COLUMBIA —"How much do you bench press?"
When MU senior Whitnee Maycock tells people she is an Olympic-style weightlifter, this is the most common question she hears.
“If a person doesn’t see me and someone else tells them I’m a weightlifter, they ask if I look like a man,” Maycock said. “They assume I would look very masculine.”
At 5-feet, 6-inches, 152 pounds, with long blonde hair and a sparkling smile, Maycock does not look like a bodybuilder. Weightlifting is not bodybuilding. Maycock appears to be a normal college-aged girl.
But as a weightlifter, Maycock is also one of a kind. The questions she hears from outsiders might annoy her, but Maycock said support from those who know her is all she needs.
“My guy friends are pretty amazed,” Maycock said. “They brag about me. The girl friends I have down here, they are pretty astonished. They’re all really supportive. It takes kind of an attitude to lift a bunch of weight, but everyone is so supportive.”
Olympic weightlifting is not only done in the Olympics. It is its own sport. It consists of the snatch and clean-and-jerk lifts. Maycock said these lifts don’t require as much arm strength as they do leg strength and technique.
The snatch requires one of the fastest movements in all of sports. Lifters squat and lift the bar over their head in one movement, then stand with the bar still over their head. Lifters take a more narrow grip on the bar in the clean-and-jerk, picking up the bar and dropping under it in order to catch it at the collarbone then push it over their head.
Once it's understood that Maycock is a weightlifter, the next question she normally hears is why?
The answer is simple: Because she loves it.
Maycock gained an interest in weightlifting when she was in high school. She caught the attention of many male athletes on her school’s football team and with the gawking came the realization that she had a natural talent for lifting.
“I have no hand-eye coordination,” Maycock said. “I worked with what I was naturally given. I have the genetics for a weight lifter, not a basketball player.”
The one problem Maycock had when she got to college was finding a way to get involved. She wanted to compete, but found it next to impossible to find others who shared her passion. She loved individual sports, so before she started Olympic weightlifting, she served one-and-a-half semesters as a strength coach for the Missouri wrestling team.
“Our sports are similar in a lot of ways,” Maycock said. “I wanted to be a wrestler in high school, but I didn’t because it was a small town and I would have been looked down on.”
About a year after she stopped coaching the team, Maycock became roommates with Missouri wrestler Raymond Jordan and three former wrestlers. Maycock said her boyfriend of 21 months is supportive and does not have a problem with her living situation.
“When I first told him, his roommate was a girl, so he didn’t have much argument,” Maycock said. “He knew one of my roommates. He was a little hesitant, but he didn’t get mad or anything.”
Jordan said having a female coach was not strange.
“It wasn’t any different,” Jordan said. “At first, we wondered who she was. Once we got to know her, we were able to laugh and joke.”
After being accepted by the wrestling team, Maycock moved past the worries she had in high school about being looked down on. She now lived in a bigger city and she knew she had the ability to be good.
Two-and-a-half years ago, Maycock found former MU professor, Dr. Tom Lafontaine, a former Olympic weightlifter who has been coaching the sport for about 14 years.
Lafontaine said the passion Maycock showed was amazing. He said she came in with the mindset that she wanted to get good, and she has improved fast.
“She has progressed real well with her technique,” Lafontaine said. "She’s probably doubled her weights from when we started.”
After about a year of training, Maycock started to compete.
Maycock earned second in the 2008 National Collegiate Championships in Reno, Nev., in the 69-kilo (152-pound) weight class.
In her latest competition last Friday at the Arnold Schwarzenegger Classic in Columbus, Ohio, Maycock won the 69-kilo weight class with a lift of 154 pounds in the snatch and 187 in the clean-and-jerk. Her personal bests are 168 pounds in the snatch and 198 in the clean-and-jerk.
Maycock says competition is what keeps her motivated. She trains with Lafontaine one day a week, but also trains on average five-to-six days a week at Optimus gym, a fitness club in Columbia.
The competitions are not frequent and recently Maycock found herself stuck in a plateau. She was battling back from injuries and was finding it hard to see results in the amount of work she was doing. The Arnold Schwarzenegger Classic reminded her why she has a passion for what she does.
“The passion comes and goes,” Maycock said. “Whenever I go to a meet, I realize why I am doing it. The good days make me want to do it more.”
After she graduates, Maycock, who is working on degrees in nutrition-and-fitness and psychology, says she wants lifting to still be a part of her life.
Women's weightlifting became an Olympics sport in 2000, and Lafontaine says he thinks Maycock has the ability to go that far.
“It’s in the back of your mind, to get that good and make the national team and travel internationally,” Lafontaine said. “She could get there.”
Mayock smiles when the topic comes up and while she admits it has crossed her mind, she says she is not thinking that far ahead yet.
“It’s become such a big part of my life,” Maycock said. “My day wouldn’t feel complete without it.”
For now, Maycock says she doesn’t care if people think she is weird. She loves what she does and says that is all that matters.