good at it, but I never really excelled at gymnastics,” she said. “I never moved up in skills. When I started weightlifting and I realized that I was actually good at it, and actually getting better, I thought I found this thing in my life that I could excel at.”

And now, four years later, Romero is not just excelling, she’s competing for national championships.

Late Friday she successfully lifted 108 pounds in the snatch and 141 in the clean and jerk at the 2020 Youth National Weightlifting Championships, a virtual Zoom competition that continues through today.

Already the state record holder in her age group and weight class, Romero sees weightlifting as more than a sport.

“Weightlifting not only means getting strong for your age,” she said. “It’s taught me how to focus more in general in life. You have to find a certain place and a certain head space, and that takes a lot of work. It’s a very good thing to know how to do in life in general.”

Romero got her start in the sport by hanging out at the Miller Gym in Santa Fe, where her mother trained. Gym owner Shane Miller encouraged her to try it out.

Pretty soon, she was becoming a regular and now all thoughts of any other sport are gone as she lifts three to four times a week.

“I kind of forget how much work it is,” she said. “I’ll have a super long program and think, ‘Oh my God, why am I doing this to myself?’ But you get into your groove and you get used to working hard, and it comes easily to you. That is something my friends don’t understand or get into when they try. It seems like a lot of work to them.”

That doesn’t mean they don’t come to watch her compete, which she will miss this time around.

In her first big national meet for the American Open Series in Philadelphia when she was 13, she got a taste of what it was like to compete with few familiar faces for support.

“It was a huge stage,” she recalled. “It was kind of like losing your balance and sense of space. There were really bright lights and people everywhere. That was the moment I had to put all my skills to the test of focusing and not hearing anything but your coach, and not letting the bright lights or people district you.”

Romero, who was the youngest competitor there, actually succeeded beyond her wildest hopes in that meet, meeting all of her weight goals. She did so well that USA Weightlifting posted a video of her in action.

A few years later, though, she earned her first youth nationals berth and it was something of a humbling experience.

“It was a lot less nerve-wracking,” Romero said. “It was really cool to see how many kids in the U.S. lift. There were kids everywhere, and lot of girls. It was amazing. I hold the state records for New Mexico and so I would think that’s pretty strong for me. But you see these other girls lighter and younger than you lifting so much more, it’s crazy.”

Still, it was a successful experience.

“I made all my lifts,” Romero said. “It was a really good meet. And it was in Anaheim. Who doesn’t love Anaheim?”

This year’s meet was supposed to be in Atlanta in the summer, but kept getting postponed. Finally, organizers had no recourse but to do the meet virtually.

She entered the meet with a best of 106 pounds in the snatch and 123.5 pounds in the clean and jerk, and with the goal of beating both of those marks.

But this season has been tough because she broke her wrist skiing in January and was just starting to get back to the bar when COVID-19 struck, shutting everything down.

“I couldn’t just sit there and lose my training, so I did a lot of squats,” Romero said. “I did a lot of legs training. I had just gotten to the point where I could gently lift the bar when the whole shutdown first started.”

At first, she did a lot of work in an outdoor gym in her backyard and sent Miller videos of her training sessions.

“But mainly I was alone,” Romero said. “Then we got back into the gym. It was very strict. Masked, cleaning all of the equipment. But with the last shutdown, it was too cold, so I was working out in my coach’s garage. It was very ‘Rocky’ style. All bundled up. The garage is freezing, but you have to do it somewhere.”

As for where she wants to go with weightlifting in the future, it’s hard to say.

“I’ve been thinking about that a lot recently,” Romero said. “It’s really hard to tell. I don’t really know what I’m doing with my future. I don’t know what college I want to go to. I plan to stick with it as long as I can. Going to more and more big competitions is a big goal of mine. I would like to compete in the junior division because I have a good chance of setting a lot of high weights if I stay at the weight I am now. But I’m really playing it by ear.”