Mother of Three Returns to Weightlifting, Olympics
After everything weight lifter Melanie Roach had been through in her Olympic quest, it had come down to this — chewing cinnamon gum and spitting.
To compete in her weight class at the Olympic trials last month, Roach could weigh no more than 117 pounds. But at the weigh-in, Roach was ever so slightly over. So she needed to lose some weight — fast.
One Olympic Training Center coach suggested she sit in the sauna and sweat. Her own coach, John Thrush, told her to chew gum and spit. And for some reason, cinnamon gum seems to work best at creating saliva that can be spit out.
The trick worked, and the 5-foot-2-inch champion went on to win the No. 1 spot on the U.S. women's four-member Olympic weight-lifting team.
For the 33-year-old mother of three, securing a slot on the U.S. Olympic team was the culmination of a quest that began more than a decade ago — and has been punctuated by huge disappointments, months of intractable pain caused by a herniated disk, back surgery and lessons learned from her autistic son.
Despite the toll lifting has taken on her body and the pain she has endured, the former gymnast says she loves the sport.
"If you could crawl into my body and truly enjoy the sense of accomplishment, you would do it, too!" she says.
Eyeing the Olympics
Originally, Roach had hoped to compete in the 2000 Olympics, but the pain in her back became too severe. She called it quits. Over the next few years, she had three kids, opened a gymnastics center and was living a very full life.
But she still harbored an Olympic dream.
In 2005, when her youngest child was just a month old, she told her husband that she wanted to return to competitive lifting.
Dan Roach, a Washington state legislator, wasn't surprised.
"I knew she had that passion, and I knew she had that desire to correct what happened. She had a real rough time in '98, '99 and 2000. So she had a lot of ghosts haunting her, and I knew she wanted that shot to do what she knew she could do," he says.
With her petite frame, fuchsia nails and perfect makeup, Roach defies your expectation of what a woman who holds the American record for the clean and jerk in her weight class would look like.
There is nothing beefy or chunky about her. And only when you look at her arms in the middle of a lift do you get an idea of just how strong she is.
The self-described perfectionist is a fierce competitor who loves the individual nature of Olympic lifting. Your only opponent is yourself and the weight on the bar, she says — and 200 pounds is always 200 pounds.
"I've treated lots of pro athletes in a variety of sports, and Melanie is in a class of her own for energy and dedication," says Dr. Robert Bray, a Southern California back surgeon who performed minimally invasive surgery on Roach in 2006.
Appreciating the Now
Roach's Olympic quest has been both complicated and enriched by her son Drew, who is autistic. Not long after Drew was diagnosed three years ago, Roach went into a near depression.
A devout Mormon, she prayed her son would get better. When he didn't, she went to her bishop in tears. He told her to stop focusing on what Drew couldn't do.
It was, she says, a turning point. She began to truly embrace who Drew was — living in the moment with him and not dwelling on the past or the future.
"I really feel like that concept of enjoying the now and not worrying about the future is what my coach has been trying to teach me for 14 years — and that is what has made me such a different athlete 10 years later, and that is what has made me strong enough mentally to make this Olympic team."