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Age no great burden for Olympic weightlifter Jessica Newman

By Lori Nickel of the Journal Sentinel

Jessica Newman is a 44-year-old mother of two from Oconomowoc who works third shift at UW hospital as a nursing coordinator.

She also happens to hold the state record in the Olympic weightlifting snatch and clean and jerk categories.

And she’s inviting you to try to beat her. 

No, seriously. 

It’s not a challenge, or some kind of act of bravado. 

Newman hopes that more people, including and especially women, will take an interest in the sport, because right now, at least in competitions in her age and weight classes, it’s just her. 

And according to her, we are missing out. Newman loves the sport so much, the two-time ironwoman, veteran of 25 triathlons and loser of 100 pounds fits it into her schedule to train four to six times a week for anywhere from 90 minutes to two hours at a time. 

She does it because it fuels that drive in her to keep going forward. 

“For me, it is showing that no matter how old you are, you can get better. I’ve gotten better,” Newman said, noting that she set a personal record recently. 

The sport of Olympic weightlifting is built on two specific movements: the snatch and the clean and jerk. In competition, the athlete gets three shots to complete each of those lifts at their maximum weight. 

Newman threw herself into Olympic lifting just this year — and she’s still getting PRs (personal records) — but this wasn’t her first foray into athletics. 

She got started after she had her sons, now ages 16 and 14. She had put on some weight and was, she estimates, about 250 pounds. A friend asked her to do a triathlon and she signed up. 

That led to dozens more triathlons and then the Wisconsin Ironman twice. Watching her body change and get stronger with every stride, Newman found the training and the events exhilarating — but also very solitary sometimes. To train, she would ride her stationary bike in the living room during her kids’ naptime. 

When she joined CrossFit five years ago, she liked the group exercise atmosphere and team camaraderie she felt with other CrossFit members. Heavy weightlifting is a very big component of that workout and Newman realized she was strong. She decided she wanted to compete, and she knew she had to have a coach. 

Ryan Atkins is a weightlifter as well as a coach. He trains online with James Tatum of Team MuscleDriver and can lift about 230 on snatch and 264 on clean and jerk.  

“Maybe a little bit more if I feel good,” he said. 

As a coach, Atkins works with about 60 clients per week between multiple facilities specifically with weightlifting sports. He trains faculty and students at Marquette University, and also coaches clients at the Sussex Barbell Club at Sussex CrossFit, CrossFit Waukesha and CrossFit Lockdown in Be Fitness by Delafield Hotel. Newman is a private client. 

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