From The U.P. To Rio: Michigan’s Olympic Connection [Video]
In the spacious spruce wood Superior Dome facility on the campus of Northern Michigan University in Marquette is a small, sweaty room where the best weightlifters in the country train.
And it's finally produced an Olympic medalist.
In 1985, the US Olympic Committee established a training site at Northern Michigan University in Marquette. It was created to allow access to optimal training facilities for elite athletes who were also pursuing college degrees. Four years later, it became the nation's only Olympic Education Center.
Initially intended to take advantage of the Upper Peninsula's extreme cold and snow to train Winter Olympians, the Center later expanded its program to include Summer Olympians training for Boxing, Wrestling and Weightlifting competitions.
The Center changed the landscape for those looking for fully immersed training. Over 70 medalists from 40 countries have used NMU's Facilities, and over 100 have earned college degrees or high school diplomas.
Two years ago, the Center's status was changed from an Educational Center to simply a training center, but those medals keep coming. In Rio, two veterans of the NMU training site earned ground breaking medals.
Helen Maroulis, a freestyle wrestler in the 53 kg category earned the first ever US gold medal for a female wrestler. And Sarah Robles earned the first weightlifting medal in either gender for the US team since 2000, taking a bronze in the Heavyweight category.
Robles, in particular, is an inspiration. According to Wikipedia, Robles competes with a deformity in her arm known as Madelung's deformity, which results in a radius that is shorter than normal and bowed. The deformity leads to significant pain during lifts, and Robles treats the pain with wrist wraps and warming creams.
Robles also writes a body positive blog about being a big woman who loves to weightlift, an activity not normally associated with feminity.
“What we wanted to accomplish with the blog was to make it more female-oriented because we feel that our sport is so male dominated,” she told NBC Sports. “And we feel that there are so many prejudices or stereotypes or misunderstandings about women and weightlifting and any form of strength training or strength and conditioning.”
Robles lifted 286 kg to get on the medal podium, and then dedicated the medal to women of size. "It's good not just for me, but for women of size, for women who want to get up off the couch and do something different," she told Reuters of her performance.
Maroulis, meanwhile, had to drop weight to compete in the 53kg class at the Olympics, giving up treats like chocolate and salad dressing. “I love sacrificing for a goal, that feeling like I’m investing in something,” she told Vogue magazine. “The fun part, the winning part: That’s two to five seconds where you’re getting your hand raised. Everything else is hard. You have to love the hard part.”
Moroulis stunned the wrestling world by defeating Japan's legendary champ Saori Yoshida to win gold. Yoshida had previously pinned Moroulis twice in competitions, and was more accustomed to the 53kg weight class.