Three Green Lights
by Preston Powell
At 4:30 a.m. my alarm clock goes off and a feeling of dread washes over me. I have seven alarm clocks that go off every minute and are set all around my room. My final alarm clock is in the bathroom, where I start my day. I put on my USA weightlifting t-shirt, put headphones in, and play my favorite song (“300 Violins”) to get me motivated to head out the door. The reason I'm getting up this early is because I need to get a workout in before school. All this is to prepare for a national weightlifting competition in California.
My coach, Brice Johnson, meets me at The Baylor School and watches me as I warm up to see how I feel. He makes adjustments to my workout accordingly. Depending on how I feel and look, he will adjust the weights so that I don’t overuse any of my muscles. I can’t help but think about how football practice is going to be miserable today, just like it always is. These thoughts are on my mind constantly and make it difficult for me to focus on what is going on in the moment. My coach always challenges me to fight these thoughts and focus on what matters--the workout. Once I am done warming up, he watches me as I work on my snatch technique, which is something I struggled with. The lift is very complex and technical, so we work on it a lot. On this particular day, we only work up to 60kg because he wants to make sure that each day our technique gets better, to the point where I don’t need him to critique my every move. While this season had me worried with all my school work and afternoon football practices, weightlifting is where my passion is and where I want to spend most of my time.
Weightlifting started for me as a tool to get better for football. After my freshman year of football, I told myself that I would get into the weight room and train to get better for the next season. I met with a coach who was teaching Olympic weightlifting and was doing personal training as well. I liked his coaching technique, so I decided to start training with him at his gym, which met in the basement of the YMCA. It had a decent amount of space and had surround sound speakers blasting music that you could hear from the stairs walking down to the gym. The ride to the gym was what made me the happiest. At the time I was only 15, and I couldn't drive by myself yet. I liked riding my bike to the gym because it made me feel independent. There would be times where I would ride my bike from my house on Main Street to West 6th Street in the freezing cold. It was moments like those that made me happiest because I saw the dedication in myself of how much I loved this sport. Most of the time I only had on shorts and a t-shirt. The wind stung my eyes to the point where I would have to look down and tuck my face in my shirt to even see where I was going. Despite my discomfort, working out made the ride worth it.
Before meeting Brice, I had tried different weightlifting coaches, but none of them seemed to be a good fit. He noticed early on that my “fast twitch fibers” were extremely quick, which is something that you need to be a good weightlifter. He asked if I would like to start training in Olympic weightlifting on top of training for football as well. I agreed, and we began to train. Soon after, he scheduled me for my first meet in Homewood, AL. As soon as we arrived, I was extremely nervous. My hands were shaking before I walked inside, but I tried to keep my composure by hiding my face in my hoodie and listening to music. Inside, there was a platform in the front of the room with three judges chairs placed around it.
After warming up in the back room, the judges called my name. “Find something in the room to look at to distract yourself from the people looking at you,” my coach told me when I walked out to perform my first lift. That's exactly what I did. The first lift was the snatch, which was something I was still new to. I knew that once I completed my first lift all the nervousness would go away. As I approached the bar, I found the spot in the room and completed the lift by standing up with it. Once
Senior Preston Powell won three gold medals at the Youth Nationals for Weightlifting and is the #1 lifter in his age bracket and weight class in the country. He has qualified to compete internationally for the 2021 Junior World Team representing Team USA.
I was given the down signal by the judges, I dropped the weight to see three green lights, which meant the lift was good. Before I knew it, I was on my last lift, and this would be for a personal record and to win the competition. Before I walked out onto the platform for my last lift, my coach told me to focus on extending up on my lift, and then, as became his practice, he slapped me hard on the back. With the motivation from the sting on my back, I walked over to the bar, picked it up, and stood up with it. The lift was complete. At that moment I was filled with excitement and knew that I could get used to this. I felt a feeling of accomplishment and happiness that my hard work had paid off.
One of the things that built me into the person I am today is the passion for weightlifting. My family comes from a background where weightlifting has played a big role. My parents were both college athletes and met in the gym, which goes to show that the gym has always been a sort of home for us. Ever since I was little, I enjoyed the feeling of seeing myself progress and grow stronger as I made gains. Weightlifting also comes pretty naturally to me, which makes things much easier. We didn’t realize how good I was at weightlifting unil I really started training consistently and had someone help critique my form. Weightlifting has made a natural connection between myself and my father. When I was in middle school, we would often lift on the weekends together while he taught me form and the benefits that weightlifting had to offer.
Weightlifting has made a huge impact on me by giving me a clear purpose in life. Over time, people have seen how good I have become and they tell me that it would be stupid if I didn’t pursue this after high school. Weightlifting has become more than just a hobby for me, it has become a lifestyle. When times are tough and I worry that I don’t have a clear plan for my future yet, I realize that God has given me an ability to be good at something I love. By having this ability to be good at this sport, it has allowed me to be thankful for the opportunities that God has given me through it. It has also caused me to make some hard decisions to give up other things I enjoy doing, which has made me more mature as a person.