An American Open Story

by Matt Bosack

There will be a lot of stories from the American Open this year, I’m sure. A lot of amazing things happened. Records were broken. Some amazing new lifters took the podium while other established lifters struggled. My story is smaller, but it’s one worth telling.

A year ago, Wendy Huang walked into my gym with one goal — to get stronger and better at weightlifting. She was strong and mobile in the hips and ankles, but had some issues in overhead mobility and did not want to get under the bar in the snatch. In other words, she had tremendous potential, but I’ve had tremendous potential walk through my doors before.

Getting better was going to take hard work, and sure enough, she showed up and took the cues, the drills, and the reps. Whatever I and the other coaches threw her way, she did, no questions asked. As she improved, we started to realize that qualifying for the American Open was within reach. She showed up and trained consistently, and she never complained. She put in the work, week in and week out, and while there were plenty of bad training days to go along with the good, you would never have known it from her demeanor or disposition. She always stayed positive and kept grinding. And within a year, her numbers went from a 37kg snatch and 64kg clean and jerk to 62kg snatch and 80kg clean and jerk.

At the recent American Open, her first (but certainly not last) national tournament, she went out there and had probably the most challenging meet yet. It was a bit chaotic in the warm up area — it was the first time we had to share a platform and equipment with three-plus other lifters from other clubs. And leading up to the open, we had to limit her weights and reps because of a nagging fatigue and soreness in her right knee. All that plus the nerves of a national tournament, and we knew this was going to be a battle.

She went out and overshot her first snatch. It was powerful and fast, but a bit wild. The first thing she said when she got off the platform was, “Yeah, that was the nerves.” She relaxed and went out and hit her second snatch at 55kg. We bumped her up to 59 for her final attempt, and she just pulled the bar a bit too far back to hold it. So she went 1-3 in the snatch. Best laid plans go to waste, but we were glad to get out of there with a successful attempt.

The clean and jerks are Wendy‘s real strength. Unlike most women lifters in the US, Wendy doesn’t have “CrossFit legs” — where you catch a heavy clean and can’t stand it up because your squats are weak relative to your pull. Standing up from a clean is always easy for her. So we were excited going in. We thought, piece of cake, let’s open at 74, then hit 78, and maybe try for a new PR at 81.

She hit that 74kg clean opener easy, but missed the jerk because of a press out. Okay, that wasn’t what we were hoping for, but it’s okay. She has this weight, no problem. She went out again and hit the clean easy, but again… a slight press out on the left elbow on the jerk. The judges were looking for it at this point. The lockout is something we’ve been working on a lot, but it’s clear something was “off” right now. Everything else was there — the clean, the dip, the drive. It was just that damn lockout.

She had just one attempt left. This was not what we were expecting. She was 1-for-5 at this point, and usually by now, she’s 4-for-5. At this point, if she missed her final attempt, she wouldn’t have posted a total, and she would have “bombed out” in her first national meet. The pressure of this final attempt was abundantly present, but Coach Paul and I tried to keep her (and ourselves) calm and just told her the usual, asking her to use her strong legs to throw the weight up and snap under the bar.

Wendy is usually quiet behind the scenes of a competition. The most we usually get is a little smile, a nod, and an “Okay.” This was no different. As we talked to her, we got a few nods, saw her take some deep breaths and just before this final attempt, she smiled and said, “Okay.”

As she went out to the platform, my heart was pounding. I wanted this lift so bad. I know in the grand scheme of things, bombing out at a meet isn’t the end of the world. It was happening left and right at the AO this year. But she worked so hard and through so much to get here. I wanted her to finish strong.

There she was on the platform. She tightened her weight belt and did her little one-two stomp before getting to the bar. The entire crowd was behind her. Even the loaders were shouting, “Let’s go, Wendy!” Everybody knew this was a make-or-break lift, and they wanted to see her hit it.

Then came the pull off the floor. It was smooth. Wendy extended and got under the bar with speed and precision, just like the first two cleans. She stood up easily. I shouted my usual cue to her, “Drive and snap!” but I know she probably couldn’t hear me. That jerk was all on her. The powerlessness as a coach at that point is both frustrating and terrifying, but I believed in her. She dipped… drove… and SNAP! Those elbows locked out. Her back foot was a little off, though. Could she hold it…? She stood up, brought her feet together, holding that weight overhead as strong as she possibly could…

BEEP! The down signal was given. The crowd erupted in cheers, but she and I both knew that cheers wouldn’t matter until we saw it… three white lights. A good lift by unanimous decision.

As she walked back with the biggest smile on my face, I saw the product of an entire year’s worth of hard work. I saw the thousands of reps from her training. I saw the high fives when things went well and the pats on the back when they didn’t. But most of all, I saw the satisfaction of accomplishing something great.

I am so proud of how far Wendy has come. She qualified for a national event and fought and clawed to finish strong despite the challenges thrown her way. She is proof that hard work and dedication do pay off. So long as you are willing to put in the effort and devote yourself to something, you can achieve success.

I am thrilled to have been along for this ride. This first chapter is complete, and the best is yet to come.

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Matt Bosack is the Head Coach of Downtown LA Weightlifting and Trojan CrossFit.

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