After attempting weightlifting for the first time only six months ago, and in only her second professional competition, Brittny Boyd took second place and earned a shot at national competition.

Boyd, a second-year exercise science graduate student in the 63-kilogram (138-pound) weight class, lifted a total of 323 pounds – nearly 2.4 times her own weight.

“Tell Beijing to look out for Brittny at the next Olympics,” said James Duba, fellow weightlifter and close friend.

At their latest meet on Oct. 20, Boyd and Duba performed two Olympic-style lifts. The “snatch,” where a barbell is lifted in one continuous motion off the ground and held overhead and the “clean and jerk,” where the barbell is lifted off the ground, then held across the chest momentarily before lifted overhead. Boyd explained that every competitor has three chances for both lifts, but the lifts must increase consecutively or remain equal for all three.

For her snatch, Boyd started off light and worked her way up to a heavier barbell, successfully lifting 70 kilograms (154 pounds). However, for her clean and jerk, Boyd said she got greedy because she figured she could beat her own personal record of 81 kilograms (178 pounds). She started off with 85 kilograms (187 pounds) and failed twice, but on her last try lessened the weight to 77 kilograms (169 pounds) and lifted it successfully.

“You have to come back from failure over and over again,” Boyd said.

As a former All-American sprinter and soccer player at The College of New Jersey, Boyd didn’t exactly have a weightlifting background. However, on a whim last May, Duba convinced her they should train together in preparation for an upcoming practice meet.

“I could tell she had potential,” Duba said. “I had no clue,” Boyd added.

Duba, a second-year exercise science graduate student, also had never participated in weightlifting. As an undergrad at the University of Wisconsin La Crosse, Duba played baseball, volleyball and soccer, but said his friend Kevin Kocos inspired him to attempt weightlifting.

Their first meet – which was just for practice – was held at Gary Valentine’s garage-turned-gym in Wilton, Conn. in June. Valentine, a 1983 UConn alumni and a world weightlifting champion, heads the Connecticut Weightlifting Club and said he noticed the potential of both Boyd and Duba right away.

“For the two of them to be doing this sport – to get into meets like this [nationals] and to perform so well – it’s phenomenal,” Valentine said.

Valentine has since coached Boyd and Duba, giving them tips on technique and training. But living 100 miles away from UConn, he said isn’t able to help them in person often.

After their practice meet, the duo trained together for the entire summer – every week, five days a week – in preparation for their first professional meet in August.

“It was intense,” Boyd said. “It was probably the most mentally tough thing I’ve ever done, as far as athletic endeavors.”

At the August competition, Boyd lifted 61 kilograms (134 pounds) in the snatch and 80 kilograms (176 pounds) in the clean and jerk, which earned her first place in her weight class.

“I did a little better than I expected,” Boyd said. “It was the combination of adrenaline and the supportive atmosphere.”

Duba came in third in his class, lifting 80 kilograms (176 pounds) in the snatch and 100 kilograms (220 pounds) in the clean and jerk.

Now, having qualified for nationals in October, Boyd is ranked 16 in the nation and has begun training for her next meet in February.

“At nationals she’s going to do very well,” Valentine said. “She has an energy for the sport that just radiates from her.”

Boyd, however, admitted she was nervous.

“The stakes are high and there will be a lot of people watching,” she said. “The key is to bring it on that day. It’s mental, it’s about staying focused.”

November 15, 2007