When the set of brand new weights arrived at the gym she co-owned, Melanie Roach felt a yearning that she thought she’d never feel again.
“I had officially retired (from weightlifting) after the 2008 Olympics,” said the mother of five who competed for the U.S. in the 2008 Summer Games. “Two years ago, we started a weightlifting program attached to the gymnastics gym (we owned for 19 years). … When the weights arrived, I took them out of the box. I just felt compelled to lift the weights in that gym.”
That decision led to an unexpected journey that will bring her from her Washington home to Salt Lake City this weekend where she will be the oldest competitor in the 2016 USA Weightlifting National Championships and U.S. Olympic Trials at the Salt Palace Convention Center.
“For me, it’s a love of the game kind of thing,” said the 41-year old, who still owns the American record in the 53-kilo weight class for the clean and jerk (113 kilos, 1998) and total (193 kilos, 2008). “This is very unexpected and I’m super excited. I can’t wait to become part of this historical event.”
Part of Roach’s excitement is re-entering a sport she’s loved for more than two decades. And part of it is knowing that the competitive field is so deep and talented that U.S. records – maybe even hers — will be shattered at this weekend’s competition. The competition begins Friday and runs through Sunday, with the trials scheduled for Sunday afternoon.
Roach never set out to qualify for her third Olympic trials. She was simply enjoying being reunited with the sport that took her to the Beijing Olympics, when her business partner Chelsea Herzog encouraged her to compete. It took a few months to convince her, but Roach finally relented, entering the American Open in December 2014 to celebrate her 40th birthday.
“It was a weird turn of events because I ended up winning, which was very unexpected,” she said.
But it was what came next that was the real surprise.
“I got a call in July, about five days before the Pan American Games,” she said. “The number one girl pulled out at the last second, and they had just gone down the list of qualified (athletes). The three people ahead of me had turned it down. Because I could make weight and I could get on a plane in three days, I was allowed to go and compete in the Pan American Games in Toronto. It was all very random, not like I sought out after it.”
Participating in that international competition opened the door to this week’s Olympic Trials. If she could stay in the top 15 in her weight class, she was eligible to compete in the trials. It was then that she decided she wanted to push herself as hard as she could to see what was possible for a middle-age mom.
She said when it came time to make a decision about whether to commit herself to the training necessary to compete this week, she asked her family for guidance.
“There was a point when I said, ‘I’m tired, and this is really hard’,” she said. “I was trying to train really hard, and progress is hard at this point in my life. It’s hard to sacrifice time from them.”
When she asked her husband and children whether the sacrifices were worth it, they reassured her.
“They wanted me to go to the Olympic trials,” Roach said. So much so, that they've figured out ways to give her more free time. Her mom, Bonnie Kosoff, even stays with the family several nights a week help care for the children, who range in age from 4 to 15.
Roach said she’s always loved weightlifting, as it’s never felt like “working out.”
“It’s a stress reliever,” she said. “I always say it's cheaper than therapy. The more fit and healthy I feel, the more I have to offer as a mom and a wife and a business owner. I’m just happier.”
She said the cross fit craze has introduced the masses to a sport many misunderstand.
“I used to go to a national meet and there would be eight people in my weight class,” she said. “Now there are like 40. It’s really awesome to see. Now you have to fight for every kilo. That’s what makes it so much more fun.”
She said the level of talent is so significant, she believes this will be the most competitive trials in history. The U.S. team will take three women, and one of those spots already belongs to Jenny Arthur. Sarah Robles is likely second, and with so many points, it will be tough to overtake her.
“That third spot is going to be a dog fight,” she said. “It’s going to come down to that last lift. I’m excited to watch that unfold. … I think that it’s awesome that in order to make the 2016 team, you have to be the best America has ever (had) in your weight class.”
Roach said she’s simply going to enjoy the competition — participating and watching — because while she is a long shot to make the team, this won’t be her last competition.
“It’s different when you’re not fighting for one of the top three spots,” she said. “I feel less pressure. But I still want to have my best meet of the last two years. It’s exciting. I’m working on setting a master’s record, breaking my own records now. I don’t think this is the end for me.”
So far, she hasn’t been able to compete against just women her own age.
“I really want to get some world records,” she said. “I feel like I can move really well, really efficient. I don’t think it’s as easy to put on muscle as you age.”
Still, her family will continue to come first, especially after how they’ve supported her the last two years.
“Everybody has sacrificed — my husband, my coach, my partner, my mom, my kids,” she said. “A lot of people sacrificed for me to get to the Olympic trials.”