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Worth the weight: This Idaho mom is lifting her way toward an Olympic dream

Idaho

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Kristi Brewer warms up in the gym built in the RV bay of her garage. “I’m the only mom in the top 20 athletes (on Team USA),” says Brewer. “Often my kids are in the garage with me training. Or I’ll do a session when they’re sleeping.” | Katerine Jones, KJONES@IdahoStatesman.com

Kristi Brewer played all the sports at Kuna High School, and softball through college. She gave that up when she graduated from college and got a high-power job in corporate accounting. Ten years later, the Idaho Statesman reports she gave that up to be a full-time wife and stay-at-home mom to her daughters.

She’s maybe not the first person you’d think of for a possible spot in the Olympics.

“It’s like a dream I never had,” she says. “It was so big and so audacious that I never even thought to dream it.”

A mere four years ago, Brewer started lifting weights. Today, she’s ranked fifth in her class for Team USA, from which the Olympic weightlifting team will be chosen. She doesn’t have enough competition points to make the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo. But 2024? Look out, world.

MARRIAGE. KIDS. JOB. TIME FOR HER? NAH.

Brewer grew up in Kuna and played softball and soccer; she ran track and did cheerleading. She played fast-pitch softball for three years in college and thrived on the adrenaline. But when she graduated from college — well, that was the end of that.

“I just thought it’s over,” remembers Brewer. “My competitive sports life is done.”

There was a long list of assumptions that dictated what came next: “I have to grow up. I have to be an adult. I need to get a job. I need to have kids. I need to raise a family,” she says. “Those were the next life steps.

“And it was really, really hard for me to close that chapter.”

She did get married. She did get a job — her onetime dream job, actually, she says, as a CPA in corporate America in Los Angeles. And she did have children: two daughters.

“There was literally 10 years when I did not do fitness,” says Brewer. Hey, she was busy.

“(But) finally, I needed something that was for me. It was a turning point in my life where I needed something that was not work and was just for — me.

“I had lost, I think, the sense of developing myself as a human being.”

She ran marathons, but that wasn’t her style. She discovered CrossFit, which was a start, and then happened on a coach who specialized in weightlifting.

“He was like, ‘You’re a weightlifter. You’re built like a weightlifter. Stop doing CrossFit. Do weightlifting.’”

So she did.

“It fit me,” she says.

“Lifting heavy weights — as a female, that was not something I did as a youth. (But) I’m short, I’m stocky, and so being in that community was super-cool.”

AN OLYMPIC WEIGHTLIFTER AT HER AGE?

Olympic weightlifting is two lifts: the snatch, and the clean and jerk. Scores and rankings are based on a total score, so competitors must excel in both lifts.

“I came into the sport thinking, ‘Oh, I’m strong. I’ll crush it,’” she said. “The more you get into it, you realize it’s not just strength.”

The accountant in her loves the meticulousness of the sport, the speed, agility, timing and rhythm. And the mental aspect, because it is so technical.

“It’s literally every single sport I’ve ever done in my life, wrapped up into one,” she says. “It’s very fast — we have to lift the weight in like a split second.”

Brewer, who is 38, is competing against people considerably younger. Her age — older than 35 — qualifies her to compete in masters, but her scores allow her to also compete in the senior (or open) class, where young, elite, Olympic-level athletes compete.

“I would love to be 20 and where I’m at, but I’m not,” she says. “This is the perfect quote: ‘The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second-best time is now.’

“Like, I’m never going to be 20 again, so I have to accept where I’m at. … and I love that I’m breaking the stigma.

“There’s a stigma that once you get so old, you should not lift, you should not train so hard. ‘You can’t lift, you can’t train hard, you’ll never reach this level; you will never be an elite athlete.’ I’ve been told all that stuff.

“So I love that I’m breaking that stigma. Because I am. I’m competing and beating people half my age.”

BEING A MOM — AND WEIGHTLIFTER

Brewer trains six days a week — for three or more hours at a time, by herself, while the kids are in school, in the third garage bay where an RV used to be parked. Sometimes she does two workouts a day. In her press material, she notes that she’s also been known to travel with a barbell in her minivan, training in parking lots while her daughters are in gymnastics or soccer.

Brewer’s coach is in California, so she videos her workouts and sends them to him for feedback; that allows her to live in Meridian, where she and her husband have chosen to raise their girls.

While some parents have stories about what they did “back in the day,” Brewer’s daughters are watching her story unfold right now.

“My oldest daughter sees me — do bad in competition, do good in competition, get frustrated in the garage. She see what I go through and so it’s easier for her to relate.

“My younger daughter, it’s been the opposite. She has taught me more …”

Brewer’s youngest daughter is autistic. For her, every task must be broken down into the tiniest of methodical steps — much like the weightlifting technique. “If you can focus on one thing, and master that, then you can make progress,” Brewer says.

“She’s made me a better person. … Every day, she proves the value of hard work and persistence. Anything is possible if you’re willing to put in time and effort, with a little bit of attitude and spunk.

“And she’s only 7. It’s crazy.”

BIGGER DREAMS. OLYMPICS, ANYONE?

Competitive sports was a door that Brewer thought had closed for her.

“It’s been amazing for me to realize there really is no linear path in life,” she says. “Now I get to be an athlete again, and that’s a life and a dream that I never thought I would be able to fulfill later in life. …

“It’s a second chance that I never thought I would have.”

In October, Brewer competed in her first international event in San Diego, where she earned points toward Team USA. She got second in her weight class, but she set a personal record in clean and jerk, and a personal record for her total.

For the next four years, Brewer will train and compete, and earn points for Team USA.

“This is my journey,” she says. “When I compare it to someone else’s journey of where they’re already at and where I want to be — it’s so depressing, because I’m not there yet. … But I can’t compare myself to that. …

“Weightlifting has given me confidence in myself. … Weightlifting, as selfish as it seems, is for me. These are my goals, my work, and something I’m striving to achieve for me.

“And as I focus on developing me, I’m able to be a better mom, a better wife.”

Not all dreams end up wearing a Team USA singlet. But sometimes they do.

“The more I’ve achieved, the more I realized I can achieve,” Brewer says.

“I didn’t think I was good enough, or that I could be good enough. But the more I put in the work, the little successes made me have bigger dreams.

“And the dreams keep getting bigger.”

On Jan. 24, Brewer will leave to compete in Rome for Team USA. “Also very rad to add,” she wrote in an email. “Super-excited and a huge competition.”

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