Female Olympic hopeful watching her weights
By: RUTH MARVIN WEBSTER - Staff Writer
Olympic weight lifter. For most of us, a 300-pound Russian or Chinese in red Spandex overalls is the picture that springs to mind. View A VideoBut nothing could be farther from that image than 2008 Olympic hopeful Aimee Anaya, who looks more like she should be modeling bikinis on a beach somewhere in Brazil than lifting 200 pounds over her head.
One of the top 20 women weight lifters in the country, Fallbrook resident Anaya is training twice a day, five times a week in coach Mike Burgener's Bonsall garage. Burgener, a Rancho Buena Vista High School teacher, has been coaching young weight lifters since 1975, and since 1986, training them in his two-car garage, which he calls Mike's Gym, part of Team Southern California.
Burgener is a senior international coach with USA Weightlifting, the governing body of the sport. He has trained his two older sons to reach the national level and is now training his daughter Sage, a junior at RBV, with the 30-year-old Anaya."He used to say he'd never train women," said Anaya with a giggle. But now, Burgener admits, he prefers coaching women, because he finds the ones he trains have much less ego and are more willing to listen.Burgener prints out daily training sessions based on their strengths and weaknesses for the two young women, who will compete in the nationals in May. "Every day is a challenge, for we both set goals that aren't even part of the workout," Anaya said of her training."Someday, I want them to clean-and-jerk heavy," said Burgener. "When the frying pan is hot, you go for it."Like the men, women weight lifters have two exercises: the snatch, where the weight is grabbed and lifted from the ground to overhead, and the clean-and-jerk, where the bar is lifted from the ground to the shoulders and then, in a second movement, overhead.Anaya demonstrates the clean-and-jerk: With her muscular legs firmly planted on the mat, she takes a deep breath, her eyes clouded over with steely determination. Then, her diaphragm pushing against the sides of the leather belt cinched tightly around her waist, in one sudden explosion of strength Anaya jerks and pushes the great weighted bar over her head, ponytail swinging behind her. Three or four seconds pass, but the bar only bends under the weights on each end. Then with a flinch, she stands back and allows the weight to drop to the ground, the foundation quivering as it hits the mat.An Olympic sport for women only since 2000, weight lifting and the women athletes who do it come in all shapes and sizes. Women have seven weight classes, from 48 kilos (105 pounds) to 75-plus (165 pounds or more).Perhaps the best-known American woman weight lifter is the 2000 Olympic bronze medalist Cheryl Haworth. In the 75-plus kilo class, and in 2000, she broke both the junior and senior national record when she lifted 319 pounds in the clean-and-jerk.Anaya, who was previously in the 63 kilo category, has recently moved to 69 kilos. Burgener said Anaya was too lean at 63 kilos, and the fact that two of the best American women weight lifters are in the 63 kilo class helped them decide she had a better chance at 69 kilos.Anaya came to Burgener in 1996, when her North County club volleyball coach sent her to Mike's Gym to help her with spiking and jumping. Burgener said many of his athletes, from basketball to football players to gymnasts, benefit from this kind of weight training, as it increases their flexibility and explosiveness off the ground."An 88-pound snatch generates more power than a 300-pound bench press," said Burgener. "Strength comes from the legs; the idea is to create momentum and drive the body under the bar."Four months after she started lifting, he said, Anaya qualified for the national junior squad and went to the country's premier training camp in Colorado Springs, Colo. She also silver-medaled in the national junior championships."She got focused and got good and quit before the 2000 (Olympic) trials," said Burgener, with a look of extreme displeasure. "She broke my heart."But, at age 25 and a single mother, Anaya felt she needed to take time off from the sport to finish her undergraduate degree in psychology at Cal State San Marcos and devote more time to her daughter, Jade, now 5.After nearly six years, though, she was back, deciding to return to the gym just for fun. On her first try back, she lifted a whopping 57.5 kilos (126.5 lbs.) right off the mat. Now, she says, retirement has made her stronger and better than ever, recently earning a silver medal at the Arnold Classic in Columbus, Ohio. That's the first qualifier for the Pan American games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil and the world championships to be held in Thailand in October 2007."You mature," Anaya said. "And mental strength is really important in this sport. The motivation and the drive that I have now, I never had then."She is also better at managing her nerves. "My first nationals in August last year was a turning point for me," she recalled. "I call them 'freak outs,' and I had one then. I wasn't mentally preparing, so I did reading on visualization and controlling my fear of failure."She said she learned to relax mentally. "I'm a completely different athlete than before," she said. "I was so worried about what other people were thinking."Burgener, who agrees that she is a better, more determined athlete this time around, puts it this way: "You need to be a junkyard dog. Intimidation will knock you down if you're not tenacious."Last week, Anaya was lifting 88 kilos (193 pounds) in the snatch and 108 kilos (237 pounds) in the clean-and-jerk. "But she's much better than that," said Burgener."I'm going to the Olympics," said Anaya with complete and utter certainty.She said she grew up in a difficult home environment in Hemet as a child of drug-addicted parents. She is the only one in the family to graduate from college, she said.Now she is working on a master's degree and does her homework after Jade has fallen asleep at night. She also works as a server at the South Coast Winery in Fallbrook four days a week to pay the bills.It takes a village to raise a world-class athlete. Her boyfriend, Greg Everett of Catalyst Athletics in Fallbrook, is her nutritionist; Jade's fraternal grandparents baby-sit, and her chiropractor, Jason Coleman, and physical therapist, Bill Atkins, are good friends.She also has the support not only of her coach, but the entire Burgener family. And though it is sometimes difficult to make ends meet (she calls the two-bedroom apartment she shares with Jade "the storage shed") and find sponsors for events, she relishes each medal. Right now, she couldn't be more thrilled about the purchase of a new massage table.And with that magical mixture of dedication, drive and support, Anaya has a great chance of making the American women's Olympic weight lifting team and putting a new face on the sport of weight lifting, the way Mary Lou Retton inspired young women in gymnastics, Mia Hamm in soccer and Michelle Wie now in women's golf."I think the common misconception about weight lifting is that either I am one of those bodybuilding girls who pose in a bikini, or they think you have to be big and huge," said Anaya. "And yes, there are some ugly women, but there are a lot of pretty girls too. I mean, look at me ---- I can wear a cute skirt and high heels and look feminine. I wish there was a pretty face on weight lifting ---- whether it's mine or someone else's ---- that shows you can be sexy and petite and be a weight lifter."Anaya has the looks, charm and determination to bring her sport mainstream. Who knows? One day, we might all be saying we knew her when.